In this chapter, Zinn traces the distrust in government that affected the country by the 1970s, largely as a result of the Vietnam War. In addition, the scandals that affected the Nixon administration, known as "Watergate" (in which Nixon was suspected of covering up a break-in into the Democratic National Committee headquarters during his 1972 re-election campaign), led to Nixon's resignation and to widespread disillusionment. Even though Nixon resigned, his foreign policy remained intact. Corporate influence on the White House also remained intact. For example, corporations that had illegally given money to Nixon's re-election campaign were only hit with very minor fines.
In addition, House and Senate investigations in the CIA and FBI resulted in a cover up of much of the illegal activities these organizations had engaged in, and major news organizations gave the reports little coverage. The attempts to purge the government of dishonesty, through Nixon's resignation and the Congressional investigations of the CIA and FBI, were halfhearted at best. As the country's bicentennial approached in 1976, Americans' confidence in business and government were at very low points, in part because inflation and growing poverty eroded Americans' hope in a better future.
Chapter 20 in this book is about the early 1970s. It argues that these were the years in which the majority of Americans, for the first time, started to hold attitudes that were hostile to the government and to business.
Zinn begins the chapter by talking about how Americans had, by the early 1970s, come to be hostile towards the government and towards big business. He thinks that the Vietnam War was the main cause of these attitudes. He argues that the war showed the moral bankruptcy of the system as the government fought for what he sees as an immoral cause and as it caused the government to mislead the people time and again.
Zinn then turns to discussing Watergate. This scandal, on top of the Vietnam War, made people even more skeptical about their government. This skepticism deepened when President Ford came to office after Nixon resigned and tried not to change policy in any significant way. Zinn argues that the elites of the United States ensured that neither Nixon nor anyone else would be punished harshly and that the basic system would not be changed.
According to Zinn, this failure to engage in any serious reform led people to hold anti-establishment attitudes by the end of Ford’s time in office.