“I saw Watergate as politics, pure and simple,” Nixon wrote in his memoirs. “We were going to play it tough. I never doubted that was exactly how the other side would have played it.”
Even if Nixon did order the break in at the Watergate hotel it was not the worst thing he did. In 1968 Nixon conspired secretly with the South Vietnamese President to scrap proposed peace talks. Nixon was afraid if the talks succeeded it would hurt his chances of being elected President. Presidential aide Anna “Chennault was despatched to the South Vietnamese embassy with a clear message: the South Vietnamese government should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal.” President Johnson knew of the affair, and Nixon knew that he knew, and Johnson informed Nixon’s Democratic rival Hubert Humphrey. But the news came to light close to the election and Humphrey thought he was going to win, and Johnson thought accusing Nixon of treason would be too disruptive, so neither Johnson nor Humphrey disclosed what they knew. Nixon won the election by less than one percent. And 22000 more Americans died in Vietnam during his abbreviated Presidency.
Nixon’s observation in his memoirs about Watergate shows that Nixon’s view of the world and how he should behave in it was through a purely political lens. The advantage to this approach to politics, obviously, is that it frees you to pursue whatever course is necessary to win regardless of either propriety or even legality. The disadvantage is that it removes restraints that might be imposed by higher considerations. The expectation on the part of the American people is that a politician will work in a political way until politics conflicts with patriotism. Then every politician – indeed, every American — is expected to act as a patriot. Nixon was unable to do this. His strategy of win at any cost propelled him to the Presidency, but it also doomed him to disgrace.
Our current President has often been compared to Nixon as our political divisions in many ways mirror the Watergate era. And not without reason. One may wonder whether Donald Trump decided to run for President because he really wanted to be President so that he could bring his vision of America to life, for the benefit of all, or whether the gaudy spectacle of his announcement was a publicity stunt to draw attention to his brand, or something in between. But once he announced, and it became clear that he had tapped into some gurgling pit of discontent, his focus became winning the Presidency — at any cost.
Trump’s longtime lawyer and consigliere Michael Cohen is in jail for arranging illegal payments to silence women by unindicted co-conspirator individual one (Trump). One wonders why he bothered, his base, even the shamelessly hypocritical “Christian” vote, apparently couldn’t care less about his indiscretions. And certainly Donald Trump is not the only powerful man to commit indiscretions. What he did was illegal. Everyone, including the President, knows it. And he is completely unapologetic. And he did much worse than just pay hush money to hookers.
Even though the Mueller report didn’t find evidence of a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians, it is clear that Russia successfully interfered in the 2016 election for Trump’s benefit, and the Trump campaign welcomed that help. On July 27, 2016 Trump publicly called upon the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, and on the same day the Russians did. That may not rise to the level of criminal conspiracy but it is more than coincidence. Even now, with the fallout of Russia’s intervention still poisoning our national discourse, he can’t seem to wrap his mind around the fact that getting election help from foreign governments, even friendly ones, is wrong.
Why? Because in Trump’s world, the only thing that matters is winning. This is not just Trump. The current Oval Office occupant has indeed continued in the infamous footsteps of Richard Nixon, but he is not alone. His party is following the example of Nixon’s party. In 1974 the Republican caucus in Congress stood by Richard Nixon against overwhelming evidence of his unfitness for office until massive public outcry for impeachment suddenly made them civic minded patriots.
When it became clear that Trump was more than a comic buffoon and posed a real threat during the 2016 primaries establishment Republicans on every level denounced him. But as it became apparent that Trump had enthralled enough of their base to put their political careers in jeopardy their denunciations turned to sycophancy. In 2016 hypocrite in chief Lindsay Graham denounced Trump as “unfit to be President.” In 2019 he’s “honored to be flying down to Orlando with President @realDonaldTrump as he announces his 2020 reelection campaign.” Graham, once associated with the honor of probably the last honorable Republican John McCain, has sold his soul to Trump in order to save his political ass. And made a public ass of himself in the process.
Along with just about every other Republican politician in the country. Again, they are not without antecedents. Graham is an exemplar of but hardly the exception when it comes to Republican bootlicking.
History shows that Republicans are patriots only when they are forced to be. There are exceptions but in general they have demonstrated they are less concerned about what is good for America than what will keep them in office. The proof of this lies in a politics that caters to rich donors while at the same time paying lip service to family values and ignoring the needs of their constituents. Mr. Trump recently sniveled that he was treated worse than Abraham Lincoln. Yet he himself along with today’s toadying Republican Party has done nothing but dishonor Lincoln’s legacy.
The determination to win at any cost has left Lincoln’s party a smelly decomposing pile. If they have their way, they’ll “win” the dissolution of the American dream.