By BoomerCafé Co-Founder and Executive Editor Greg Dobbs
Not that our 37th president, elected fifty years ago, was one of the best. To the contrary, although he had a sage’s grasp of America’s place in the world and could claim some sterling triumphs, they were subsumed by his scandalous turpitude.
As a young producer for ABC News stationed in the hearing room during the explosive Senate Watergate investigation, I remember well when then-White House counsel John Dean helped blow the lid off Nixon’s administration by testifying to the “cancer on the presidency.”
But compared to the guy we’ve got in the White House now, Nixon, who resigned under the cloud of imminent impeachment, is looking better every day. His cancer was curable; all it took was his resignation. Donald Trump’s might bedevil us for decades.
Sure, Nixon lied. “I am not a crook,” he assured the American people on national television. But as it turned out, he was.
Sound familiar today? Just last week— even before what our president calls the “treason” in The New York Times of an honest column by a dishonest aide— Trump defiantly declared, “We do everything straight. We do everything by the book.” Some of his own defenders had to be laughing (even if the likes of his long-trusted lawyer and hush money man Michael Cohen wasn’t).
And yes, Nixon did his best to politicize— “weaponize” is the more current lingo— the executive branch of government. Does this sound familiar too?
Nixon planned to employ the IRS to punish people on his infamous “enemies list.” Hmmm, how about that list of former intelligence chiefs who can lose their security clearances because they’ve criticized Trump? Nixon also fired appointees in the Justice Department who wouldn’t march to his drum. This has sinister symmetry to Trump’s disquieting tweet last weekend taking Justice to task for indicting two friendly Republicans.
Nixon even sanctioned the coverup of a criminal break-in on his behalf at Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington in the building called ‘Watergate” (thus the name of the scandal, and all the “gates” that have followed). No break-ins these days; just criminal convictions or indictments of presidential intimates like Trump’s campaign manager, his national security advisor, his personal lawyer, and about a dozen others.
In short, if our 37th president was contemptible, so is our 45th. But as columnist Michael Gerson put it in The Washington Post, here’s the difference: “We are a superpower run by a simpleton. From a foreign policy perspective, this is far worse than being run by a skilled liar. It is an invitation to manipulation and contempt.”
What’s worse, “contemptible” is only one of many derogatory words we can use about the man who sits in the Oval Office now. And if journalistic legend Bob Woodward is to be believed— remember, it was Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein whose precise and persistent reporting brought Richard Nixon down— then it’s not just people like me who use defamatory language about this man. According to Woodward’s new book, it is the very people who work for Trump and know him the best.
If their quotes are accurately reported, they amount to “contemptible,” squared.
Like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, reportedly saying after a National Security Council meeting that Trump has the understanding of “a fifth- or sixth-grader.” And Chief of Staff John Kelly, allegedly calling the president “an idiot,” saying Trump has “gone off the rails” and describing the administration as “Crazytown.” And another of Trump’s former personal lawyers, John Dowd, referring to his client as a “fu#king liar,” telling him to his face that if he does testify in the special counsel’s Russia investigation, he’ll end up in “an orange jumpsuit.” Former economic advisor Gary Cohn calling Trump “dumb as shit.” Former national security advisor H.R. McMaster calling him “a dope.” And former secretary of state Rex Tillerson calling him “a moron.”
Predictably, some of the figures quoted in Woodward’s book have pushed back, Kelly calling the part about him “total BS.” Maybe it is. But given the sensitivity of Kelly’s relationship with the president— and the swarm of strikingly similar reports from other sources— maybe it isn’t. Because you know what they say: where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Granted, that’s hardly a trustworthy tenet of journalism, but coming as they do from the most credible reporter in Washington, a two-time (and undisputed) Pulitzer Prize winner, these quotes do carry a whole lot more weight than they otherwise would.
Which raises the question, how in heaven’s name can Republicans still support this guy? Maybe we have to cut the Jim Mattises and John Kellys and others (like the author of the New York Times piece) some slack; maybe, as many have long suspected, they are forfeiting their pride and even their reputations in the interest of restraining an unbalanced president. But the others?
Back in Richard Nixon’s day, although Nixon brought expertise and insight to the Oval Office that Trump doesn’t begin to have, his own supporters eventually had enough backbone to say enough was enough. It was none less than Barry Goldwater— the party’s 1964 presidential candidate whose Arizona senate seat John McCain later occupied— who went to the White House and told the president that if he didn’t voluntarily resign, Congress would remove him involuntarily from office.
Perhaps surprisingly, Nixon’s name doesn’t even appear on the most recent list of our nation’s ten worst presidents, the output of a survey of the Presidents & Executive Politics Section of the American Political Science Association. Then again, perhaps presidential scholars conclude that Nixon’s successes supersede his failures.
On that same list, Donald Trump is dead last.