Ed.: 020718 – Words: 1293 – Audio: N/A
By now most everyone has heard some media re-counting of Watergate (about 45 years ago now) as it may or may not compare to Trump and the entwining mess regarding the Russian investigation and possible Trump campaign collusion. Even the media resurrected a few infamous personages from the Watergate years still alive to provide historical insights… Carl Bernstein is oft seen as a CNN talking head, his partner from back in the day, Bob Woodward still pops up here and there. The infamous John Dean, former counsel to Nixon back in the day (served 4 months in prison for his role in the coverup), has been pretty interesting in his recollections (I even read his book years ago, “Blind Ambition”; hence my play on the title of this post). Given I was in my early 20’s as Watergate unfolded it’s a little sobering seeing all these characters having aged as much as I have, yet I remember them like yesterday.
Now I bring this up not necessarily to suggest history repeats itself or even the fact that both these events were with Republican presidents. I know full well either political party is capable of these dirty tricks intrigue (you can’t mix the Bill Clinton impeachment attempt; he was accused of purgery and obstruction but got off the charge.)
So.. what exactly might be similar for comparison between the two events? Well, the obvious difference between the two is that the Russian investigation is still going on and there’s no formal conclusion that Trump is complicit in anything thus far… but the plot is thickening as indictments of a couple of his associates have occurred. Nixon ended up resigning from office just before impeachment proceedings, amid considerable published speculation of his involvement in the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover up.
But there are a few similarities that bear discussion.
- Both were investigated for some level of political dirt-gathering on their opposition. The Watergate break-in was a democratic party headquarters office. Current speculation is that members of the Trump campaign had met with the Russians in an attempt to get dirt on Hillary Clinton provided by the Russians.
- Nixon fired and replaced people left and right to obstruct the investigation. It’s being speculated that Trump has done the same.. for the same reason.
- Nixon had a paranoid obsession with people who were not loyal to him, even to the point of having a “hit list” of his enemies. Trump has also expressed his own rage with disloyal people and entities like the media, the FBI, being out to get him… and enemies everywhere. Former White House aid and Trump TV buddy, Omarosa, said he has a list. (I call your attention to my recent post about Trump’s campaign survey that came in the mail to me. The letter just was filled with paranoid obsession about needing support to fight Trump’s enemies. Certainly Trump didn’t write it.. but it’s symbolic of the mood he sends to his administration. HERE)
- Both Nixon and Trump think the FBI was filled with their enemies and turned the FBI into their scapegoat. Now… the FBI in those days did in fact take illegal excesses during the investigation of the bomb-tossing Weatherman Underground terrorist group.. and.. when J. Edgar Hoover died at that time all the illegal domestic spying of the 1960’s of celebrities, politicians, Martin Luther King, etc. was revealed… although it had been stopped by the Watergate years. By comparison… there is some suspicion with current FBI leadership manipulating the process in some covert anti-Trump activity, secret society… yet to be determined.
- Nixon was surrounded with seasoned, astute, people who knew Washington and knew their stuff… like his immediate “guards”, Dean, Erlichman, and Haldeman. Nixon himself was a seasoned political professional for decades prior to becoming president. By comparison Trump has no political experience whatsoever, and is surrounded by inexperience.
- Nixon pretty much believed the end justified the means; doing some illegal stuff was acceptable as long as he felt it served the country. He was also a dirty tricks kinda guy in his electioneering. I believe Trump also believes the ends justifies the means, but less “intentional” illegal activity to get there. Trump has no experience nor does the bulk of his staff and I am pretty sure he’s not some covert hanky-panky kinda guy. The trouble regarding his people meeting the Russians for dirt on Hillary.. well, I firmly believe the Russians lured his campaign in and they had no idea what they were doing with the Russians. Doesn’t make the Trump campaign guilty by intent, just ignorance… but likely guilty nonetheless.
- John Dean, John Erlichman, H.R. Haldeman were very loyal and devoted to Nixon.. the palace guard. I am not sure Trump commands that kind of loyalty with enough critical people in the administration who would break laws for him. The trick is to understand that when you break a law then you need a plan to hide it. Nixon’s people were good at that (for a while). Trump’s people? Now.. this does NOT mean that Trump people didn’t break laws unknowingly. I think when the Mueller investigation is over and people start heading for the lifeboats we will see more leaks to the press.
- The one thing I give credit to Nixon… he decided to resign rather than taking the country into some divisive impeachment process. He always had an appreciation for history and a presidential legacy, and I think in the end that won out over some self-preservation battle. Trump has no interest in history or even his own presidential legacy. If he’s confronted with the inevitable, like Nixon at the end, Trump will fight it out.
This is likely the greatest difference between Nixon/Watergate and Trump/Russia… technology and the ability to easily track communication; personal hard drives, emails, tweets, all social media records. It’s relatively easy to hide paper in a single spot hidden from view, and it’s easy to destroy paper thus eliminating a paper trail; that was the height of 1970’s technology (it was Nixon’s “fault” for installing the tape recorder). The technology today is every politician’s vulnerability, every president’s nightmare.
So what’s the bottom line value in comparing Nixon/Watergate with Trump/Russia current events similarities and dis-similarities? I feel there’s a strong public sense of a ticking time bomb with the Mueller investigation and what it might reveal… and the possible Constitutional crisis that could unfold, and perhaps a bitterly disputed impeachment, not just on the floor of Congress but in our communities as well. If this “bomb” goes off the country will consume itself on every facet imaginable regarding this entire affair. Those comparing this to Watergate are likely more old farts like myself… inside the political scene, the media, who lived through the gut-wrenching two year public display of political characters, with names like Haldeman, Dean, Cox, Colson, Erlichman, Segretti, being as common household words as.. Flynn, Kushner, Bannon, Mueller, et al, are today.
Will there be a Trumpian version of Watergate’s Saturday Night Massacre? Some seem to think given the people Trump has fired thus far, it’s a slow “massacre”, still in progress. But I am sure Mueller and his boss, Ass’t AG Rosenberg, and maybe AG Sessions. FBI Director Wray? A resignation perhaps.
But here’s the good news in all this comparison. The Constitution worked, we survived as a nation, life went on. Congress at the time passed a couple “course correction” bills aimed at reducing the propensity of this happening again for the same reasons, and when the dust settled we still could buy a classic cheeseburger at McDonalds for 40 cents. While the 40 cent cheeseburger is pretty much gone the way of the gooney bird, I would fully expect the same national outcome today if the Russia investigation explodes. But it likely won’t be pretty.