Op-Ed

All the presidents’ men, pt. 2   

“There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.” Congresswoman Elizabeth Cheney

Fifty years ago, on June 17, 1972, while making his rounds on his first night at work, a security officer discovered a break-in at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters in the Watergate Office Building in Washington, D.C.

The security officer discovered that the break-in involved five “burglars” who were immediately arrested and later brought to trial.

At the time of the break-in, the security officer did not know that the masterminds of this burglary included highly placed individuals in President Richard Nixon’s White House. Nor was the security officer aware that the break-in was intended to discover vital intelligence to assist President Nixon in his presidential re-election campaign in November 1972.

This break-in at the DNC headquarters started what came to be referred to as the infamous Watergate scandal, named after the complex in which one of the most outrageous political crimes up to that time was committed.

Last week, we saw that Watergate was about political espionage and sabotage, theft, lies, and cover-ups, all executed to enable Nixon to remain in the presidency. Nixon’s intoxication with his position was exceeded only by his lust for power.

We recounted that Watergate changed American politics forever, leading many Americans to question their leaders and think more critically about the presidency.

In the final analysis, 69 people were indicted and 48 people — many of them top Nixon administration officials – were convicted and went to prison.

Forty-eight years later, similar highly placed operatives closely tied to Donald Trump’s White House attempted to surpass Nixon’s criminal conspiracy.

In 2020, President Trump and his sycophantic subordinates shamelessly tried to execute a coup d’état, the first in American presidential history, by seeking to usurp the presidency by brazen deception and outright lies fueled by a complete contempt for the will of the American people.

Therefore, this week, we will consider this — what do all the presidents’ men who participated in Nixon’s and Trump’s conspiracies have in common, although separated by nearly five decades?

Last week, we examined the Watergate scandal and its aftermath. This week, we will discuss how Trump’s lust for power grossly exceeded the high crimes and misdemeanors that Nixon committed.


President Donald J. Trump

In 2020, President Trump conducted a scathingly acrimonious, divisive campaign, offering no new initiatives or giving even an inkling of any kind of thoughtful leadership.

As he did four years earlier, in 2016, during his first election campaign, Trump launched vitriolic attacks against anyone who did not buy into his vague and undelivered promise to “Make America Great Again”.

Trump’s failed leadership regarding the deadliest pandemic to grip the world in more than a century, his stridently shameless support for his ultra-conservative base and far-right militiamen, his constant misrepresentations regarding the state of affairs about “turning the curve” on the pandemic, and his vilification of virtually all minority groups living in America have branded him as not only the quintessential “prevaricator in chief” but as indisputably the worst American president in history.

Trump viciously attacked the media and media personalities, members of his own Republican Party, women, whites and African-Americans who actively protested against police brutality in the Black Lives Matter movement, and Democratic congressmen and congresswomen, governors and mayors. He insulted members of his own Cabinet at different times and debased established institutions and norms with increasing regularity.

Trump’s enormous propensity for hyperbole and outright lies is exceeded only by his massive narcissistic ego.

Although he repeatedly demonstrated only a superficial grasp of national and global issues, Trump provided few details on the policy positions he proffered. During his presidency, Trump behaved like a spoiled child who whines and complains about how unfair the rules are when he does not get his way. He is famous for blaming others for his shortcomings.

During his presidency, on the international scene, Trump was indisputably the most divisive, uncouth, amoral leader of the free world who disparaged decades-old American and international democratic institutions while pandering to autocratic world leaders as he simultaneously and relentlessly insulted the leaders of America’s closest allies.

He was the first American president to cozy up to tyrannical world leaders, especially Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, Kim Jong-un of North Korea, and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.

During his term in office, Trump also demonstrated disdain and disrespect for developing countries, referring to them as “shit-hole” countries.

By his frequent public pronouncements and behavior, Trump did little to disabuse anyone that he is not a rabid racist, a neo-fascist, a misogynist, and an isolationist who possesses an insular and myopic worldview.

Trump eagerly embraced the unethical ethos and degrading demeanor of the far-right rabble, including neo-fascists and gun-toting adherents of the Confederacy, whose mantra is to “Make America White Again”.

Trump repeatedly attempted to corrupt American institutions that represented a restraint on his authoritarian agenda, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He did not hesitate to fire any public official who did not submit to his will. At his core, Trump personified an imperial presidency.

Before the first vote was cast in last year’s election, Trump’s behavior can best be described as immoral, dangerous, reprehensible, resentful and disrespectful of democratic norms and conventions.

Realizing that he was in the political fight of his life in the 2020 presidential elections, the imperial president unapologetically dispatched his spineless, sycophantic senators to secure the appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice whose leanings were more favorable to the right-wing beliefs he supposedly espoused in case he needed her vote to keep him in office.


The big lie

On November 3, the American electorate spoke loudly, clearly and overwhelmingly.

They applied the brakes to Trump’s inane and arcane antics. Joe Biden won a decisive majority with more than 81 million votes, the most ever polled by any American president, to Trump’s 74 million.

Biden’s popular vote translated to 306 votes in the Electoral College to Trump’s 232, making the decision of the American electorate even more resounding and final.

Despite this thorough trouncing he received from American voters, Trump never accepted that he lost the 2020 elections.

He had begun to propagate the “big lie” before the election, telling his rally crowd faithful that, if he was defeated at the polls, they could be sure there was cheating involved on the part of the Democrats. Following Election Day, he immediately began to ratchet up the rhetoric on the “big lie” that it was Trump who had really won the election and should remain in office.

Trump’s intoxication and lust for power

After losing the 2020 presidential election, Trump used every means to deprive the American voters of determining who would become president.

He fomented civil unrest to attempt to hold on to power. Trump calculated, choreographed and 

orchestrated an unprecedented attack on Congress by his far-right, white supremacist supporters on January 6, 2021, to prevent the House of Representatives from certifying the votes of the Electoral College, the last step required to finalize the results of the election.

He filed 60 lawsuits to invalidate the general election and lobbied various state governments, including the duly authorized election scrutineers, to overturn the election. Nothing proved successful.

Trump castigated and vilified Vice President Mike Pence because Pence refused to nullify the will of the American people when Congress met to perform its constitutional responsibility of certifying the 2020 presidential elections.

We are now learning in real time on national television of the enormous and far-reaching efforts that Trump pursued to assuage his insatiable intoxication and lust for power from the January 6, 2020 Congressional Committee investigating the unprecedented lengths to which Trump went to overturn the November 2020 presidential election. Many of Trump’s boorish antics to accomplish this, while not surprising, are stunningly revelatory.


Co-opting the
Republican Party

Unlike the critical stance that Congressional Republicans took against President Nixon for his involvement in the Watergate scandal, an overwhelming number of today’s Republicans in both Houses of Congress have been co-opted by former President Trump.

They have been blinded by the dollar signs they associate with Trump. They have entirely and unapologetically endorsed the big lie that the 2020 presidential elections were stolen and that Trump was unreasonably deprived of his victory.

They swallowed the big lie, hook, line, and sinker, to ensure their own positions of power, no matter what.

All the presidents’ men

Fifty years ago, amidst a country deeply divided by the Vietnam War and deep-seated race relations troubles, Republicans adopted a moral stance against Nixon, who lied to the world, covered up his criminal activities, and obstructed justice.

The same can be said of some of the president’s men, like John Dean, who challenged his authority and exposed Nixon’s criminality and his failed coup d’état.

Fifty years later, Republicans in both Houses of Congress, with very few exceptions, have undergone a monumental metamorphosis.

Those Republicans will rue the day when history calls on them to account for their blind faith in Trump.

The men who surrounded Trump, who aided and abetted his attempted but failed coup d’état, will have, at best, a very dishonest and unprincipled legacy of subterfuge, lies and failure to uphold their pledges to the constitution and the people they represent.

As we continue to learn about Trump’s abortive antics to hold onto power and his insatiable intoxication and lust for power, we can conclusively witness how and why Trump remains a clear and present danger to the American experiment with democracy.


Conclusion

The ignoble experiences of two disgraced presidents, albeit separated by 50 years, are instructive. Both have personified the idea articulated by Lord Acton that “power corrupts, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely”.

In the final analysis, when the dust settles on America’s most recent national nightmare that Trump exemplifies, embattled Republican Congresswoman Elizabeth Cheney will be vindicated when we recall Cheney’s admonition to her Republican colleagues: “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

Sadly, for America and the world, that day has not yet come.

• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Bahamas, Advisors and Chartered Accountants. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com

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