Slow Burn and the Benefit of Looking Back

So, recently I’ve been listening to a podcast called Slow Burn. The podcast is about Watergate. The podcast’s thesis statement could be ‘what was it like living through Watergate’. Now, why would I care about Watergate? Well, there’s a certain poetry at creating a comprehensive look at Watergate now. In the midst of political scandals and suspected top-level corruption, it’s interesting to see the moments in which Watergate turned. Now, chances are, if you’re of my age or younger, you know some things about Watergate e.g. ‘the Watergate is a hotel in Washington’, ‘something about a break-in’, ‘Nixon’s secret tapes’, “I am not a crook”, ‘Woodward and Bernstein’, ‘Deep Throat’, ‘President Impeached’. (Though notably, articles of impeachment were never filed against Nixon as he resigned before then, and was pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford).

I heartily recommend the podcast because it opens up the whole thing and delves it what makes it interesting. Why people supported Nixon for so long and what made them dissert him. All the way through the story, there are Republicans decrying the Democrats for being partisan in their investigations and several attempts at demystifying the whole thing were strong-armed into non-existence. Anyway, Slow Burn is but one of the podcasts I’ve been listening to at the moment. Others like The Dollop, Big Gross Movies, Stuff You Missed in History Class are frequently among my podcasts. Though, weirdly, I wouldn’t consider myself any sort of history buff. What does interest me is the sociology.

Sometimes, and I do this often, we forgot the history that the people we share the world with lived through. Two examples come to mind. Donald Trump was born in 1945 (notably the oldest serving President). Is it controversial to say that most of us become politically aware in our early twenties? If you follow that conceit, let’s think about the era that the people I’m going to mention were involved with. Interestingly, Trump would have been politically cognisant (as much as you can say that Trump was ever cognisant) in the mid-60s. He would have been forming his own opinions on Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy during their presidencies.

I’m not writing a detailed biography of Trump, but rather I’m thinking of him as a young politically-motivated individual. We all have our opinions on the leaders that we grew under. I could doll out my burgeoning opinions of my countries’ leader in terms of a broad narrative (Keep in mind that my thoughts here are earlier thoughts and don’t necessarily reflect my contemporary opinion). Howard (xenophobe, responsible for stupid foreign policy, GST and gun laws were decent though), Rudd (response to GFC was solid, smart for foreign policy, behind the scenes drama, no changes to immigration policy, bit of a smiling snake in hindsight), Gillard (education reform stifled by in-fighting, no changes to immigration policy, smart leader who was harangued and harassed out of office), Abbott (the WORST, filthy onion eater, draconian monster with no good policies, brought our shameful treatment of asylum seekers to the forefront with his three word slogans, not a saving grace anywhere).

The reason for that little experiment was to show what I was thinking as I was developing my thinking. You can see how the bleeding-heart leftie in me emerged. Stepping into the shoes of President Agent Orange makes you wonder what Trump thought of his leaders in those early days. What did real estate mogul at 23 whose company discriminated against African-American families in the 1960s think of Johnson’s tactics and policies? It’s an interesting thought experiment.

The same process can be done for any world leader. What did Malcolm Turnbull think of Gough Whitlam’s tenure as Prime Minister when he was studying political science at the University at Sydney. That seems easier to answer than the Trump hypothetical. I’d be interested to know what angry poli-sci student Malcolm Turnbull thought of the government.

Why do I ask these questions? I think it’s worthwhile to see the world that shaped the people who are now shaping the world. We tend to think of history as the stuff that happens in old textbooks and who fought who in 1692? However, we must remember that history is always happening. Admittedly, it’s easier to feel like that in our current age of rising American fascism and a neo-Civil Rights Movement in online spaces. How did we get here tends to be a question that only looks back five or ten years ago. However, when it comes to understanding how we got here, it helps to consider the origin of things that we consider intrinsic. For example, Olly from Philosophy Tube recently posted this thread on Twitter. The early part of the thread makes an interesting point. How did feudalism change to capitalism? Spoiler: not as smoothly as some would want you to assume.

Why do we call the days of the week what they are? Monday is the day of the moon, Tuesday is Tyr’s day (a Norse god), Wednesday is Woden’s day (another Norse god), Thursday is Thor’s day (another Norse god), Friday is Frigg’s day (another Norse god), Saturday is Saturn’s day (a Roman god), and Sunday is Sun day. The current English language versions of days of the week are tied to two European cultures. Interestingly, my name, Zachary, is a Hebrew name. I am so named because this version of the Hebrew name shows up in the Christian Bible, the history of which is long and complicated.

Sometimes, it’s worth thinking about these navel-gazing questions as it opens us up to consider how the winding path of history winds its way down to us, especially us white folks. It can be hard to perceive how the horrible parts of history led to your life. I was born in Australia, but I’m not an Aboriginal Australian. My family emigrated to Australia (from Germany on one side, from England on the other) in the mid-20th century. I suppose it’s very easy to see how I got here in that capacity. However, for me to live the life I do in my hometown, the local Wathaurong people had to be displaced. In fact, my home town’s name is an Anglicized version of a Wathaurong word. One point to draw from this is that we are the children of the loose strings of history and that’s why it is important to look back.


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