The comparisons are inevitable. Two racist, paranoid, power-obsessed presidents, in an effort to discredit and destroy their political enemies, sow the seeds of their own destruction.
But Donald Trump is no Richard Nixon. Nixon actually won the popular vote, and in his time as president, actually did some good for the country, such as his establishing the Environmental Protection Agency. And Nixon was intelligent. He graduated from law school. Though his paranoia eventually drove him to break the law, and then do worse by trying to cover up his crime, Nixon at least understood the principles of constitutional democracy.
What’s different is the magnitude of the crimes. Breaking into your political enemies’ office is one thing—Watergate was a sloppy, second-rate burglary, and the subsequent cover-up brought down Nixon’s administration. This time, the crime is much bigger, more sinister and potentially far more damaging to our country: there is credible evidence that Team Trump colluded with a foreign power to undermine our democracy. If this isn’t high treason, I don’t know what is. And his firing of Jim Comey is a transparent act to sabotage the investigation into the collusion.
All of this should stop everybody in their tracks. What’s frightening is the possibility that we’re going to carry on as if it were business as usual. One news headline this morning was calmly speculative about who Trump might pick to replace Comey. Who the fuck cares? That’s not the question to be asking. That would be like asking O.J. on his way into court what lucky girl’s going to be the next Mrs. Simpson.
If our democratic institutions have any hope of surviving, it must not be business as usual. For starters, the media needs to be doing its job and asking the right questions, such as, ‘isn’t there enough evidence of a cover-up to warrant the appointment of a special prosecutor?’ Secondly, we need Republicans to start behaving with integrity by standing up and putting principle before party. This country is in dire need of men and women like Joseph Welch, counsel to the U.S. Army, who in 1954, stood up to Senator Joe McCarthy. McCarthy was a Trump-esque unhinged bully who went on a four-year tear publicly smearing and destroying the lives of a good number of Americans, labeling them communists and enemies of the United States. Welch, a Republican, during nationally televised congressional hearings, in front of millions of viewers, challenged his fellow Republican McCarthy: ‘Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?’
Just like Joseph Welch, there were also Republicans during the Watergate era who refused to put party before country, such as Elliot Richardson, Nixon’s attorney general, who resigned rather than follow orders to fire the special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation. But the self-serving, Vichy Republicans of today only care about keeping their white-knuckled fists locked around the levers of power. As the majority party, they decide whether articles of impeachment will be brought forward. Our greatest hope would be that the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia, would have a pang of conscience and initiate impeachment proceedings. But don’t hold your breath. Goodlatte was the sneaky little shit who, at the start of the new congress this year, rounded up some of his GOP bros for a secret session where they voted to get rid of the Office of Congressional Ethics.
What’s different now from the 1950s and the 1970s is that the American empire is on the decline, and has been over the last four decades thanks to Reagan-era trickle-down economics and Clinton-era neo-liberalism. We’re going the way of the Romans, with the rich—the biggest beneficiaries of the empire—doing everything they can to avoid contributing to its upkeep. Today’s cynical, treacherous Republicans are simply the foot soldiers of the wealthy, rats taking what they can and deserting the sinking ship. Even if it means allowing a foreign power to put in place an orange-crested puppet.
So, we can’t wait for them to fix it. They won’t. Jam the lines at the Department of Justice at 202-353-1555 to demand that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein appoint a special prosecutor to oversee the ongoing investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Each one of us has to be the Joseph Welch we so desperately need. Call Deputy AG Rosenstein’s office and ask him if he, at long last, has any sense of decency.