Mother and Daddy were friends with a couple when I was growing up that I’ll call Vern and Fran. Vern was one of those tall and tanned East Texas men who looked like he could go bear hunting with a switch. Fran, who was petite enough to fit her shoulder under his arm, had a pixie cut hair style that framed a face prematurely lined by playing too much tennis in the days before sunscreen.
Vern and Fran had two sons, the elder of which was the object of a slight early teenage gay boy crush on my part. Darren, as I’ll call him, was about four years my senior and had good hair, good (but not pretty) looks, and a physique at 16 that was way more G. I. Joe than Pillsbury Doughboy.
But there was a catch. Darren had a developing pattern of drinking too much, getting picked by the police, and taken down to the station house. A call would be placed to Vern who would go down and get him, take him home, and Mother would hear about it from Fran on Monday.
At some point, I’d get wind of it from somewhere, which just added “bad boy” to the list of things I found attractive about Darren.
One night over dinner, Mother was relating how she had talked to Fran that day and was agog at what she had heard. “Fran is so upset about what happened this weekend. The police stopped Darren Saturday night, drunk again, and when they took him down to the police station and called Vern to come get him—why Vern said, ‘Well, he’s 18 now, so if he’s man enough to get drunk and thrown in jail, he ought to be man enough to get himself out.’ And he left him there!”
Daddy, without looking up from his plate, said, “If Vern had left him there the first time they called him, there wouldn’t have been a second.”
I wonder if my body jerked when I heard this pronouncement. With this brief exchange, Mother’s sharing of some fairly idle gossip had been turned by Daddy into what is now called a “teachable moment.” And I added “do not ever get picked up by the police drunk” as a new life priority.
We have a long history in this country of getting the drunk boy out of jail. Of course, who the boys are change over time, but they often have the title “President.” But not necessarily of the United States.
Jefferson Davis spent the first two years after the end of the Civil War imprisoned, but his indictment for treason never resulted in a trial. Concern that a trial would allow a jury to decide that the Southern secession was legal, that a guilty verdict would be difficult to obtain, and that the need for reconciliation too great augured well for Davis. By 1868, President Andrew Johnson had his own impeachment trial to deal with, and the U. S. in short order failed to hold fully accountable two presidents.
Richard Nixon famously resigned the presidency and successfully avoided impeachment and, with a pardon from Gerald Ford in hand, escaped criminal prosecution. So it fell to Bill Clinton to be the second American president impeached over perjury and obstruction of justice charges related to trying to conceal his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. By today’s standards, that one seems downright quaint.
Ronald Reagan skated through Iran-Contra, and “war crimes” is not the phrase that first comes to mind when George W. Bush’s name is mentioned. The reputation of the latter has been rehabilitated as much by time as by his relationship with the Obamas, allowing Bush to become that aging frat boy who used to be president.
In the case of our most recent former president, Trump has already gotten through one trial in the Senate, and it appears that he’s on track to not be convicted a second time. Whether he ends up facing criminal charges won’t be left solely to the discretion of the Biden administration, and the indicting of a former American president would be something we’ve never seen in our history. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.
I lost track years ago with Darren, Fran, and Vern. Maybe that stay in the city jail was just what Darren needed. I hope that particular pattern ended there as uninterrupted patterns can turn into cycles, which have a particularly nasty way of becoming spirals.
Our common history shows that sweeping the dirt under the rug is a losing battle. We’re at the end of the cycle that starts with lifting the corner of the Persian to hide dead spiders, then bills one doesn’t want to acknowledge, and now a Chihuahua.