This goes back to the summer of 1974. Some of my readers weren't alive at that point [I am old, aren't I?], or were too young to follow the on-going impeachment proceedings against US President Richard M. Nixon. Everyone else in the world, it seemed, was intent on nothing else; the twists and turns of Nixon's efforts to remain inside the White House were as intriguing then as many people find "reality" shows today. One could follow the drama in Boston or Berkeley or Boca Raton, of course. But you could also be updated in London or Lisbon or Lebanon. You could even, as I was doing that summer, stay abreast of the crisis in Mexico City.
I was in the capitol of Mexico that summer as an exchange student, spending the time between my Junior and Senior years of high school in a country where I didn't speak the language [it's a long story. They always are, aren't they? (It might be worth pursuing this story at another time. We'll see. For now, let's keep this as trim as possible)]. There were maybe twenty of us from the same sponsoring organization, spread around various neighborhoods in the ancient metropolis. For the most part, we didn't see much of one another; our host families were doing their best to give us a bit of the nation's culture, or at least keep us out of the nation's jails [I'm not kidding about that last one. A couple of years later, a friend of mine was sent home early from Mexico after trying to steal a license plate from a parked car. In my eyes, a harmless prank; in Mexican eyes, enough to get you booted].
All of us, though, were following the Nixon crisis with some concerns. No President had ever resigned before. If Nixon quit, what happened to us? I don't think any of us were expecting problems, but more than a couple of us were expecting to be sent home. After all, didn't nations usually bring their nationals home in times of uncertainty?
August 8th came. Nixon was going to address the American people. I don't know, but I'd guess all of us exchange students were listening, as the President announced his plan to resign the next day. Now what? Did we head for the US Embassy? (I'd heard it was very nice. But where in Mexico City was it?) Would they just gather us at the airport, then return us?
The next day, Nixon resigned. The vice-president, Gerald Ford, became President [ironically, Ford had been appointed when Spiro Agnew, Nixon's elected VP, had to resign over corruption charges. You never know...]. Then something amazing happened...
...nothing. The transition from Nixon to Ford went very smoothly. The financial markets held their ground [I think they were just relieved the whole thing was over], there was no unrest in American streets [at least, none that wasn't already there], and none of us ever heard from the US Embassy [at least, not for that]. Under the most awkward circumstances imaginable, the Head of the US Government had changed. More amazingly still, it happened without violence, without unrest or insurrection. A simple statement of resignation and, as Ford put it, "...our long national nightmare [was] over".
There are predictions of political strife in the air. One blogger, who claims to channel Nostradamus, says President Bush will suspend the upcoming election when John McCain becomes seriously ill weeks before the vote. No less a Neo-Conservative icon than Patrick Buchanan recently wrote that he believes the President will invade, or bomb Iran if Barack Obama is elected President, on the theory that Obama would not. I would never predict what could or could not happen, but I do believe that "cooler" [saner?] heads would prevail if such matters were proposed. No matter how bad things have gotten in our history, cooler heads have always prevailed. It is the main source of hope I have for this Republic, as it celebrates its 232nd birthday.
Thank God for cooler heads!