Watergate and the Birth of Modern Apathy

By Erin Drushel

[avatar user=”ErinDrushel” size=”thumbnail” align=”left”]Erin Drushel[/avatar]

The 40th anniversary of the Watergate scandal is approaching and I’ve been reflecting on how those events remain relevant today.

Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who uncovered the Watergate scandal, argue a specific case that President Richard Nixon’s multi-tiered attack on democracy was worse than they originally thought.

I agree, but I also think that the lasting scar Watergate left on the American psyche is far worse than the transgressions.  Watergate went beyond the specific actions of a president and became the definitive point in modern American political history where distrust, contempt and finally apathy were born.

While perusing the news, I’m often disappointed by the nature of the “top read” stories on any given news site.  Stories about celebrity “train wrecks” and titles like “Confessions of an ex-sex kitten” (CNN Featured Story, June 9, 2012) compete with legitimate news (such as the events in Syria or Afghanistan).  I wonder why these tabloid tales are relevant to everyday life.

How do you make people care about political issues?  How do you educate those who don’t want to be educated, people who would rather read about Lindsay Lohan than understand the decisions that are being made about their personal lives?

Conversely, how do you live happily in a society where people turn a blind eye to corruption because, implicitly, it’s “okay” when it’s “your party” – but condemn it as completely and utterly wrong if someone else does it?

This is where apathy lives.  And this apathy was seeded long ago.

Watergate was more than a “third-rate burglary,” as dismissed by Nixon’s press secretary Ronald Ziegler.  It robbed American democracy of an already tenuous trust, leading to apathy – an apathy that has withstood the test of time.

Those events forty years ago and the following cover-up “proved” politicians could not be trusted to adhere to even a basic code of conduct expected for all law-abiding citizens.  Watergate gave validity to a distrust which is now ingrained in American society.

So, today, your choices are to wade through all the information available, viscerally “knowing” it may not be true or, simply to ignore it – to escape reality through the lives and dives of Hollywood stars.

Even I’ll admit it’s hard to pay attention to politics when the stories are about non-issues – political in-fighting, broken promises, stories about whether or not Mitt Romney is a unicorn as a response to the allegations over President Obama’s birth certificate legitimacy – these absurdities make people care even less.

It’s hard to fight the desire to “switch off,” but switching off doesn’t make it stop.  Switching off only provides an opening for abuse of power.  Democracy is a two-way street and we, the people, have a responsibility to be aware and become involved in the decisions that affect our lives.

– Erin Drushel

“I have impeached myself by resigning…”


  1. Ron Henzel June 14, 2012at11:50 am

    I remember being so burned out on Watergate that I refused to watch the original Nixon/Frost interviews when they were broadcast. Now, as I view these clips, I wish I had.

    I believe that the Watergate scandal left an indelible mark on my generation — the one that was passing through junior high and high school at the time, and had its youthful idealism and naïveté about government exploded earlier than I think the previous generation’s had. As a middle school history teacher, I’ve endeavored to explain to my students just how disillusioning that entire period was. I put together a video summarizing the events. You can watch it at https://vimeo.com/43366697.

  2. Erin Drushel June 15, 2012at5:32 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Ron, and for sharing your video!