Community Forum: Aiken aide sees Trump-Nixon parallels
Almost 43 years ago, newspapers and broadcasts across the nation ran a blaring headline with the same message: “NIXON RESIGNS.”
The resignation came after nearly two years of controversy after operatives from The Committee to Re-Elect Richard Nixon campaign broke into Democratic party offices at the Watergate complex in downtown Washington, D. C.
This bungled “third-rate burglary” led to a famous Senate investigation called the Watergate Committee, intense media coverage that was spawned on by media leaks, a strong judicial response, the erosion of support for Nixon by Senate Republicans, sharp partisan attacks on Nixon by Democrats, and the firing of Nixon’s key aides — H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. Finally, on Aug. 8, 1974, Nixon told the nation that he was resigning.
Nixon called it quits because he had no moral or political authority left as President to continue in the job that he was re-elected to by a landslide in 1972.
I was fortunate to have a ringside seat for much of this drama as Legislative Assistant to the late U.S. Sen. George D. Aiken, R-Vt. Aiken’s office was on the third floor of the Russell Building, just down the hall from the then Senate Caucus Room where the Watergate hearings were being held. I spent many hours in that room listening to riveting testimony from Nixon aides and others.
These events have come rushing back to me as, after only one month on the job, Donald Trump is facing questions of his fitness for the presidency. Bookies are now taking bets that he will not last out his four-year term.
Could history be repeating itself? Could this happen, again, with Trump being forced out of office?
Consider the following:
Like Nixon, Trump is the focus of aggressive and determined reporting on all aspects of his performance in office as well as accuracy checks on all his statements. Many of Trump’s assertions are found to be lies.
Trump has now declared all the media as “enemies of the American people.” Nixon was more modest and created his own personal media “enemies list,” which resulted in several of them getting their tax returns investigated by the IRS.
Like Nixon, Trump manufactures his own version of the truth.
Like Nixon, Trump is railing against the media for the many leaks that have obviously come from inside his own divided and warring White House staff or those from national security and investigative agencies.
Like Nixon, Trump is apparently relying on his version of the silent majority to marginalize the media with charges of “fake news” and trying to deflect all controversies because of leaks and what he labels inaccurate reporting.
Like Nixon, Trump has found that an independent judiciary will not automatically bend to his way and his bullying of “so-called judges.” The judiciary stopped Nixon’s efforts to muzzle the media just as Trump’s illegal immigration orders have been stopped in their tracks.
Like Nixon, not a day goes by without a call for either a congressional or an independent 911-like investigation of Trump, his questionable relationship with the Russians and its impact on the 2016 election.
Like Nixon, Trump can’t let any previous slight or oppositional statement go by without challenging it or belittling the person who uttered it. We know that from the Nixon presidential tapes of his rants. We know that from Trump directly as his frequent Tweets throughout the day provide a real-time live stream of consciousness of his combative retaliations and thought patterns.
However, there is one major difference in the Trump era than during Nixon’s time.
In 1974, the Congress was Democratic controlled but some Senate Republicans, including George Aiken, Barry Goldwater, John Sherman Cooper and Hugh Scott among others, were not blind Nixon partisans and loyalists.
They were willing to tell Nixon it was time for him to leave office and stop putting the nation through any further agony and disruption. They did so in an emotional private White House meeting just before the resignation. Aiken was present and he told me the details of the session as I drove him back to his living quarters on Capitol Hill. Without solid GOP support, Nixon’s efforts to hang onto his office crumbled.
So far, Trump seems to have the blind loyalty of most, but not all, of the 52 Senate Republicans along with GOP control of the House of Representatives. This political reality would appear to make impeachment impossible, or to be able to remove him from office by exercising the disability section of the 22nd Amendment.
In the meantime, an aggressive and free media, along with an independent judiciary, are the only bulwarks against the Trump juggernaut. Despite its many haters and critics, they must survive if we are to maintain our society and form of government.
My experience during the Nixon Years has left one indelible impression. In the end, it was a free media with all of its warts that ultimately forced Nixon from office. Trump could be next.
Stephen C. Terry was Legislative Assistant for Sen. George D. Aiken of Vermont from 1969 to 1975. He was Managing Editor of the Rutland Herald. He lives in Vermont and serves as a political analyst for WCAX-TV.
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