A Disturbing Flashback
A DISTURBING FLASHBACK
By Lucian K. Truscott IV
I was drifting off to sleep last night when suddenly my brain was seized with a vivid memory of the first day I arrived in Miami Beach to cover the Republican Convention in August of 1972. I flew down several days early, so the convention wasn’t underway and there wasn’t much to cover. A few delegates were trickling into the Fountainebleau Hotel; busses filled with cherry-cheeked Young Republicans were unloading on Collins Boulevard and they were being dispatched to some nearby bunker to fill helium balloons and scribble placards so they would seem authentically homemade on the convention floor a few days hence.
I saw Sammy Davis Jr. and his retinue unloading a couple of limos in front of the Eden Roc Hotel as I entered to attend the only legitimate event there would be that day. It was a press conference held by the Republican National Committee to introduce “Celebrities for Nixon.” My friend Hunter Thompson and I had walked over from his suite at the Fountainebleau overlooking a small marina on Indian Creek across Collins Avenue from the hotel.
The press conference was fairly crowded with reporters and TV cameras, since there was nothing else to do that day but bake your brain in the relentless August Florida sun and nobody relished that. Thompson and I took a couple of seats in the back as the “celebrities” filed in: Glenn Ford, John Wayne, Kitty Carlisle, and Mary Ann Mobley, an aging former Miss America best known for her guest appearances on “Love American Style”. That was it. RNC Chairman Bob Dole took the mike and introduced his sterling crew of “celebrities” and then took questions. The graybeards of the national press corps sitting up front tossed a few softballs intended to get Glenn Ford and John Wayne to tell a few stories. They obliged and the whole thing was starting to lag when Thompson turned to me and said, “nobody’s asking about Watergate.” He was right. The biggest story of the day…hell of the decade…was being completely ignored, so I jumped up and yelled out “When is Nixon going to fire John Mitchell,” or something like that. Thompson called out another insolent question about Maurice Stans collecting funny money from millionaires. (Get that: millionaires, not billionaires. Things were so innocent back then.) A couple of the graybeards up front turned around and told us to sit down and shut up. Thompson remained standing and yelled out to John Wayne something like, “Mr. Wayne, you’re a big supporter of the War in Vietnam. Will you come with us and walk down the street to meet the Vietnam Veterans Against the War when this is over?” Wayne managed a thin smile and said…this is a quote…”Why sure, Pardner.”
When the press conference ended, Thompson and I followed Wayne and Ford out a side door and down a hallway. We caught up with them and Thompson asked Wayne if he was ready to go meet the Vietnam vets. Wayne stopped and laughed right in his face: “You don’t think I was serious, do you, son?” Ford joined in laughing, Wayne threw his arm around his friend and they headed down the hall. “I need a goddamned drink,” Wayne said as they pushed through the glass doors into the sunshine.
A couple of days later there were demonstrations outside the Fountaineblueau. Ron Kovic gave his famous speech before cops broke it up with tear gas and batons. 9000 miles away in Vietnam there were still 25,000 US combat troops fighting and dying. The South Vietnamese Army suffered 25,000 deaths that year. 140,000 NVA and VC were killed. Nobody knows how many Vietnamese civilians died.
A story in the Washington Post less than a month later linked Nixon Campaign chairman John Mitchell to a slush fund used to pay the burglars at the Watergate, producing Mitchell’s famous response: “Katie Graham’s gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.” (Mrs. Graham was publisher of the Washington Post.) He was fired from the campaign and a year later he was indicted for Watergate crimes and a couple of years after that he was convicted and sent to jail. Nixon of course was caught covering up the Watergate crime, was impeached and less than two years after the Republican Convention and his re-election, resigned in disgrace.
That’s a VERY brief summary of a VERY turbulent time. Everything was happening at once: the war in Vietnam; the Watergate break-in; Nixon’s re-election; demonstrations against the war and against Nixon; the endless investigation of Nixon and his henchmen in the White House; the firing of Mitchell; the firing of Haldeman and Ehrlichman; the Saturday night massacre firing of Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus; the firing and indictment of dozens of White house hangers-on and factotums; trials of those White House criminals; the impeachment of Nixon; his resignation; the ascendance of Ford and his pardon of Nixon. Have I missed anything? Probably. I can’t remember everything about that very busy, confusing, tempestuous time.
But let me tell you, those days don’t hold a candle to what’s going on only 64 days into the presidency of Donald Trump. Nixon and his men were pikers compared to Trump, Bannon, Ryan, McConnell and the rest of them. These people aren’t providing material for some goddamned SNL skit. They have colluded with a foreign power, an antagonist to U.S. interests around the globe, in a successful effort to poison our presidential election, and they are engaged daily in a hurricane of prevarication, thievery, and outright organized acts of political and economic violence against the citizens of this country unmatched by Nixon or anyone else.
It would be such a joy if Thompson was still around to stand in the back of the briefing room and lob a few verbal grenades over the heads of the White House Stenographer Corps into the gaping maw of Spicer’s lying mouth. If only