“Here we go again” would be too casual a phrase to describe the state of politics in America today. But as the drumbeat against Donald Trump gets louder and the prospect of impeachment gets closer, it does harken up a conflict most baby boomers will remember from more than 45 years ago. In this Boomer Opinion piece, BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs takes a look… based on his own firsthand experience.
When it comes to President Trump’s phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart, where do we even start?
How about with Richard Nixon.
Reading the loosely transcribed conversation between the two presidents, then the whistleblower’s official complaint about it, and listening to Thursday’s testimony to Congress by the acting Director of National Intelligence, I was struck with the parallels.
Maybe more than most of you. Because in 1973, when some of the most damning testimony was delivered to the Senate committee investigating the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon’s ignominious resignation— testimony that few baby boomers who were paying attention at the time will ever forget— I was producing the coverage of those hearings for ABC News. I was in the room.
So I can tell you firsthand, when White House counsel John Dean testified to a “cancer on the presidency,” virtually everyone inside the hearing felt that if Nixon’s own trusted lawyer could turn on the president, maybe some of his closest allies might turn on him too.
Soon, some did.
Then when a Nixon aide named Alexander Butterfield revealed in his testimony the existence of a taping system in the Oval Office that ultimately would help nail Nixon, there was a discernible intuition amongst us in the room that it was the beginning of the end.
Less than a month later, it was.
Of course the parallel breaks down when you compare the courage of Nixon’s own longtime GOP stalwarts then, versus Trump’s GOP sycophants now. In 1973, the Republican leader of the Senate, the Republican leader of the House, and no less a lionized personality in the party than former presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, went to the White House to warn Nixon about the writing on the wall and convince him that he had to resign.
Two days later, he did.
Today, Utah Senator Mitt Romney, a more recent GOP standard-bearer albeit less lionized than Goldwater, has declared that he is “deeply troubled” by Trump’s political conversation with Ukraine’s president. But Romney stands pretty much alone. Yet his words, while not a crushing condemnation, are a tsunami compared to the silence or, even worse, the fatuous defense of Donald Trump by many of Romney’s congressional colleagues, like the one who calls this whole affair a “nothing-burger” (the jargon phrase used often by conservatives).
However, if anyone knows how to stick a finger up into the wind to figure out which way it’s blowing, it’s a politician. It wouldn’t take many more on that side of the aisle to see writing on the wall today, and to vote to convict Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors if the House votes to impeach him. Just a few days ago, for any of us who consider Trump a destructive, duplicitous, dishonest, disaster of a president, that was merely fanciful thinking. Today, I would upgrade the thinking to wishful.
Talking to a foreign head of government like a mafia master might talk to his minions isn’t a crime. But when an American president employs his power to ask another president to advance his personal political agenda— contrary to our interests, let alone our laws— it might be.
And what about Trump trashing the anonymous whistleblower, the apparently credible member of the intelligence community who first reported that something was smelly about the phone call between the two presidents, and then reported… and this could be the smoking gun… that the White House ordered the electronic transcript of the call moved to a computer normally used to store “classified information of an especially sensitive nature.”
Sounds suspiciously more like a cover-up than a “nothing-burger,” since the transcript shows no threat to our nation’s security. It’s only a threat to Trump’s. A perturbing parallel to what buried Richard Nixon.
The reality is, the only nothing-burgers in the story are Trump’s unabashed apologists, who abide a president who calls a whistleblower’s source “close to a spy,” and implies that the punishment for such sins will be severe, noting nostalgically that “spies and treason” were dealt with differently “in the old days.”
Yet another alarming parallel.
Evidently this unenlightened president doesn’t care that whistleblowers have played pivotal roles over the years to hold tobacco makers, drug makers, auto makers, and yes, policy makers to account. Deep Throat, from the days of Watergate, did the nation a favor. Trump would put him on trial.
At least some of the patriotic Americans who called out Richard Nixon and ended up on his infamous “enemies list” were threatened with little more than a tax audit. And when Nixon attacked his most plain-spoken political enemies, he tried turning to domestic law enforcement agencies, not a foreign government.
If anything, that might make Trump even more of a crook than Nixon.
For close to three years, there has been a cancer on this presidency. Maybe— hopefully— a few more politicians will look in the mirror and rise to the occasion and root it out.