A Scandalous Life

Through open doors down a long hallway, reminiscent of The Shining, a cacophony of noisy televisions competed. Soap operas, news reports, and talkshows spilled from empty uncleaned guest rooms. It was the summer of 1974 that I began a brief stint as a hotel maid in Spokane, Washington. Through the course of that summer I began to notice each maid had different approaches to their routine. Some girls stripped the beds, or beelined for the bathroom, but all, to the last dust mop, first switched on the television. 

And the biggest news that summer, outside of Expo ‘74, was the Watergate hearings. Chairman Sam Ervin, Senator Howard Baker, Congressman Pete Rodino, and others became my new favorite TV personalities. Watergate Burglar, Alexander Butterfield spilled the beans on Nixon’s White House taping system, and John Dean spoke of a ‘cancer on the presidency.” For me these hearings were riveting as I placed fresh towels on the rack, and changed toilet paper rolls.

By the end of that summer, August 9, 1974 Richard Nixon resigned the presidency. 

Fast forward 13 years later, and I had just given birth to my second baby, a girl, and she and I cuddled as the television introduced a whole new set of “off the books” operatives. This time the scandal concerned the Reagan Administration’s convoluted plot known as the Iran-Contra Affair. American arms were illegally sold to Iran, our sworn enemy, to continue their war against Iraq. The proceeds from those sales were funneled to anti-Communists fighters battling in Nicaragua. Both efforts violated the Boland Amendment, passed by Congress, explicitly prohibiting American meddling in Central America.

Reagan operatives had hoped that selling Iranians weapons would soften them up because the White House needed a favor. Would the Ayatollah Khomeini help encourage Lebanon’s jihadists to release American hostages secreted around Beirut? The Reagan people gambled that trading illegal arms would secure Tehran’s help. 

While rocking my infant I learned a litany of new names: NSA chief, Robert McFarland, Marine, Oliver North, North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, and the recently deceased mastermind, CIA director, William Casey. My take, as I patted my girl’s little back, was that the Reagan White House had privatized foreign policy in defiance of Congress through renegade agents.

In 1988 Ronald Reagan, in a video deposition, admitted he had done just that, but due to his failing memory, couldn’t recall. 

That brings me to my golden years. I tuned in to the January 6th hearings, as a retired grandma. My husband and I watched and listened to the evidence regarding the violent attack on our nation’s capitol. To say this hearing was electric would be an understatement. Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Capitol Police Officers, particularly Caroline Edwards, left me spell bound. Representative Liz Cheney owned the evening, making clear the person responsible for the attempted coup-the former guy. 

Donald Trump is the first sitting president in American History to be impeached twice.

So what element ties all three scandals together? For one, the course of a single life-from college kid, to motherhood, to grandmother. And I suppose one could conclude I’ve watched a helluva lot of television. 

But for me the message means something else. 

The modern Republican Party has undergone a long death spiral marked by greed, rot and decay. As Liz Cheney said, “there will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

For nearly 50 years, from 1974 to 2020 the Grand Old Party has cast off its once, principled moorings, slowly imploding before our eyes. As my generation grew from young students to senior citizens the party of Lincoln silently died. 

And like Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining, there is no redemption, nor any future, only relief these mercenaries can do no more harm.

Gail Chumbley is the author of a two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Chumbley had also completed to historic plays, “Clay,” regarding the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” an examination of slavery and racism in America.

The Little Things

If you love . . .

Protecting a dim-witted, would-be dictator from legal consequences,

Suppressing a woman’s right to self-actuation and privacy,

Expediting white, unqualified patriarchs to the Supreme Court,

Rendering the US Senate inert,

Legislating so the wealthy have no tax burden,

The open targeting of Americans of color to brutality and murder,

The whole-sale destruction of the planet, and the rape of natural resources 

Abetting political misinformation and conspiracies through social media,

Targeting those of differing sexuality 

Pushing religion into American government,

Aligning apportionment and voter suppression to disenfranchise the poor, and people of color,

Withholding health care to the few with means,

The wholesale flood of firearms into civilian hands,

Cruelty dispensed upon desperate immigrants,

Coddling of white offenders over those of color,

Predatory treatment of consumers,

Blocking legislation to meet the dangers of the above list, and otherwise accomplishing nothing,

Vote for today’s Republican Party

Gail Chumbley, frustrated American History Educator.

The Long Haul

After the 1929 Market Crash, the world collapsed into nearly feudal isolation, and international trade quickly dried up. Like the rest of the world America focused inward, disillusioned by U.S. participation in WWI. Across the Pacific, the Japanese Empire, too, promoted a sphere of influence, sold to Asians under the moniker of a “Co-prosperity Sphere.” China, a vulnerable prize lay across the Sea of Japan, awaiting the wrath of Japanese aggression for land and resources.

Great Britain, too, struggled with a malaise of its own, as did the French–both nations saddled with debts extended by American banks during the war. Next to the new Soviet Union, Germany, struggled most of all, buried in war reparations the allies demanded from the vanquished.

As the financial fallout worldwide grew wildly unstable, regimes hunkered down and waited for better times.

The solution in that movement-elevate anti-democratic despots to power.

The Italians were the first, having produced a Fascist strongman, Benito Mussolini. He suppressed political diversity, harnessed economic efficiency, and soon, like the Japanese, pursued colonial inroads into Libya, and later the conquest of Ethiopia. Mussolini envisioned a return to the glory days of Rome.

Germany, soon flirted with fascism, as well. In a reaction to impossible debts, and of national pride, Adolf Hitler, a feckless dreamer, stood on beer hall tables, and passionately spoke of national betrayal, and the victimization of Germany. “Mein Kampf” the product of an earlier prison sentence, circled around much the same, blaming Bolsheviks, Capitalists, and Jews for the hated Armistice of 1918.

However, America, unlike the rest of the world, clung with all their might to the national system of Constitutional norms. At the same time Germany elected a Hitler in 1932, the U.S. found their champion in Franklin Roosevelt. 

A popular Roosevelt Coalition steered those hard years holding the United States together. That’s not to say there weren’t kooks, to borrow Lindsay Graham’s phrase, but Americans faced the long haul together, knowing better days had to be ahead..

As FDR did not cause the Depression, Joe Biden did not precipitate the inept handling of Covid-19. Moreover, Biden’s policies did not cause Putin to invade the Ukraine, nor trigger the inflation rate, as financial matters are linear, impervious to election cycles. This new administration is not responsible for China’s economic reach, Britain’s Brexit debacle, Russia’s saber rattling, or global warming, let alone shortages of baby formula. 

The utter incompetence of that last blowhard made the real mess. This moment, like FDR’s, will take more time to sort out and stabilize. 

So, here is the question. Can Americans again remain bound to the framework of our Republic? Will today’s misinformed kooks forsake our financial, social, and political traditions and turn to petty retribution and tyranny?

Will we, as a nation, exchange our democracy for a strong man who insists he has all the answers?

That is the question of this historic moment. 

Gail Chumbley is an author and history educator.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Punishment

District of Columbia, 2017

In 2017 American women and their supporters, to the tune of a half-million, marched to protest the unfit, incoming president. This joyous mass of participating citizens lent a true sense of history in the making; we marched that day as one.

In the days following that massive protest women returned home, energized, running for office, working for candidates, and witnessing our first elected female Vice President. This change was as breathtaking as it was exciting. So it comes as no surprise women would pay a steep price for our audacity.

At this writing American women stand on the precipice of losing fifty years of reproductive rights. And this retribution is especially nasty, a vicious retaliation on our medical and political autonomy. No quarter is given for rape, incest, or domestic violence. American women are, once again, fair game, relegated as second-class-citizens under the law.

In that light the striking down of Roe isn’t about abortion. Few women seek such a procedure, and even those numbers have continued to decline. The thrust is to punish and marginalize women standing up for equal protection under the law. There is clarity in this moment of looming suppression, and we have no choice but to double-down to protect ourselves, our daughters, and granddaughters.

Other select groups also feel that same oppressive heat. Americans of color, and non-binary sexual orientation, endure similar reactionary treatment, because, they too, have demanded justice. Today’s GOP serves only white, male, reactionaries.

Gail Chumbley is a history educator and author.

Why We Try

2017 Women’s March

When I first began this essay it ripened to nearly five hundred words to share one idea. Why I am a life-long Democrat. 

The original essay discussed the New Deal, the creation of the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, the GI Bill, and how strengthening Labor Unions evoked a sense of common purpose; how the economy boomed, and the middle class flourished.

Now all I want to impart is that Ronald Reagan was wrong. Big government is not the problem. Big government checked by regulations works remarkably well. 

I am a Democrat because with all its flaws, we stand equal in the eyes of Constitutional Law.* People made the Constitution, and we must preserve it. In general, States’ Rights is no more than a distraction perpetrated by selfish insiders who legislate their own interests. Residents are convinced through a wink and a nod, that the enemy (Big Government) must be defied, using catch phrases like “our values,” and “real conservative.”

In truth, the Federal Government can do more for all of us than any individual state, or any individual citizen can do for themselves. As I write, Idaho’s governor has asked for, and been granted federal funds for drought aid. Talk about biting the hand that feeds the State.

I am a Democrat because I’m inspired by the nobility of America’s past champions; the persistence of General George Washington, the compassion of Abraham Lincoln, the purpose of Alice Paul, and the articulate vision of Barack Obama. I am a Democrat because James Madison instructed us to create “A More Perfect Union.” Without that persistence, compassion, purpose, and vision America cannot continue as “the world’s last best hope,” as Lincoln also described us.

At bottom I am a Democrat because I know not one of us is perfect. We just keep trying. 

*Just heard the headline regarding the reversing of the Roe decision. Time to gather 4,600,00 of my best friends (2017 Women’s March) and organize.

First Teacher

Chief Joseph

The front door opened and promptly slammed. The timing was expected, as the kids were getting home from school. Trooping through the door didn’t seem unusual-but that slamming of the front door sounded emotional. In the hallway I encountered my little fourth grader, my girl, who wouldn’t catch my eye or respond to “how was your day.”  She stomped into her bedroom, pushing her door closed. And then the crying began.

I waited a moment, finally tapping and entering her room. She didn’t want to explain, didn’t want to talk to me at all. Concerned, I sat on her bed and rubbed her back while she sobbed. After a while my girl composed herself and began her story.

In Idaho schools Fourth Grade Social Studies covers state history. From memorizing all the names of counties, to mapping locations, to learning “Here We Have Idaho,” the state song; 9-years-olds learned it all. On that day the lesson covered Native American tribes in the state. 

The teacher read Chief Joseph’s “I Will Fight No More Forever,” speech, the one Joseph declared when his people, the Nez Perce, surrendered to the Army just short of the Canadian border. 

My little girl understood, perhaps for the first time, the power of compassion and of tragedy. Watching as her heart absorbed a tough, American injustice, my heart filled as well. This kid sensed something deep, an empathy that still alludes many. In that moment we shared a thoughtful, teachable chapter in American History.

I didn’t accost the principal, nor complain to the school board. To those who do, railing to  ban books, or challenge curriculum, remember that your children are watching. Honest concerns are one matter, but raising hell in public meetings frightens your grade schoolers, confuses your middle schoolers, and mortifies your high schoolers.

Besides, as a child’s first teacher, parents are demonstrating that raging and bullying in public is acceptable as a means to solve disagreements.

Leave schools alone, leave libraries alone. Get to know the teachers, volunteer in the classroom. You’ll find American schools do a tremendous job, much better than we could do ourselves. 

As for Chief Joseph, my daughter grew from that experience. Maybe parents should do likewise.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Chumbley has also written two plays, “Clay,” about the life of Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” examining the beginnings of American slavery.

gailchumbley@gmail.com