James Fallows was a novice journalist during Watergate.

So I’ve been thinking about comparisons between Watergate and the murky, fast-changing Comey-Russia-Flynn-Trump affair. As with anything involving Donald Trump, we have no idea where this will lead, what is “true,” and when the next bombshell will go off.

But based simply on what is known so far, this scandal looks worse than Watergate. Worse for and about the president. Worse for the overall national interest. Worse in what it suggests about the American democratic system’s ability to defend itself.

He goes on to give some reasons for this view.

Watergate was comparatively parochial.

And what is alleged this time? Nothing less than attacks by an authoritarian foreign government on the fundamentals of American democracy, by interfering with an election—and doing so as part of a larger strategy that included parallel interference in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and elsewhere. At worst, such efforts might actually have changed the election results. At least, they were meant to destroy trust in democracy. Not much of this is fully understood or proven, but the potential stakes are incomparably greater than what happened during Watergate, crime and cover-up alike.

Undeniable. Do we want the US to come to resemble contemporary Russia? No we do not.

Nixon was scuzzy but he put up at least a show of deference to law and norms.

Nothing Donald Trump has done, on the campaign trail or in office, has expressed awareness of, or respect for, established rules. Nixon’s private comments could be vile, but nothing he said in public is comparable to Trump’s dismissing James Comey as a “showboat,” or the thuggishly menacing tweet that Trump sent out today –

That being the infamous “Comey better hope” tweet.

Nixon was terrible in many ways, but he was neither stupid nor ignorant.

He was paranoid, resentful, bigoted, and a crook. He was also deeply knowledgeable, strategically prescient, publicly disciplined—and in some aspects of his domestic policy strikingly “progressive” by today’s standards (for instance, his creation of the Environmental Protection Agency).

Donald Trump, by contrast—well, read the transcripts of his two most recent interviews, and weep. He is impulsive, and ignorant, and apparently beyond the reach of any control, even his own.

And that’s not even all. It’s far from all. He’s also mean, and a bully, and narcissistic, and sexist, and rapey, and a liar, and a cheat, and a thief, and a fraud…and that too is not all. One can list bad things about him for a long time, and I can think of literally nothing to put in the good column. What is there? He doesn’t actually punch people on camera? Not good enough to merit placement in the good column. He’s not generous – he’s not kind – he’s not compassionate – he’s not amusing – I could go on that way for a long time too.

Then there’s the fact that people stopped Nixon, including some Republicans. Now? Cue hollow laughter.

On the merits, this era’s Republican president has done far more to justify investigation than Richard Nixon did. Yet this era’s Republican senators and members of congress have, cravenly, done far less. A few have grumbled about “concerns” and so on, but they have stuck with Trump where it counts, in votes, and since Comey’s firing they have been stunning in their silence.

The outlook is grim.

6 Responses to “Comparisons”