1. It’s Wednesday, July 13, 2017.
2. It’s the 40th anniversary of the blackout in New York City that was triggered by a lightning strike on a really hot summer night. The city was in crisis back then, and the lack of power resulted in a horrific night of looting.
When the power went out, I was sitting in a movie theater in the Flushing section of Queens, watching the last 10 minutes of “Nasty Habits,” a Watergate satire set in a Philadelphia convent.
Because it was 1977, I didn’t think about waiting to see the end when the movie was on cable or video cassette – I went back, paid the $3, and saw the so-so comedy all over again.
I somehow made it to work in Manhattan that night, using a combination of a bus and a shared taxi. I was actually late for the first time ever – showing up at 12:30 a.m. for an AP Broadcast sports writing shift that began at midnight.
I remember lots of things about that night:
Working with minimal light because the emergency generators were needed just to power the world’s largest news service.
The grace under pressure of my supervisor, a fellow named Michael Blake, who kept everybody calm with his wit and his ability to work with the stressed-out technicians.
The guy who thought it was OK to wear yellow shorts to the office.
And the relentlessness of the people who worked at the AP to get their jobs done. From writing the news to getting the baseball statistics and the weather forecasts out.
3. One other thing I remember about that night.
Because the AP was based in New York, a lot of the member stations believed there was too much emphasis on what went on in the city. The nation’s biggest, by the way, and one of the world’s most important.
Because of sensitivity to that criticism, there was an effort to downplay the blackout in the hourly newscasts that were the bread-and-butter of our operation. It rotated as the lead story with the downing of a U.S. military helicopter that had strayed over the North Korean border.
As it turns out, it’s much easier to find stories online about that night in New York than about that day near the 38th parallel.
No one remembers the Korean incident, even though three Americans died and one was captured, although he was released three days later.
The image of the looting amid the darkness stayed with New York for a very long time.
History is interesting that way.
4. America’s experiment in political dysfunction continues. And while there’s not much new after yesterday’s bombshell involving Trump Junior, it did get me thinking about why this has happened.
In 2016, the latest Harris Poll on the subject ranked doctor as the most prestigious occupation, with 90% of those surveyed saying it’s noble work.
Fifth from the bottom was politician. Only 40% of those surveyed believe it’s a job to be proud of. And 34% of those polled say it’s not at all prestigious; no profession, not even the last-place public relations consultant, arouses as much outright contempt.
Unfortunately, it’s part of America’s DNA to trash politicians.
I was at a plant nursery in Stonington, Conn., this weekend. And amid the hydrangeas and the succulents, the owners tacked up clever, witty sayings – many of them belittling those who practice the science of politics. How that sells flora escapes me, but it’s their business and you assume they know it.
The problem is that for politicians, politics is their business, and they know it.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, politics became more about elections and less about what those elections are supposed to lead to – government.
Now government is just about as dirty a word as politics. You can hear Ronald Reagan, in 1986, saying the nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” That isn’t just Reagan talking – he reflected the attitude of many people.
There are even people who find STOP signs and traffic lights as symbols of oppression.
As a result, elections cough up these people who see an opportunity to get a little power – after all, there is still a government. And they get that power by badmouthing politicians.
“Unlike his opponent, he’s not a professional politician,” the sonorous voice in the TV ads will say as a selling point.
“I’m a businessman, not a politician,” Trump told people every chance he could in the 17 months of his campaign.
But here’s the thing:
5. Governing is important.
I’d argue it’s just as important as being a doctor. Our ability to be safe in our homes and on the streets, to get to our jobs, to count on the water to flow and the garbage to be picked up, that the hospitals and schools are open and running.
That’s true even when government farms some of those tasks to the private sector. Ultimately, somebody has to take responsibility.
We should be grateful for politicians who are willing on the task of making things run.
And, conversely, we should be skeptical of those who look on the jobs that politicians do and say they can do it better.
Anti-government and anti-politics have put us in this mess. The idea that someone with no experience or understanding of how this stuff works can make things work better is preposterous.
You wouldn’t trust someone who doesn’t have medical experience to operate on your heart. You shouldn’t trust anyone who doesn’t understand how government works to run the government.
So when Republicans defend Trump Junior by saying he didn’t know what to do because he wasn’t a pro politician, it’s an empty argument. If he’s going to be in politics, he should know what the hell he’s doing.
Although I still don’t think it takes a brain surgeon to figure out that getting information from a foreign government to hurt a rival political campaign is collusion at best and treason at worst.