One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other

In an article written for the Atlantic, James Fallows compares the current Administration’s Russia scandal with Watergate, and provides reasons for his conclusion that this one is actually worse.

Worse for and about the president. Worse for the overall national interest. Worse in what it suggests about the American democratic system’s ability to defend itself.

Fallows begins by deconstructing the adage that the coverup is always worse than the crime; as he points out, what Nixon and his allies were trying to do falls under the category of “dirty tricks.” It was a bungled effort to find incriminating or embarrassing information about his political enemies,  and the adage held: the crime really wasn’t as bad as the subsequent illegal efforts to cover it up.

And what is alleged this time? Nothing less than attacks by an authoritarian foreign government on the fundamentals of American democracy, by interfering with an election—and doing so as part of a larger strategy that included parallel interference in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and elsewhere. At worst, such efforts might actually have changed the election results. At least, they were meant to destroy trust in democracy. Not much of this is fully understood or proven, but the potential stakes are incomparably greater than what happened during Watergate, crime and cover-up alike.

Fallows enumerates other differences: As he points out, “even in his stonewalling, Nixon paid lip service to the concepts of due process and check and balances.” As I have previously posted, to the extent Trump even understands those concepts, he is contemptuous of them.

Nixon was “paranoid, resentful, bigoted, and a crook.” But as Fallows reminds us, he was also deeply knowledgeable, strategically adept and publicly disciplined. Trump…well, supply your own descriptors; Fallows is more reserved than I would be, settling for impulsive, ignorant and uncontrollable.

Most troubling, however, aren’t the differences between these two deeply flawed men. As Fallow’s notes, the social and political contexts within which they rose to power are dramatically different.

When Nixon ordered the firing of Archibald Cox,

Within the space of a few hours, three senior officials—Richardson, Ruckelshaus, and Cox—had all made a choice of principle over position, and resigned or been fired rather than comply with orders they considered illegitimate. Their example shines nearly half a century later because such a choice remains so rare….

The Republicans of the Watergate era stuck with Richard Nixon as long as they could, but they acted all along as if larger principles were at stake…

On the merits, this era’s Republican president has done far more to justify investigation than Richard Nixon did. Yet this era’s Republican senators and members of congress have, cravenly, done far less. A few have grumbled about “concerns” and so on, but they have stuck with Trump where it counts, in votes, and since Comey’s firing they have been stunning in their silence.

Charlie Sykes, who formerly hosted a conservative radio call-in show,  recently summed up the reasons for that silence, and the differences between then and now.

If there was one principle that used to unite conservatives, it was respect for the rule of law. Not long ago, conservatives would have been horrified at wholesale violations of the norms and traditions of our political system, and would have been appalled by a president who showed overt contempt for the separation of powers.

Sykes gives a number of examples supporting his thesis that conservatism is being eclipsed by a visceral tribalism: Loathing those who loathe the president. Rabid anti-anti-Trumpism. Rooting for one’s “team,” not one’s principles.  As he concludes,

As the right doubles down on anti-anti-Trumpism, it will find itself goaded into defending and rationalizing ever more outrageous conduct just as long as it annoys CNN and the left.

In many ways anti-anti-Trumpism mirrors Donald Trump himself, because at its core there are no fixed values, no respect for constitutional government or ideas of personal character, only a free-floating nihilism cloaked in insult, mockery and bombast.

Needless to say, this is not a form of conservatism that Edmund Burke, or even Barry Goldwater, would have recognized.

Conservative political philosophy has been replaced with racist and classist resentments. Donald Trump is President because he is very good at exploiting those resentments. In that sense, and that sense only, he has channelled–and perfected–Nixon.


  1. I have to disagree with the last paragraph. Donald Trump is President because 43% of eligible voters didn’t care enough to vote.

  2. Over the weekend it was noted by political pundits that the rumor is trump plans to fill his calendar with campaign style events to meet with his adoring supporters. He needs this in order to pump up his fragile ego while creating a deflection from the investigations.

    Those rallies work very well to repair his ego and to keep his voters angry with anyone who dares to think he is damaging them or our country. While he takes away their health insurance, clean air and water and fails to provide the jobs that he promised they continue to support him even more voraciously.

  3. Nixon resigned , was pardoned. I would guess Ford was more principled than Pence is. Burke’s nor Goldwater’s brand of conservatism is not likely to prevail. Woe is me.

  4. In simply an overview; Nixon reigned and acted through greed and deviousness, Trump reigns and acts through greed, all forms of racism and bigotry and ignorance. Nixon had assistance from some elected officials and some of his knowledgeable and politically experienced cabinet members while Trump appears to have full support from Congress, the GOP and his cabinet appointees who are primarily members of the 1% and White Nationalists, plus the Russian connections which are only now being officially investigated. Nixon had one member of the FBI who spoke out and gave guidance to the media from a darkened parking garage. Trump has the aid of one FBI Director who blasted his election opponent with an unsubstantiated accusation in the media for this country and the world to see. Nixon’s danger was primarily internal while maintaining diplomatic relations with our allies to avoid war while Trump’s is on the international level; doing his mentally unbalanced best to turn our allies against us and declare nuclear war against our enemies or force another nation to make that preemptive strike. Trump’s band of thieves are dropping around him but not fast enough to save us from the danger he poses daily.

    While “One Of The Things Is Not Like The Other”; both are greedy, loud, foul-mouthed liars and neither was or is qualified to be president of the United States of America. Nixon doomed his own presidency and damaged the Republican party; Trump dooms the entire United States and is destroying the Republican party from within. Will they continue to allow his destruction…I fear so.

  5. The seeds for conservatism being eclipsed by a visceral tribalism were planted long ago by Ronald Reagan when he brought Ayn Rand’s philosophy of greed into the White House and with it the mentality of “them vs. us”. At that time the “them” was the government itself. Over time however, conservative thinking, unfettered by reason and truth, allowed for their opposition to grow to include anyone who supported the rule of law, most particularly those pesky hindrances to profit… regulations. Trump is the natural culmination of this distortion, and Republicans no longer work to improve government; they are hard at the task of dismantling all that came before them. We can all see the train wreck coming; unfortunately we are all on the same train ride together.

  6. POM-POMS!!! RED POM-POMS!!! SIS-BOOM-BAH!!! I delight in sending digital pom-poms and little red cheerleader skirts to Trumpers on Facebook. And WOW!!! How beautifully it ticks them off. The few responses to my goading that are thrown back at me in understandable English almost all agree with Trump on one “fundamental”: the Constitution’s checks and balances, including all but one of the amendments, are bad, bad, bad.

  7. Donald Trump and his politics of resentment and “If I lose, the election was rigged” and other coverup for narcissistic outcomes has an appeal to the antis of this world. His framing was and is excellent and mirrors the wordplay of “tax reform” which has nothing to do with reform and a lot to do with more money for his peers and benefactors on Wall Street and a lot less of the pie for the rest of us remininscent of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” (which left all children behind) are illustrative of such framing. Such excellent framing ends the debate. If you say he is a bad guy you fall into his framing trap; ditto is you say that the press is a good watchdog. He has already persuaded his followers that the press is the enemy of the people, thus laying waste to the old Mark Twain observation that one should not fight with people who buy their ink by the barrel.

    Trumpites who have fallen into this “Have you quit beating your wife?” framing are (per George Lakoff, cognitive brain scientist) not likely to change their minds when you and I present evidence to the contrary. We are in an era of framing so deft that evidence doesn’t matter since the mindset of the Trumpite has been terminally poisoned and unreceptive to reason, numbers or the like (since all are rigged).

    What are the political implications of such an impasse with perhaps 35 or 40 percent of the voting public last time who voted for a psychopath? If these people are immovable, how do we rational (I hope) people manage a win in 2018 in such proportion that it overcomes gerrymandering, state suppression of the vote efforts, Koch money etc.? Opinions are going to vary, as Tom Perez is finding out, but my view is that we have to mobilize those Democrats and independents who stayed home last time to vacate the couch on election day if they have any interest in reversing the present and accelerating loss of our democracy and, as a primary tactic, engage ourselves in Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy including a heavy allocation of funds to take back state houses from the ALEC-Koch duo, with the positive spillover for federal candidates in all states sure to come with robust state races. It is not enough to merely identify the problems all of us are having with a psychopath and a cowed Congress in charge of affairs of state; it is incumbent on us to come up with solutions. What I have here suggested amounts to such an attempt, and if there are better ways and means of solving our now rapid descent into Third World status, I am open to suggestion. Whatever works.

  8. This is probably just my imagination, but I have an impression that Republicans have never stopped being angry with Democrats for revealing that Nixon was a crook. Republicans have done every thing possible to prove that Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama were every bit as crooked as Richard Nixon was.

    And now Republicans are standing by Fake President Donald Trump as if to show their worst representative is more honorable than the Democrats’ best. In this day and age, what it’s really showing is they don’t like blacks and they don’t like women.

  9. Conservatives, GOPs, Christo-Fascists and Trumpists are rapidly falling out of favor. The electorate is getting wise as it always does, so these thugs and their staggeringly boorish supporters are retreating under their rocks. Thank you, Trump, for showing us how shockingly you can drive down our society to which much treasure and patriotism have been sacrificed. Even we weep for America and for Melania…
    Signed: Archie and Edith Bunker

  10. What we are dealing with is nothing less than an abject catastrophe and the sooner the majority of the people that weren’t brainwashed into supporting Trump get off of their sofas and do something about it the better. This was a direct attack by the Russians on the United States and Americans, likely connected with the Trump campaign and now his Administration, were very likely complicit in its execution. Thankfully this was a cyber and did-information campaign instead of a targeted nuclear strike but it was an attack nonetheless.

    It seems, just like after 9/1,1 that people are fighting as hard as they can to shut it out and get back to normal. Unfortunately, just like with 9/11, there is no normal to go back to. The only thing we’re going to be left with is a further entrenchment of Trumpism and a further fragmentation of this Nation as a cohesive country and even greater erosion of our influence overseas. What follows after that is almost too horrible to contemplate. Wake the &%$# up please!!!!!

  11. Democrats need to settle the hell down, kick to the curb the identity politics, campus looniness, and rapid social progress, and present themselves as the REAL American party. Sane, sound, and ready to defend our country against foreign threats. The focus of all political messaging from this point forward should be “we are loyal Americans, they are traitors.”

    The Republicans are destroying themselves for at least a generation to come, if Democrats are smart enough to take advantage of their treason.

  12. @Marge Wood:

    Still to soon to tell. It took nearly 3 years to get Nixon.

    New Republican defense for Trump and Kushner and the rest of the incompetents: They were too stupid, naïve, and uninformed about foreign policy to know that what they were doing was stupid and not in the best interests of the U.S.

  13. As Jo Ann Green so often cautions, “Follow the money!”

    “What money?” you ask.

    “Why, the family money. The business money. The investment money. The borrowed money.”

    This ain’t rocket science, folks. The Trumps have no ideological agenda. They are the Manhattan version of the Mafia, and they have found kindred spirits in Putin and the Russian Mafia.

    Money buys power, and power buys more money.

  14. Gee, I wish more people on here read just a little history at grade school level or above. The Russians (or Soviets, basically the same people) have engaged in espionage and influence peddling since before the Soviet Union existed. Read about Roosevelts vice president who was replaced with Truman because FDR was dying and many Democrats feared that FDR would be replaced by a known Soviet agent as president. Read Truman talking about getting along with Russia in the crucial post war period, only to discover later that he didn’t know about the secret US atomic bomb but Stalin already knew ALL about it. Look at video’s showing US farmers being forced to destroy milk, hogs, etc. under Federal Regulations during mass US starvation, patterning themselves upon Soviet methods, but not comprehending that Soviet procedures were to induce and enhance mass starvation, and we followed along. Read how we gave Russia control of North Korea, and they appointed the current family to run it, and then gave them German V-2’s to start the current ICBM / IRBM as well as masses of tanks, artillery, etc. that still exist north of Seoul. Don’t forget the NYC videos saying don’t help Great Britain survive at the front of the parade, and rear saying help them since the rear of the communist parade just discovered that RUSSIA was invaded, so our foreign policy should now change. We, and others, have frequently been influenced by Soviet / Russian agents again and again. Gee, people, history didn’t just start with whatever Kathy Lee Gifford just read this morning!

  15. Take Richard Nixon at his most paranoid subtract 50 IQ points and add twitter.

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