“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”
– “The Tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens, published 1859
These opening lines of “The Tale of Two Cities,” perhaps the most famous beginning to a novel, ring as true today as when I read the novel as an English class assignment as a student growing up in Chagrin Falls, Ohio schools.
The Dickens quote transcends history and alludes to “point of view” or perspective as being critical when analyzing today’s current affairs.
With the advent of the Internet, Facebook, email and text, it is hard for anyone to avoid the news headlines detailing the dysfunctional federal government as we move into the third week of a U.S. government shutdown. The shutdown is a result of the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives refusing to include funding in the federal budget for President Trump’s proposed $5 billion wall along the border between the United States and Mexico.
With the political pendulum swinging back to the blue Democratic majority in the House, it is doubtful House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, R-California, a staunch opponent of the wall, will compromise with Trump’s demands for what’s a key promise in his election campaign.
The shutdown began Dec. 22 with about 25 percent of the federal government without federal funds, forcing some 800,000 employees to go on unpaid leave or work without a paycheck.
The result of the layoffs has been chronicled in media nationwide as national parks have shut down, the IRS may be forced to issue late refund checks, and applications for federally backed mortgages are on hold.
Meanwhile, a trade and tariff war with China, a volatile stock market after years of growth, Trump’s former associates and attorneys jailed or under indictment, Environmental Protection Agency regulations altered or suspended ... What is a U.S. patriot to think?
But wait. Before despairing with the Chicken Littles of the world, it behooves us to put things in a Dickensonian, historical perspective. Historians argue that it takes at least 50 years to place an event in a proper historical context, allowing time to develop a fairer perspective than current political and economic bias.
Hearken back, dear reader of The Athens NEWS, to a time long ago when, unlike the news of the world available instantaneously today on screens galore at any time, the nightly news in the ’60s was only available for a half hour in the evening on the three national networks.
Like many future Ohio University Bobcats, I grew up in northeast Ohio where the majority of the OU alumni originate. My pals and I had Cleveland Plain Dealer and Cleveland Press paper routes, but sports and the comics were our priority reads as pre-teen deliverers.
But then came a day that lives in infamy – May 4, 1970 – and our perspective expanded. On that day, four students at Kent State University, just 20 miles down the road from my little village, were shot to death and nine wounded by Ohio National Guardsmen. The guardsmen were sent to Kent by then Gov. James A. Rhodes following days of anti-war protests, looting and the burning of the ROTC building on the KSU campus. After the shootings, the university closed as did other colleges in Ohio, including OU following protests and “riots” in the streets. At the time, the Vietnam War was ongoing and President Richard Nixon had authorized bombings in Cambodia, igniting the protests.
Historians generally consider the Kent shootings as the political turning point during an extremely polarized time in the United States, not unlike today. That’s when U.S. public opinion turned against the Vietnam War. President Richard Nixon, elected to a second term starting in 1972, was in office as the war ended with the Paris Peace Accords signed Jan. 27, 1973.
While the end of the Vietnam war was a success for Nixon, another story at the same time would lead to his becoming the first U.S. president to resign the presidency.
“Five Held in Plot to Bug Democratic Office Here” was the headline on the front page of the Washington Post on June 18, 1972. The story by the now famous reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, reported that a team of burglars had been arrested in the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate office towers in Washington.
The series’ stories went on in revelations that linked Nixon to the burglaries. The stories were a harbinger of the future televised Watergate hearings that led to Nixon’s resignation from the presidency on Aug. 8, 1974.
Forty federal employees lost their jobs as a result of the Watergate hearings and investigations. Some were jailed, including John Dean, White House legal counsel, and Attorney General and Chairman of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) John Mitchell.
In his resignation speech, Nixon said, “By taking this action, I hope that I will have hastened the start of the process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.”
With Nixon in mind, at the start of 2019, media “fake news” and perhaps otherwise suggest that the House may indict Trump. National polls indicate his approval rating is at 42 percent. “Leaks” from those close to Trump suggest our president is already negotiating his resignation, in lieu of prosecution, prior to the end of the ongoing investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
No matter your point of view, Dickens rings true today.
Editor’s note: Dwight Woodward is a former staff writer and editor for the Associated Press, and prior to that, the Athens Messenger. He also worked in Ohio University’s PR shop. He has freelanced for The Athens NEWS several times over the years and visits Athens County frequently.