Saving A Village In Order To Destroy Us

“There is nothing more agreeable in life than to make peace with the Establishment — and nothing more corrupting.” – AJP Taylor

While doing my day job in one tab, in another I’ve been playing the youtube videos uploaded by the Richard Nixon Presidential Library. Other, saner people have music or news or pr0n for ambient purposes, but I am a Watergate junkie. The RNPL’s video catalog is large and excellent, full of testimony of the President’s friends and enemies. As an example of the latter group, there’s a long testimony by George McGovern. As for the former, discussion panels are the usual format, as per this video (relevant passage begins at 36m 19s):

Now long, tedious, and tendentious apologias for the disgraced president in particular and Authority in general aren’t unusual in this material, and I was prepared for the worst when I heard the moderator identified as someone who works for the George W. Bush Presidential Library, but the following explication and defense of the Establishment by a panelist was surprising even for all that:

I think you have to look at Nixon’s resignation in a way as the end of the 1960s, the end of the assault on authority – he was the ultimate authority. And the 60s are this long period of attacks on authority, mostly teenagers against their parents…but all sorts of institutions. The Catholic Church has a rough time in the 1960s, all churches do. The draft produces all sorts of draft resistance. Universities…states of upheaval. My freshman year of college, 400 universities shut down over Kent State; we just stopped going to school. And this enormous revolution against authority that had a lot of roots culminates in deposing a president…and I contrast my own — I became a journalist shortly thereafter, and have spent thirty years as a journalist, and during those thirty years in Washington where I worked, you could argue that the real power lay with the watchdogs, not with the people in power but with the people who were supposed to be the check on power….and so much of that was a part of Watergate, special prosecutors that you mentioned, all those scandals with -gate on the end…Irangate and all those things. There was a perpetual scandal machine that was just running all the time — I was part of it, working for Time and Newsweek….it was the fruits, it was the culmination, of this challenge to authority that kind of crescendos with Nixon but then continues on really for decades until they finally get rid of the Special Prosecutor Act…I think that period, in a way — generalizing a bit here — in a way ends with 9/11. As a journalist, I felt that there had been this long period of attacks on authority by congressional investigative committees working with journalists, working with various lawyers, to attack pretty much everybody in power. And with 9/11, that machine kind of dialed back a little bit. Because we felt our existence threatened in a way — maybe we overreacted — but we did after 9/11, and the press became — for a time — more muted….it did reassert itself but there was at least a break in the action. I think there’s a watershed here that is all about challenging authority. [Moderator asks if it turned our political battles into legal ones.] That was a piece of it. I mean, the rise of the press as severe challenging watchdogs — I wrote a book about Dwight Eisenhower. In the 1950s, President Eisenhower did not have to deal with anything like what President Nixon had to deal with. There’s just no comparison. The press was pretty docile in the 1950s, whereas Reagan[1] — excuse me, Eisenhower — did not have to endure the same scrutiny and challenge that Richard Nixon did.

Who the hell would be so glad for a re-established Establishment with 9/11 as the ultimate reset button, I wondered. I rewound the video to the introductions I hadn’t paid much attention to the first time around. Checked wikipedia. Evan Thomas; name rings a bell…Oh, that Evan Thomas*:

By definition, establishments believe in propping up the existing order. Members of the ruling class have a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are. Safeguarding the status quo, protecting traditional institutions, can be healthy and useful, stabilizing and reassuring.

Thomas then acknowledges what is glaringly obvious not only about himself but also most of his media-star colleagues: ”If you are of the establishment persuasion (and I am) . . .”

It makes a sort of sense, then, that on the panel he would be more defensive for the sake of the Establishment than even the partisan hacks from whom one might more readily expect it. Further in the discussion when asked at 1hr 15m 42s about the degree of Nixon’s personal guilt RE: Watergate, Thomas defends the president, only faulting him for creating a bad atmosphere in the White House. This is the classic Establishment defense: bad apples among the underlings, mere incompetence in the mistakes-were-made mode at the top. At 1hr 22m 15s he assures the audience that because he worked for The Washington Post for years, he knows from the inside as it were that the media has a liberal bias. Of course.

Evan Thomas is grandson of Norman Thomas, presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of America in multiple elections. Like many a Villager**, he’s a descendant of hippies or socialists or nonconformists whose decency he found revolting, and so he rebelled, which makes the second clause of the second quoted sentence above more poignant. He, like Patrick Bateman, truly believes it’s hip to be square. The convert is always more pious than one born into the faith, and so it is grotesque but unsurprising that Thomas would so proudly and boldly identify with the Village’s religion of Authority and defend it against its enemies.

[1]= Freudian slip?
*=Cf. Also, too.
**=eg., the Rostow brothers whose careers served interests horrifying to their socialist parents not to mention their namesakes Eugene Debs and Walt Whitman.