It is unfortunate that the 50th anniversary of the Watergate scandal coincides with the current political crisis, but we’ve added “-gate” to every bump in the road for the past half century, and both scandals involve the White House, so the popular linkage was likely inevitable.
But Matt Wuerker (Politico) demonstrates how different the world we live in is from the one in which Nixon’s fall from power took place.
Note that Wuerker isn’t trying for the Pulitzer Prize in Drawing Pictures of Actual Facts, which has replaced the former political cartooning category.
And the existence of Twitter is hardly the only difference between the two men and their respective scandals anyway.
If, however, you’re looking for a documentary approach, Tom Toro‘s classic New Yorker cartoon seems a summary of things, at least for those of us old enough to remember the scandal everyone else seems to think is repeating itself.
To start with, Trump could not have risen to power in Nixon’s world, because the route to popularity then led through the much narrower gate of three major networks and a clear distinction between “real” newspapers and the supermarket tabloids, plus radio talk shows hobbled by a requirement to provide equal time for responsible opposing views.
Granted, “Tricky Dick” earned his nickname, but his approach to the public was more wheedling than aggressive. Confronted with accusations of accepting favors, he insisted that his wife wore a good, Republican cloth coat, not mink, and that his little girls’ dog Checkers was not a bribe and would not be taken from them.
He was stubborn, but not confrontational, and, rather than coming across as a tough guy who didn’t give a damn what you thought of him, Nixon often seemed pathetic, like the time he snuck out of the White House in the middle of the night to go sit and talk to anti-war demonstrators at the Lincoln Memorial, and then could only chat about football.
Trump is the blowhard uncle who ruins Thanksgiving dinner with his rants.
Nixon was the out-of-touch uncle who asks the kids how they like fads that disappeared before they were born.
And — that laughing smile behind the “I’d like to kill you” eyes notwithstanding — Trump would never have blundered into this encounter in the first place.
For one thing, Nixon did not have reporters from Fox, OANN and Newsmax he could call on to ensure a friendly softball question.
Plus, as the walls closed in, Nixon reportedly wandered the White House late at night talking to the portraits. I suspect that, had he had Twitter, he’d have dug himself a deeper hole rather than brazening his way out of it.
But presidential personalities are not the only way in which these two scandals are markedly different.
This Jack Davis Time magazine cover is one of several Watergate cartoons the Washington Post featured in an article this past week.
It is compared there to Thomas Nast’s famous finger-pointing cartoon of the Tweed Ring, and that may well have been an inspiration.
But Nast’s cartoon wanders past the center of the ring, with the four characters in front being the miscreants and those others being simply parts of the grift.
Davis’s work is more in line with this 1861 Currier & Ives illustration depicting the many-headed secessionist Hydra that Winfield Scott confronted, in which each head is a specific rebel leader, labeled with a specific form of disloyalty.
Davis’s depiction of the Watergate crew is critical: James McCord, head of security for the President’s campaign committee; Jeb Magruder, deputy director of the committee; H.R. Haldeman, White House Chief of Staff; John Dean, White House Counsel; John Mitchell, head of the campaign committee; and Maurice Stans, campaign finance chairman.
Nixon had his supporters in Congress, certainly, but the scandal itself took place in the executive branch.
By contrast, we’ve seen how Trump roped in members of Congress in his attempt to overthrow the election results, and, if Rep Barry Loudermilk is innocent until proven guilty of giving insurgents a pre-riot tour of the Capitol, he seems only as innocent as RJ Matson depicts him: Innocent of admitting how much he knows.
And Loudermilk is just one of several Representatives and Senators who appear to have cooperated with the attempted coup, either as it was unfolding or as accessories after the fact.
Nixon had supporters in Congress, but they weren’t co-conspirators.
Nor, as John Darkow depicts it, did we have a suggestion that the independence and neutrality of the Judicial Branch had been compromised by Watergate.
It’s true that, while Ginni Thomas has been active in soliciting false election returns, it hasn’t been proven that her husband even knows what she’s been doing to overturn the legally elected government of the United States.
But Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion, and Clarence Thomas was the only justice to dissent when Donald Trump sought to shield his papers from investigators. If it’s not a fix, it still smells.
The previous Court had voted 9-0 against Nixon’s attempt to withhold the White House tapes.
Juxtaposition of the Day
We are seeing a far more significant divide between covering up the facts and revealing the truth than we had in Watergate, where a lot of the cover-up seemed — that 18 minute gap aside — to have more to do with spin and obstruction than with outright denial.
As Telnaes points out, legal mastermind John Eastman took the Fifth some 100 times when questioned, which is not an admission of guilt, but then requested a pardon, which is all but such an admission.
Meanwhile, Weyant notes, Republicans in Congress have not only closed ranks in defense of the president, but have actively punished Liz Cheney for her pursuit of the facts and are endeavoring to assure that she lose her seat in Congress.
Nixon loyalists Gordon Liddy and John McLaughlin were lionized, embraced and enriched by the rightwing for their service to the disgraced president, but their post-scandal glory was not officially promoted by the Republican Party. In fact, Liddy served nearly five years in prison for his role in the events.
We’ll see how it all shakes out this time around, but it isn’t Watergate.
And, as Pat Bagley suggests, it sure isn’t over.
2 thoughts on “CSotD: This is not Watergate”
Enjoyed your comparison insights. Regular readers will remember that previously you made some comments on Wordle and may like to know that your post comparing Nixon and Trump provides a major clue today’s Wordle.
It’s been a while to sink in but noticing the void is still strong:
Some artists have been that important.
Raise a glass to the work and memory of Stuart Carlson.
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