Thursday, January 12, 2017

Watergate On Fire -- Time For A New Metaphor

It can't be a coincidence that the Watergate office caught fire on the same day that Donald Trump gave a press conference in which he: (1) bullied the press; (2) sidestepped questions about whether his staff had contact with Russia during the campaign; (3) refused again to release his federal tax returns; and (4) provided no meaningful response to his myriad conflicts of interest.

As we know, the original Watergate scandal involved the bugging and break-in of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee -- which Trump, of course, would have blamed on the DNC -- and its cover up, as part of a vast criminal conspiracy by the Nixon Administration.  Ever since, any political scandal gets a "gate" slapped on it (e.g., IranContragate, Debategate, Travelgate, Bridgegate).  But we are entering a whole new era of political malfeasance.  It is time for a new metaphor.

The level of corruption and dishonesty to be anticipated by the incoming Trump Administration is certainly reminiscent in many ways of Nixon's.  Nixon famously said it was not illegal if the president does it -- although he said that after his resignation, not at the start of his presidency.  Trump's spokesman reiterated today that by definition, Trump as president could not have a conflict of interest. During the 1968 campaign, Nixon colluded with the South Vietnamese to undermine the Paris Peace Talks.  During the 2016 campaign, evidence suggests that Trump colluded with the Russians and certainly used information obtained by Russian hacking. Trump's thin-skin, need to be liked and vindictiveness harkens back to Nixon's instability and paranoia -- and his enemies list.  Then there's Nixon's distrust of the press which his Vice President referred to as "nattering nabobs of negativism."  For Trump, there's the more succinct: "fake news."

But Trump's disregard of the truth and the rule of law will make Nixon's conduct look pedestrian.  He lies every time he opens his mouth or sends a tweet.  He is admittedly still discussing financial deals with foreign billionaires.  He is not divesting himself of his business empire or setting up a blind trust, but rather leaving it to his sons to run -- a maneuver designed to enrich his family and maintain his wealth without coming close to resolving ethical, legal and constitutional concerns. 

What makes this potentially far worse than Watergate is that when Nixon's conduct came to light there were principled Republicans that were willing to stand up, challenge, investigate -- and ultimately to vote to impeach him.  There is no such thing as a principled Republican anymore.  The GOP is ignoring the alarm raised by ethics experts from both parties about Trump's unprecedented and substantial conflicts.  They hope to push through all of Trump's cabinet nominees without proper vetting of their potential conflicts.  And they do not want to even explore the possibility of Russian interference in the election and the Trump campaign's role in it.  The clear signal from the Republican-controlled Congress is that it will completely abdicate its role as a co-equal branch of government to serve as a check and balance on the Executive Branch.

Of course the Watergate caught on fire.  It no longer has meaning.  Trump Tower is the new Watergate.


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