Trump: in the same mould as Nixon?

BY Angelo Fernando

There were whistleblowers and subpoenas, government leaks and dirty tricks, and an angry president lashing out at his critics. It was hard to resist this gripping story of a White House sliding deeper into legal jeopardy. And I’m not talking of the present White House but the one 45 years ago, which was embroiled in the Watergate scandal.

As the heat index of the recent impeachment proceedings fluctuated, it was still good to put these two crises side by side and take note of what happens when the constitution is violated.

Also, it’s useful to watch how the gift of technology played into much of the recent impeachment hearings. Back then with Watergate and the impeachment of President Richard Nixon, there were tapes. Today, we have tweets.

The parallels between Nixon and Trump are uncanny.

Similar to Nixon, President Donald Trump moves from crisis to crisis with withering attacks on his critics. Like Nixon’s conspirators who were arrested after having burglarised the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the Watergate building, those caught in the dragnet of the Special Counsel investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 elections implicated present White House staffers, the president’s lawyers and those who worked on the team to elect Trump.

Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are serving prison terms while two others have already served their sentences. The term now adapted from the seminal book on Watergate to fit the present scenario is ‘All the president’s indicted men.’

NIXON’S PLUMBERS In 1972, Nixon ordered the FBI to stop investigating the break-in at the DNC. Trump to this day continues to attack the FBI. The Watergate leaker ‘Deep Throat’ was later identified as an FBI agent. In Trump’s case, the first whistleblower who triggered the impeachment inquiry was a CIA officer.

Nixon’s personal lawyer Herbert Kalmbach was sent to prison. In December 2018, Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison.

And Nixon was embroiled in secrets and so obsessed with leaks that he employed a special investigative unit nicknamed ‘the plumbers.’ Trump’s inner circle was so paranoid about leaks that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions even floated the idea that White House aides may have to take a polygraph test. It was not implemented.

Here too, the Trump administration is doing exactly what the Nixon administration did. At that time, the State Department asked three staffers to take lie detector tests.

MEDIA BAITING Nixon and Trump share an intrinsic distrust of the media. In 1972, Nixon ranted that “the press is the enemy.” Trump has lifted
a line from that playbook and keeps calling the media “the enemy of the people.”

Nixon asked his staff to ban a journalist at the Los Angeles Times from the White House because of a story he didn’t like. Trump has had a CNN reporter banned. Another TV anchor from the Spanish media was ejected from a press conference because of a line of questioning he didn’t like.

But if Nixon was inflamed by the media, Trump pours petrol on them. Part of it appears to be recklessness; but part may be strategic.

While Nixon attacked the media, he also tried to play it. Similarly, Trump has perfected the art of getting the media to focus on what he wants – by tweeting. He creates a torrent of stories and airtime by using Twitter to attack and insinuate. And though his tweets are grammatically challenged, they’re laden with issues.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES Nixon didn’t need to conspire and cover up but was driven by a belief that there was a conspiracy against him. Trump feeds off conspiracy theories that he ignites and retweets.

In fact, it’s Trump’s proclivity for conspiracy theories that apparently led him to get into a phone conversation with Ukraine’s president over a cybersecurity firm in that country known as CrowdStrike.

Trump believed that the Ukrainian company had hidden the Democratic National Committee’s server. Trump’s own Homeland Security adviser had debunked the theory. And now, it’s this Ukraine connection that’s plaguing Trump. But the Ukraine involvement is nothing like the Vietnam conspiracy.

Nixon knew how to dance through the political minefield, and still ended up tainting his presidency and leaving in disgrace. Trump seems at best more naive or oblivious to the gravitas of his actions by creating his own media, or playing to it.

It even appears that he enjoys the attention. And so he tweets!

Similar to Nixon, President Donald Trump moves from crisis to crisis with withering attacks on his critics