Those viewing and participating in tonight’s Democratic debate should ignore the spin, and cut right to the chase.
by Paul Bledsoe, Strategic Advisor forthe Progressive Policy Institute
Those viewing and participating in tonight’s Democratic debate should ignore the spin, and cut right to the chase. Trump’s Ukraine-gate outrages are about exactly the same thing Watergate was: A corrupt President of the United States illegally attempting to destroy the Democratic presidential candidate he most fears will beat him for re-election.
Remember the famous, frustrated injunction made to Bob Woodward during Watergate by “Deepthroat”, FBI Agent Mark Felt, the original impeachment whistleblower:
“You’re missing the overall!” Felt implored Woodward. “They [the Nixon White House] were frightened of Muskie; look who got destroyed. They wanted to run against McGovern; look who they’re running against…”
The media and many in the Democratic Party, too, seem to be “missing the overall.” Trump was out to destroy Biden. Look who’s been falling in the polls. Trump hopes to run against Warren or another candidate that he views as weaker. Looks who’s gaining in the polls. Whichever of the many Democratic legitimate candidates you might support, this influence seems undeniable.
It is, in fact, a hugely troubling sign of how jaded the American polity has become — and how corrupt and amoral the Republican Party now is — that most people don’t seem to recognize the eerie similarity between what Nixon did, and Trump has done.
In the political culture of the 1970’s, such actions were judged as the most infamous, devastating political and Presidential scandal in American history. Under the Orwellian, right-wing, Fox News, “alternative fact”, reality TV White House propagandistic culture of 2019, it is regarded by most of Trump’s base, and apparently the entire Republican Party, as just business as usual. In this sense, Ukraine-gate is the Rorschach Test of our political degradation. Democratic candidates must denounce it as such in the strongest terms.
Of course, one major difference between Watergate and Ukraine-gate is that Trump tried to extort a foreign power into undermining a Democratic opponent, and appears to have sanctioned Rudy Giuliani’s wide ranging “shadow” foreign policy with that goal directly in mind. So, if anything, Trump’s crimes (that we know of so far) are worse than Nixon’s since they involve forcing (and abetting as in 2016) foreign nations to warp our elections.
Nixon, while arguably no less devious than Trump, was necessarily less brazen because the political culture in his era would never have accepted such behavior, and indeed was shaken to its very foundation when it realized what had occurred during Watergate. In the early 1970s, such illegal, immoral behavior was so unthinkable that most people — in the general public, media and in Congress — doubted it until the Washington Post reporting and White House tapes confirmed it.
Today, does anyone actually believe Trump is incapable of such high crimes? Quite the opposite, no one on any side of the political divide appeared particularly surprised when the details of the transcript of the Ukraine call emerged. Trump himself, just to make sure no one mistook his intentions, suggested China investigate Biden in the immediate aftermath of the Ukraine transcript release. And months earlier he asserted that there was nothing wrong with asking foreign governments to gather dirt on his opponents. No one seemed shocked at this, coming from Trump.
Indeed, Trump originally made lampooning political correctness and violating norms of candidate conduct the key element in his meteoric rise to power in 2016, and the major element in titillating his reality-TV watching base. It seemed his electoral strategy was demeaning the political process itself as many of his followers seemed to want to. But like the pandora’s box of political discourse, once his insults, lies and manipulations began to be accepted so many Republicans and voters, there were no reins on his behavior.
Trump has become completely addicted to provoking outrage both personally as a narcissist, and politically as a strategy to rally his base. Yet now he must say and do ever more outrageous thing to gain the media attention he craves and believes he needs politically. Thus Trump quickly moved on to the violating dozens of norms of conduct as President, to besmirching the office as no other Oval Office occupant has ever done. With each new attack on defenseless Americans, which each new depraved tweet or vulgar insult, with another thousands lies, Trump views himself as more and more invulnerable to being held to account.
All of this is reminiscent of another Nixon fiasco, his “mad man theory” of Cold War politics. On several occasions, Nixon told his advisers that he believed he should consider acting so erratically that the Soviets would believe he was a madman, capable of starting a nuclear war, and therefore persuade them negotiate with him more compliantly.
What was stray, terrifying Nixon thought that his advisers dismissed, Trump has operationalized as his method of being President, culminating in extorting a foreign nation to persecute Joe Biden.
Trump truly is a mad man. He has now crossed a line that must demand impeachment, and/or removal from office by election, and he doesn’t even know it. Trump once said he could “shoot someone down on 5th Avenue” and still be popular with his base. Well, he has done the political equivalent. Democrats and the rest of the country must hold him accountable and begin to rebuild the tattered reputation of the American Presidency.
About the Author: Paul Bledsoe is strategic advisor at the Progressive Policy Institute. He served as a staff member in the US House of Representatives, Senate and Clinton White House.