Carl Bernstein: This Trump presidency is worse than Watergate

Why, you ask? For two reasons, he says. One: Nixon wasn’t as publicly demagogic as Trump is in attacking the press. Is that right? The NYT, July 21, 1974:

The Watergate scandal, Mr. Nixon said, has been “the broadest but the thinnest scandal in American history” and “would have been a blip” if not for those in the news media “who hate my guts with a passion… I can see in the eyes of them, not only their hatred but their frustration… “

White House speech writer Patrick Buchanan, meanwhile, has stepped up his attacks on the press, charging that “the big media” distort their coverage of the news by giving “enormous, positive and favorable publicity to movements associated with the far left.” He listed some of these causes as “the antiwar movement, the civil rights movement, the consumer movement.”

But the circle of those who are out to “get” the President is much larger, according to this view, than enemies in Congress and the press. “They” include the “McGovern crowd,” liberals generally—the whole “Eastern establishment,” in fact, with its roots in sections of both parties. Together, it contended, they compose “the impeachment lobby,” elements that have always hated Richard Nixon and have seized on this opportunity to bring him down.

Not quite “enemy of the people” territory, perhaps, but the same zip code, replete with a cameo from Trump fan Pat Buchanan. Joshua Tait, a PhD candidate at UNC, posted a fun thread a few days ago about how National Review and its readers processed the Watergate saga at the time. Nixon is derided by today’s conservatives as a liberal Republican, exactly the sort of corrupt squish whom the party needed Reagan to save it from. In 1974, though?

The “Will” referred to there is George Will, an NR editor at the time who was sternly critical of Nixon over Watergate and was seen recently encouraging Americans to vote Democratic this fall to rebuke Trump. (Another interesting Watergate/Trump through-line!) It may be true — in fact, it surely is — that Nixon didn’t attack the press and the people investigating him as frequently as Trump does, but is that because Nixon cared about restraint and decorum? Or is it because Nixon didn’t enjoy a conservative media sound truck willing to amplify his message 24/7 or a direct pipeline to his base a la modern social media like Twitter? Conservatives like to joke that every former Republican leader becomes a statesman to the lefties who used to hate him as soon as he can be used as a cudgel against the current Republican leader. You’re getting a taste of that here. From Carl Bernstein. With respect to Richard Nixon.

The other reason Bernstein claims the Trump presidency is worse than Watergate is that, he says, in Watergate the system worked. Nixon’s corruption was discovered. He was forced from office via bipartisan pressure in Congress. There’s no denying that partisan polarization in Congress is severe today compared to what it was in Nixon’s era, just as there’s no denying that the House Intelligence Committee’s divisions over Russiagate have turned it into a hopelessly politicized clusterfark. It’s also undeniably true that there are *factions* of Republicans in the House, like the Freedom Caucus, whose attitude towards Russiagate seems geared exclusively at finding ways to protect Trump from it. But the broader reality is what it is: The special counsel has been on the job for more than a year and has indicted some two dozen people; there’s been no Saturday night massacre, whatever Trump’s instincts on that may be; we could be as little as a month away from a report on possible obstruction of justice by the president; and the Senate Intelligence Committee, by seemingly all accounts, has been quite sober and nonpartisan in its own investigation of Russiagate. Before we pronounce that the system failed in this case, can we wait for the system to finish working? Good lord.

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