Before Trump was even elected there was talk that something funny was going on with Russia. Bob Woodward writes about it in his book, Fear: Trump in the White House. It’s first mentioned almost in passing as some far-off threat that might not be anything serious.
But as soon as James Comey began his investigation, people on the left started making allusions to the Watergate scandal.
In a way, it makes perfect sense, aside from the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal in the late 90’s we don’t have many other instances where talk of “impeachable offenses” has been taken seriously.
In retrospect, we know Nixon was guilty of covering up the Watergate break-in at the D.N.C. We know that when he said, “People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I am not a crook,” that he was telling half-truths and whole fantasy to the American public.
We know Trump has fibbed and lied and has been boisterous and “un-presidential,” but the jury is still out, so to speak, on impeachment.
However, there does appear to be hard evidence of campaign finance violations. According to an article by the Associated Press, it is “a violation of federal campaign laws to solicit anything from a foreign government to help a campaign.” The “quid pro quo” is hinted at in text messages between Trump aides and Ukraine diplomats released last week. There’s also that interview with George Stephanopolous earlier this year, where the president stated that he would “want to hear” information from a foreign country about an opponent during a campaign before notifying the F.B.I.
In 1972, many Americans, if they cared about Watergate at all, took it as a certainty that this was just how politics worked. Maybe on a subconscious level, the public understood that the people in power are just people who, like all of us, can give in to the lure of power and corruption and do great feats of generosity and service. Currently, Nancy Pelosi continues to claim that public support still doesn’t exist for impeachment proceedings although recent polls show that might be changing.
One thing that we have now that they didn’t have then is a framework for how to impeach a president.
In the 70’s the last president to be impeached was Andrew Johnson more than a hundred years before. No one knew exactly what “high crimes and misdemeanors” meant.
An obscure book called Impeachment: The Constitutional Problems written by Raoul Berger and coincidentally published only months before the Watergate break-in helped the 38 House members who would vote on whether to impeach the president or not understand how the process should work.
They came to the conclusion that “high crimes” did not mean breaking the law, especially since a criminal code didn’t even exist when the constitution was written. A “high crime” could be just an abuse of power, a political crime.
To some in Washington, the Ukraine affair is a clear overstep of presidential power yet, to others it has already been written off as more liberal overreaching now that the Russia investigation has amounted to little.
Trump at one point said all this impeachment talk would help him in the next election and Democrats have admitted that talk of impeachment is politically risky. Risky because the election is just over a year away and no president has ever been removed from office by impeachment. Nixon resigned before the impeachment vote. Clinton and Andrew Johnson were impeached by the House but not the Senate.
Put simply, it’s a mess.
In some ways, President Trump is a reflection of the so-called millennial generation. He shirks customs and traditions. He laughs in the face of “polite culture” and brags about it on Twitter. Yet, he’s polarizing in a time where most things in the mass consciousness are middle-of-the-road by design.
As much as millennials might want to deride American policy or the presidency or traditions as a whole, whether that be Christmas or gender, the majority of the public still expects a president to act “presidential”, whatever that means.
Much like Christmas: We still want to celebrate it even though we know the truth about Ol’ Saint Nick.
One of the slogans Ronald Reagan used during the 1980 presidential campaign was: “Make America Great Again.”
Trump has hung his hat, pun intended, on MAGA and many have poked holes in this idea. They ask, “When was America great? During the genocide of indigenous people? Slavery?” and so on.
The writer, economist, political scientist, Francis Fukiyama claimed that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki marked the high point of history and we have been in steady decline since.
The callous will point to the repackaging of culture and fashion from previous decades sold again to the masses as evidence of this devolution but nostalgia is good business (Stranger Things anyone?). It’s no great surprise that Trump would re-use a well-loved president’s slogan just as it’s no great surprise that some on the left wanted so badly for the Russia probe to be their Watergate.
In the long view, America has had 230 years of American presidents. Even if he’s reelected Trump will only be commander in chief for 3% of the country’s history.
Fortunately, we live in a democracy where we vote and representatives in the Electoral College make their votes based on our votes.
Still, we focus so much attention on the presidency that we lose the forest for the trees. We listen to politicians give us stump speeches on the things they will do and we forget that they can’t just write policies and make them laws.
That’s why we have Congress and we hardly pay attention to them at all, except to whine about how they don’t get anything done because they can’t agree.
Since 1932 only about half of Americans, on average, vote in presidential elections and even less in local elections which have a much greater bearing on our daily lives.
In a sense, we’ve resigned ourselves to a fate of “people ruled” rather than staking a claim in our elected officials.
We all have a voice and we should start using it because at this point it appears that Donald J. Trump might not be the president we want, but he’s the president we deserve.