Nixon Would Envy Trump

The Watergate scandal broke 50 years ago this month. Comparisons with the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol can only cause concern.

This past June 17 marked the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, a scandal that would cause other scandals until the one and only resignation of an American president in history — that of Richard Nixon. During the first round of public hearings on the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, several comparisons were made between this event and the Watergate affair. One takeaway: Things have changed since then … but for the worse.

Then …

Fifty years ago, the Republican president and members of his inner circle tried to conceal their role in a theft at Democratic headquarters. It was serious.

In less than a year, Nixon’s approval rating plunged more than 40 points, going from 68% in January 1973 to 27% in October 1973, according to Gallup.

Republican members of Congress, who had few deep ties to Nixon, almost completely dumped him, which would have assured his removal if he had not resigned first.

Plus, had it not been for the presidential pardon granted by his successor, Gerald Ford (a move which contributed to Ford’s election defeat in 1976), Nixon was likely headed for prison. His closest advisers, such as his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, were convicted.

… And Now

The vast majority of the events that have been discussed since the beginning of the public hearings on Jan. 6 were already known. Yet, still more troubling layers have been added. And, above all, an overarching profile has been woven — at once meticulous, coherent and, for anyone cherishing democracy, profoundly distressing.

The most striking aspect of the many public testimonies is, without doubt, the deliberate and premeditated nature of the illegal acts committed by Donald Trump and some members of his inner circle.

The highest officials in the Department of Justice — including Attorney General William Barr, whom Trump personally appointed, based on his loyalty — assured the president that there was no proof supporting the allegations of “massive fraud.” Rudy Giuliani, the president’s consigliere, replied, “We’ve got lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence.”

Again and again, the White House legal team stressed to the president that these “theories” didn’t hold water. Trump’s lawyer, Eric Herschmann, even testified that he warned John Eastman, the exceptional attorney who encouraged the president to continue to contest the election results, that the path of denial risked leading to riots in the streets. Eastman replied, “There’s been violence in the history of our country in order to protect the democracy, or to protect the republic.”

Legislative leaders harassed on their personal telephones and at their private homes by supporters of the president; election officials threatened with death; heavily armed demonstrators encircling governmental offices. All of these dynamics, as recounted by witnesses — who, in many cases, had supported Trump’s reelection — are worthy of a banana republic. And they all took place even before the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The same day as the incident, inside the Capitol, only a dozen meters [about 40 feet] separated the vice president of the United States from the crowd of people who, according to an FBI informant cited during the hearings, explicitly expressed plans for his assassination.

A year and a half later, in his first major speech since the beginning of these same hearings, Trump renewed his attacks against his former vice president for his “lack of courage” in refusing to — illegally — block certification of the election results.

Thus, after having orchestrated not only the theft of documents, but also of a presidential election, Trump still faces no criminal charges. His party remains largely in place behind him. Far from falling, his popularity rating has in fact increased since the attack on the Capitol. And, unlike Richard Nixon in 1973, he is perfectly within his rights to set his sights on another term of office — and still seems determined to do so.

While approximately half of all American adults watched the public Watergate hearings on television, hardly 10% are watching those on the Jan. 6 insurrection.

A voter in Virginia, Kimberly Berryman, was quoted in a recent news story, saying that, after having voted for Democrats in 2020, she plans to support the Republican Party in the November elections. The reason: The increase in prices everywhere around her. And the hearings on the Capitol assault? “I got other things to do,” she said with a laugh.

Berryman is not alone. Questioned this week about whether he would vote for Trump in another hypothetical clash with Joe Biden in 2024, Rusty Bowers of Arizona said yes.

And yet, unlike Berryman, Bowers is not merely an ordinary citizen. He is the Republican Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives. And, just hours before, he had testified before the investigating committee concerning the efforts by the U.S. president to press him to invalidate the election results of his state.

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