To mark the 50th anniversary of the Watergate scandal, which in disgrace forced President Richard Nixon to resign, CNN aired a four-part documentary series entitled “ Watergate: Blueprint for a scandal.
Among the people interviewed in this fascinating documentary were journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, of course, but also several former politicians and members of the Nixon administration, including John Dean, the former White House Counsel who testified against his former Boss.
PAVING THE WAY FOR TRUMP
All agree: Nixon paved the way for Donald Trump through his disdain for law and institutions and his belief that when a president commits an illegal act, that act magically becomes legal.
“Trump is Nixon on steroids and on stilts,” says John Dean. At least in Nixon’s case, the institutions worked.
The Supreme Court stood tall and real Republicans voted to indict Nixon…
In short, the state was able to resist.
Whereas in Trump’s case, the (overwhelmingly Republican) Senate crushed the President and the vast majority of Republicans rallied around their leader.
To paraphrase Elizabeth Holtzman, Democratic Member of the House from 1973 to 1981: “We showed then how to behave in the face of a President who despises institutions. We put aside our political differences to protect the Constitution.
Unfortunately, the context is no longer the same today.
“Not only do the politicians who sit in the Senate and Congress lack the courage and character of the men and women who then held those positions, but Americans no longer base their opinions on a set of general facts…
“And that poses a very serious threat to democracy…”
THE TIME AFTER THE TRUTH
At the time of Watergate, American voters still trusted the traditional media, they all read the same reports, consulted the same newspapers: the Washington Postthe New York TimesEtc.
They therefore based their opinions on the same facts.
Facts verified, confirmed, authenticated.
And if a reporter made a mistake, corrected it.
But today, with the unprecedented fragmentation of news sources and the popularity of social media and podcasts allowing anyone to say anything without being accountable to anyone, there are almost as many “facts” as there are individuals.
Truth has become a hyper-relative concept.
Joe’s “truth” isn’t Sam’s, which isn’t Betty’s.
How do you create a popular consensus in this context?
A CONFUSED TIME
That’s why Trump is “Nixon on steroids.”
For it appeared at a time of great confusion where, strictly speaking, “public opinion” no longer exists.
But public opinion. Which are all the same for the majority of voters.
In such a context, how to block a madman who dreams of taking institutions under his wing?