Ideas and Impressions: ‘Not enough shock and zero shame

By Jason Moscovitz

As the Trump impeachment “breaking news” drama in the U.S. continues to feed on itself, I am more interested in the big picture than the details. The big picture inevitably brings me to comparisons with the Watergate scandal that crushed president Richard Nixon.

The historic Watergate hearings in the summer of 1973 coincided with my graduating from journalism at Carleton University. My major was political science. Watergate became my passion and I absorbed everything. I had the time to go full throttle.

After graduation, I worked part-time doing media research. I worked on my own schedule, so I had lots of free time to follow Watergate all summer. I watched every second and then the replays at night.

The spectacle of watching the unthinkable every day for weeks was a measure of how the Watergate hearings had to be one of the best live dramas in the history of television. That and the mourning weekend for president John Kennedy would be the classics.

Not to diminish anything on the Kennedy side, Watergate ran on high over a long shelf life. It never got boring. It just got better. What made it so interesting was that back then, many Americans didn’t think a president could do such rotten things.

Today, people take it for granted that President Donald Trump is no angel, but Nixon had a checkered past as well. He was called Tricky Dicky long before Watergate. Point being, back then, the president of the United States, by virtue of the office, was usually, at least initially, given the benefit of the doubt.

In Nixon’s time, there was no all-news television or social media. The president was allowed to breathe and some things really were kept top secret. It was a cloistered public existence compared to today’s madness.

But for all the differences, there are similarities – one of them glaring. The root of both presidents’ trouble was actions they undertook to get dirt on political opponents, past and present. Nixon was bloodthirsty for dirt on the Kennedys.

Nixon would have survived Watergate except for those countless tape recordings in which he clearly incriminated himself. Once the Supreme Court decision forced their release, Nixon’s Republicans in the U.S. Senate jumped ship and his presidency was dead.

You would have to wonder if the call with the Ukrainian president was taped or preserved when Trump was seeking dirt on Joe Biden. Somehow, you would think not. One would assume Nixon was the last of the U.S. presidents who taped themselves for posterity, but in that nut house environment, who knows. What we do know is that there are hotly contested differences over the veracity of the transcript.

Officials on the call with Trump have given sworn testimony that the White House version is missing some key parts that would put Trump in an even worse light. Missing parts?

It reminds me of a pivotal Nixon tape with an 18-minute gap. Nixon said Rosemary Woods, his executive assistant mistakenly erased the 18 minutes while transcribing. There was so much bad stuff without the gap one could only assume the 18 missing minutes was a smoking machine gun.

There was something else about Nixon. The Watergate break-in was not Nixon’s only faux pas. His long list of misdeeds included another break in at a psychiatrist’s office to get dirt on another political enemy. And how about his threat to use the Internal Revenue Service to go after enemy journalists?

Trump’s long list of misdeeds stem from a Nixon-like mind that sees enemies everywhere while Trump surpasses Nixon when it comes to adultery and illegal payoffs to keep women quiet.

Watergate had “Deep Throat,” Mark Felt, the second-in-command at the FBI who was passed over by Nixon when he named a new director. On one of the tapes, Nixon referred to Felt as “that Jew from the FBI,” even though Felt was not Jewish.

Trump’s Ukrainian extortion attempt burst open when a whistleblower came forward because, as in the Nixon era, it ultimately came down to a president’s abuse of power.

Nixon resigned before he was impeached. Trump won’t have to because in today’s world of five scandals a day, his bad behaviour is the swamp that is the Trump presidency.

Unlike Watergate, there is not enough shock and zero shame.