Sunday, May 14, 2017

Why the Comey Affair Is Worse Than Watergate


I continue to be outraged at the manner in which Congressional Republicans - not to mention the basket of depolrables who constitute Der Trumpenf├╝hrer's most loyal base - continue to act as if not serious or improper has occurred with Trump's firing of James Comey.  Did I like Comey?  No, but he was seemingly heading up a growing and deepening investigation  of Trump/Russia ties and evidence of the Trump campaign's collusion with an enemy foreign government and Trump more or less admitted that he fired Comey because of that investigation in the hope that it would go away.  If that isn't obstruction of justice, then what would be?  A piece in The Atlantic makes the case that the current situation in Washington is far worse than Watergate - which involved covering up a third rate burglary - and that it needs to be handled accordingly.  Indeed, to not do so is to collude with possible traitors.  Has the GOP become the party of treason?  Here are article highlights:
The tangled affair now known as Watergate began 45 years ago, before most of today’s U.S. population had even been born. (The median age of Americans is about 38, so most people in the country were born in 1979 or thereafter.) Thus for most people “Watergate” is a historical allusion—obviously negative in its implications, since it led to the only presidential resignation in American history, but probably hazy in its details.
For me, Watergate is anything but hazy. . . . . the riveting, televised Watergate hearings that made national celebrities of politicians like Senators Howard Baker and Sam Ervin, and of White House aides like Alexander Butterfield (who revealed the existence of Nixon’s secret system for taping White House conversations) and John Dean (who as White House counsel had told Nixon, “there is a cancer on the presidency”). Anyone of conscious age in that time can probably remember the jolts to national sentiment that the near-daily revelations evoked.
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. Here is a summary of some reasons why:
THE UNDERLYING OFFENSE
At some point in the coverage of every scandal you’ll hear the chestnut “It’s always the cover-up, never the crime.” This refers of course to the historical reality that scandal-bound figures make more problems by denying or lying about their misdeeds than they would if they had come clean from the start.
[T]he worst version of what Nixon and his allies were attempting to do—namely, to find incriminating or embarrassing information about political adversaries ranging from Democratic Party Chairman Lawrence O’Brien to Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg—was not as bad as what came afterward. Those later efforts included attempts to derail investigations by the FBI, the police, and various grand juries and congressional committees, which collectively amounted to obstruction of justice.
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. . . . the potential stakes are incomparably greater than what happened during Watergate, crime and cover-up alike.
THE BLATANCY OF THE INTERFERENCE
[E]ven in his stonewalling, Nixon paid lip service to the concepts of due process and check and balances. (His proffered solution was something called the “Stennis compromise,” in which the very conservative Senator John Stennis, from Mississippi, would “listen” personally to the tapes and summarize their content. As it happens, Stennis was famous for being practically deaf.) Nixon wanted to survive and win, but he wanted to act as if he was doing so while sticking to some recognizable rules.
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 [about Comey].
THE NATURE OF THE PRESIDENT
Richard Nixon was a dark but complex figure. . . . 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.
THE RESILENCY OF AMERICA'S INSTITUTIONS
The Saturday Night Massacre acquired that name because of the number of people involved. . . . Within the space of a few hours, three senior officials—Richardson, Ruckelshaus, and Cox—had all made a choice of principle over position, and resigned or been fired rather than comply with orders they considered illegitimate. Their example shines nearly half a century later because such a choice remains so rare.
What would it take for today’s institutions to show that they are as healthy and resilient as they were even during the troubled Watergate era?
History isn’t fair, and much of the burden of answering that question falls right now on one man. That is of course Rod Rosenstein, the newly confirmed deputy attorney general . . . . If he wanted to be remembered as another Richardson, Ruckelshaus, or Cox, he would already have called for the appointment of a special prosecutor, or would do so today. Mr. Rosenstein, a lot depends on you.
THE CRAVENESS OF PARTY OFFICIALS
The Republicans of the Watergate era stuck with Richard Nixon as long as they could, but they acted all along as if larger principles were at stake. This I remember more clearly than any other aspect of that era . . . many congressional Republicans of that era who acted as if their responsibilities were broader than sheer party-line solidarity.
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.
Today’s party lineup in the Senate is of course 52–48, in favor of the Republicans. Thus a total of three Republican senators have it within their power to change history, by insisting on an honest, independent investigation . . . So far they have fallen in line with their party’s leader, Mitch McConnell, who will be known in history for favoring party above all else.  Because of the current lineup of legislative and executive power, the leaders whose choices matter are all Republicans.
I hope some of their choices, soon, allow them to be remembered as positively as are the GOP’s defenders of constitutional process from the Watergate days. But as of this moment, the challenge to the American system seems more extreme than in that era, and the protective resources weaker. 
 Why the difference in today's GOP versus that of the Watergate era?  Easy answer.  Today's GOP puts the interest of racists and Christofascists - perhaps the most dishonest element in American society today - rather than the principles of the Constitution or the good of the nation as a whole.  I continue to wonder how anyone moral and decent can support today's GOP.


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