History Is Not Kind

Photo Source Nuclear Regulatory Commission | CC BY 2.0

I was slinging hash, frying eggs and broiling burgers at an IHOP in the autumn of 1975. My work week ran fifty-sixty hours on average. A friend who had access to dexamyls and other pharmaceutical amphetamines helped me and my fellow wage slaves keep the restaurant running. The boss man smiled as he counted his receipts and hoped that the shares he had bought in the Triple Crown winner Secretariat would pay off down on the stud farm. After we finished up the graveyard shift early Saturday mornings, the head cook, myself and a couple dishwashers would head over to the head cook’s apartment to play poker and drink whiskey. If there was any good pot around, we smoked a couple of joints.

Gerald Ford had been president since his appointment in August 1974 after Nixon took his taxpayer-provided payoff and flew to California. As far as presidents went, Ford’s reign had been fairly quiet, especially when compared to that of his immediate predecessors. The Democrats and the Left were still simmering over his pardon of Nixon. The right wing of the Republican Party didn’t like his conditional amnesty for draft resisters or the fact he signed an agreement in Helsinki designed to reduce the threat of nuclear war. Nor did they approve of his support for the Equal Rights Amendment. This wing would run Ronald Reagan against Ford in the 1976 elections. The US war in Vietnam had ended in May with the sight of US military men and CIA agents fleeing in helicopters as the Vietnamese independence forces marched into Saigon. That scene rubbed some people the wrong way too. It was those forces whose anger and fear propelled the candidacy of Ronald Reagan to his eventual victory in 1980.

While Ford was president, the presence of two people in his ruling cabal indicated the uneasy balance of power his rule rested on. They were Henry Kissinger and George HW Bush. Kissinger continued as a National Security Adviser while Bush became head of the CIA. The empire remained intact. In what would ultimately be a very consequential appointment historically, Ford hired Donald Rumsfeld first as his Chief of Staff and then appointed him Secretary of Defense. Ford then hired Dick Cheney as Chief of Staff to replace Rumsfeld. History would provide both of these apparatchiks with opportunities that would drastically change the world (while greatly increasing their wealth.) Meanwhile, in one of his long lists of crimes against humanity, Kissinger worked hard that fall arranging a drastic increase in arms shipments to the government of Indonesian dictator Suharto before the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor. Other US officials have noted that ninety percent of the arms provided to Suharto’s forces came from the United States. It is estimated that more than 50,000 Timorese were killed in the first couple months of the invasion. As the invasion and occupation lengthened, descriptions of massacres of women and children, detention camps and tortures leaked out to international media.

Meanwhile, Rolling Stone magazine reported that Ford’s sons smoked weed in the White House and the new comedy show, Saturday Night Live gently poked fun at Ford’s apparent clumsiness. The message seemed to be that even if he was selling weapons to those killing civilians by the thousands in East Timor, Gerald Ford wasn’t a bad guy. The liberal hatred of Nixon did not extend to Ford, despite his continuation of most of Nixon’s policies. The ongoing recasting of US politics as little more than a popularity contest had found its way to the youth counterculture. Meanwhile, the US left new and old argued its way into sectarianism and an increasing irrelevance. The Manson acolyte Squeaky Fromme fired a gun at Ford in Sacramento, California that fall. Then, barely two weeks later, a sometime informant with mental health issues named Sara Jane Moore fired at him in San Francisco. Conspiracy theorists still question the nature of these attempted shootings.

History tells us that Ronald Reagan would win the 1980 GOP nomination and election to the presidency. The time Gerald Ford was in the White House marks the point of no return. From then on, the ongoing destruction of the republic would ramp up several notches. Jimmy Carter’s reign was not a harbinger of better times for the working people of all races and genders. It was the beginning of the rule of the neoliberal wrecking crew. The moderate wing of the Republican Party would cease to exist, leaving the voting population with a proto-fascist party called the GOP and a right-wing corporate party called the Democrats. The result is president Donald Trump.

In short, it’s fair to say that history has not been kind, except for the fact that I’m not slinging hash for a living anymore.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com