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David Rothkopf: Political crisis in US much worse than Watergate
February 07, 2018
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The political crisis now confronting the United States is not the worst since Watergate. It is the worst since the Civil War.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that President Donald Trump is waging a relentless, self-preservation-driven campaign to discredit the core of our justice establishment and to unseat anyone he sees as a threat.

This is not to minimize the damage Watergate did to America. Richard Nixon oversaw an illegal effort to gain electoral advantage and then covered it up. He placed himself above the law and sought to shut down those entrusted with the responsibility of bringing him and his team to justice. Watergate was, undoubtedly, the gravest constitutional crisis America had faced in the modern era, until President Trump’s shenanigans began.

At its heart, though, Watergate was also just “a third-rate burglary,” as then-White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler termed it. It turned truly ruinous because of all that happened next. Today’s situation is rooted in something considerably darker — an effort by a hostile power to undermine American democracy.

What’s more, regardless of what we may learn about efforts within Trump’s campaign to collude with the Russians, we can be certain our enemies have already benefited from his presidency.

Just last week, the White House announced that it would not be enforcing congressionally mandated sanctions against Russia. In Moscow, an anchor on Russian State TV celebrated the decision: “Trump is ours again,” she told her viewers.

Nixon had his “Saturday Night Massacre,” in which he sought to shut down the investigation into Watergate by firing a special prosecutor only to have to reappoint another after two top Justice Department officials resigned in dramatic public protest. Trump’s slow-motion massacre removed one FBI director, pressured a deputy FBI director into early retirement and pushed out an acting attorney general.

As Watergate unfolded, Republican Party leaders stepped up and began to challenge Nixon. They eventually forced his resignation. Except for a very small minority, today’s Republicans have actively joined in the president’s war on the justice and intelligence professionals. They are behaving much like an autoimmune disorder in which cells that are supposed to protect the body politic turn against it.

Nixon lied; Trump lies pathologically. Fact-checkers have documented more than 2,000 falsehoods in his first year in office. Nixon offered racist slurs in private; Trump has made racism and misogyny a leitmotif in his administration.

The more the White House tries to convince Americans that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation is a hoax and a witch hunt, the clearer the danger to the nation becomes:

We congratulate ourselves that the republic and its system of checks and balances withstood the likes of Nixon. Will it survive Trump?

We must hope the special counsel’s investigation and the judiciary will successfully play the independent role intended for them. And we must recognise that our last best line of defence in this crisis is the American voter. Our ballots will determine whether the damage inflicted by Trump will be temporary, as it was with Nixon, or catastrophic and enduring.

Tribune News Service

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