Watching Donald J. Trump get hoisted on his own petard is déjà vu all over again for those of us repelled by former Republican President Richard M. Nixon in the turbulent 1970s. Whoever opined that “where Trump goes, so goes the nation” is even more misinformed than vacuous Donald Trump. Nixon dropped like a lead balloon and the nation moved on with scarcely a ripple. It will happen again when Trump is gone.
History is a laundry list of despots who fell with equal approbation. People as delusional as Trump have always risen in times of discord. Thankfully, the always disagreeable and usually fragmented human race is ultimately too selfish to make room for madmen who threaten their slow, uncertain march to contentment.
Proof of a positive post-Trumpian outcome can be found in the dramatic story of American political dysfunction when Nixon decided the U.S. Constitution was just another piece of paper to shred. Nixon’s downfall started at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C, on June 17, 1972, when five burglars in the President’s employ burgled the Democratic National Committee headquarters seeking dirt to hurt the Democrats.
When the failed plot was linked to Nixon many respected pundits declared our nation was teetering on the precipice of doom. It was indeed a dangerous time. America desperately needed a hero and none could be found. The Vietnam War had seen to that. The astronauts were a wonderful distraction, so was Hollywood and television, but even collectively they couldn’t camouflage the rot eating the heart out of Washington, D.C.
American prestige around the world was at an all-time low. America’s vacuous youth were deemed out of control. Angry women from every station in life screeched at men in general for being self-absorbed sexists. Angry black men marched around with guns demanding justice from white men with bigger guns who dared them to try and take it. Native Americans prepared for another Wounded Knee. Hysterics warned a second civil war was looming. Anarchy competed with racial discord and socialism dueled with capitalism to steal the nation’s soul. Sound familiar?
The naysayers crawling out of the woodwork in 1973 claimed America was doomed. They were certain the fabric of American society had been torn asunder. Political alarmists warned America’s great political experiment had failed.
Behind it all stood unrepentant Richard M. Nixon, the man who would be king. Like Trump, Nixon thought he knew better than our democratic institutions about what was good for the nation. And like Trump, he ended up getting all the blame when he was proven wrong.
When the dust from the scandal finally settled in 1973, his Attorney General John Mitchell, Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs John Ehrlichman, and chief of staff H.R. Haldeman had resigned. Subsequently, during the federal Watergate trials in 1974, all three men were convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, perjury, and other charges. All three were sentenced to between two and a half and eight years in federal prison.
Nixon finally fell because a handful of resolute Republican politicians ultimately broke ranks with their intransigent colleagues, joining Democrats who said America was more important than Richard Milhous Nixon. Whether their stance was politics as usual or the sudden onset of emerging moral stature doesn’t matter.
Until they did so, no one in the Republican Party would admit Nixon was a liar who used his dreadful fabrications to save himself and his cronies. His mendacity was so egregious that H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s acid-tongued gatekeeper, reputedly coined the phrase, “That statement is no longer operative” to protect Nixon from himself.
Like Trump, Nixon didn’t utter one lie so big it tore the heavens asunder. His utterances were a constant barrage of half-truths, lies of omission, and petty denunciations of opponents through the mouths of cronies who knew that if Nixon went down so would they.