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The Great Resignation

It’s one of those things an American never forgets, no matter how many years have passed. Members of the generation before me remember where they were and what they were doing when they learned President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas or when they saw Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon. As for me, I remember the evening that President Richard Nixon resigned. It was two days after my ninth birthday in 1974, and I had just come in from playing with some neighborhood kids. Up to that point, it seemed like every other summer day, but my mother said something like, “Go clean up and come back in here. The president is going to be on television in a few minutes, and I want you to see it.” I wasn’t very interested in grown up stuff, and I wasn’t very excited about watching dry, old Richard Nixon talk to America, but Mom insisted that my brother, sister and I pay attention as history unfolded that night. I curled up on my usual spot on the sofa, and we tuned into CBS.

Nixon — looking tired and mad — was holding a stack of papers in his hands with the stars and stripes situated next to him.

He said he had always tried to do what was best for the nation, and then he mentioned “Watergate,” a term I had heard a lot in the weeks and months preceding his address. I didn’t know what Watergate was all about.

Then he looked at the camera and said, “Therefore, I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as president …” I looked over at my mother and asked, “What does ‘resign’ mean?”

She lifted a finger to her lips like a librarian and said, “Shhh. I’ll tell you in a minute, honey. Keep watching.”

And so I did.

There was something in there about healing the wounds of the nation.

I didn’t even know America was injured. And he said something about putting the bitterness and the divisions of the past behind us, and rediscovering the shared ideals of our great people. These were all big words and concepts for my young mind, but I became quite aware that Richard Nixon was kind of apologizing for something (without actually apologizing) and doing his best to mend something that was broken.

After the president’s address, Walter Cronkite appeared on the screen — his face glistening with sweat as he tried to summarize Nixon’s speech for the American audience. Mom followed Cronkite with her own explanation.

Again, I was nine. By then, my parents were well into the process of teaching me and my siblings right from wrong. When we did something wrong (and believe me, we did a lot of things that were wrong as we were growing up), they taught us to say we are sorry and try to right the wrong — try and rectify the matter — and accept just punishment. But afterwards, we all moved forward and tried to learn from our mistakes.

Fast forward to this week, some 40 years after the June 17, 1972, break-in of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate Office Building in Washington D.C. — a scandal that Nixon’s administration tried to cover up. Today, I realize how divided the nation was back then as Republicans doubled down and rallied behind Nixon and Democrats demanded justice be served or else. I see the significance of that television continued from page

resignation, and I say this: it was honorable and necessary for Nixon to resign. He did what we were all taught to do as children, as he tried to make things right so healing could take root.

I’ve read extensively about “the bubble” of the American presidency and how power often contaminates good men and women, like a cancer or a virus. I’ve also witnessed powerful people surrounding themselves with “yes people” who feed their egos and agree with everything they say and do, and this practice distorts their perspective of important issues and the world around them. I believe many decisions made by our political representatives are not made in the best interest of the people they represent, but made to maintain their positions. They will say and do anything to hold onto power. So looking back, Nixon’s stepping down was somewhat of an unlikely marvel. As I revisit the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation as a 50-something Southern woman who describes herself as “not far right, and not far left, but lost in the middle somewhere with a lot of other Americans, refusing to allow news networks to tell me how I should feel and rejecting the urge to vilify either side,” I have an immense appreciation for what Richard Nixon did in August of 1974. Despite his personal motives, in the end, he walked away and said, “Let’s heal. Let’s reunify. It’s what’s best for our country.” It solidified the lesson my parents had been trying to teach us as children — walk through this life with honor and ethics and if and when you falter, bury your pride and just do the right thing. Just. Do. The. Right.

Thing. As humans, we must practice it. As Americans, we must demand it.

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