One of the most annoying things in the parlance of politics is the attachment of the suffix “-gate” to the end of any scandal, real or perceived. Yet, to understand why Watergate, from whence the suffix derives, one needs some history. With that history, one can then gain a deeper understanding of why most “scandals” are, in fact, not scandals at all. And it helps explain the recent Democrat/media fixation on Trump and “obstruction of justice.”
First, however, it must be noted that any political administration in history has the potential for scandal. The lure of personal aggrandizement or of power are very strong temptations. But, most of these scandals rarely become serious crises of the established political order. Most of the greatest scandals in political history are not the result of legitimate corruption, but as a means to attack political opponents. Along the way, they hide the real political issues that are at issue.
Scandal and the perpetuation of the scandal line of thinking more often than not involves attempts by the status quo to thwart the legitimacy of those they could not defeat politically. Further, political scandals often eventually result in legal drama. By doing so, those who perpetuate the perception of a “scandal” are, without saying so, admitting they are unable to win politically.
A perfect example is Watergate. After the 1964 election, the Democrats greatly expanded the federal bureaucracy through Johnson’s multifaceted Great Society programs. There was a tremendous centralization of power in the executive bureaucracy. Hence, it would stand to reason that there would be some backlash and pushback. Nixon, in 1968, tapped into enough of this anger with his talk of a “silent majority” to win the election. This was coupled with the civil war within the Democratic Party over the Vietnam. Even still, in his first term, Nixon granted concessions to the Democrats that actually expanded federal power. It was Nixon who attempted wage and price controls and created the EPA, among other actions.
Heading into the 1972 campaign, it became clear that a second term was to be different. Editorials at the time noted that Nixon ran on a platform of reigning in the bureaucracy, not expanding it. In other words, Nixon, who won a landslide victory over George McGovern, was actually going to act like a conservative. The choice between Nixon and McGovern was stark. Both had personality flaws which underscores the fact that the 1972 election was fought on philosophical grounds, not personalities.
Watergate thus becomes understandable. This was an attempt by the Left to achieve that which they could not achieve politically. After all, you can’t get much better than winning 49 of 50 states. Clearly, the voters had spoken and it was a resounding rejection of the far Left ideology of McGovern. Almost immediately, there was a knee-jerk partisan mobilization of opposition to Nixon (sound familiar?). What is equally important is that there was no counteractive mobilization in defense of Nixon. This is particularly evident once the efforts were removed from politics to the courts. In the final analysis, we discover that Nixon was correct: his opponents were trying to destroy him.
The elites on both sides of the political divide came to a mutual agreement: Nixon’s abuse of power posed a threat to American democracy and perhaps the only way to remove that threat was to remove Nixon himself. But, what can be more undemocratic and a threat to democracy than giving power to unelected executive bureaucrats and courts? Worse, it transformed Congress from a legislative body that makes laws to one of executive branch oversight. Face it: even today, Congressional oversight committees receive greater publicity than the more mundane committees- the ones that actually consider laws. Does anyone watch a HUD funding hearing, or does William Barr testifying about the Mueller report generate more “news?”
The fact remains that Nixon was a perceived threat to the status quo. His landslide reelection gave him a true mandate. Nixon was a threat to the establishment in 1972 and they struck back. Along the way, the media was played for fools. Woodward and Bernstein won Pulitzer Prizes for their journalism which was largely the product of the mysterious “Deep Throat.” We found out later that “Deep Throat” was a high level FBI agent privy to confidential information pertaining to the investigation. By selectively leaking this information over a period of a year, he, through the Washington Post, helped shape public opinion. Woodward and Bernstein were not great journalists; they were simply the means by which the bureaucracy attacked Nixon (sound familiar?).
The year 1972 was seminal in American politics, as was 2016. Voters were asked whether the bureaucracy created under the New Deal and expanded through the Great Society was the preferred mode of government, or should one govern through the modes established by the Constitution? Should American lives and the economy be at the mercy of a centralized government, or should federal power be limited? Nixon was merely the message and a creation of the inability of the body politic to reach consensus. This made Watergate inevitable.
The whole Ethics in Government Act, passed in 1978, is the original law that established the Independent Counsel. The underlying philosophy is that executive actions must suborn themselves to the law. But, this law masked its true political purpose- to insulate and protect the unelected and often permanent aspect of the bureaucracy from political control. It weakened any president from controlling the bureaucracy and strengthened the ability of Congress to manage it. In short, it transformed political and policy disputes into legal disputes (sound familiar?).
For over 200 years of our history, the Constitution, through the doctrine of separation of powers, was the guiding force in resolving political disputes. Watergate and its aftermath changed all that by changing political disputes into legal disputes. Quite frankly, Democrats and the Left have been more adept at realizing this transformation through their use of “lawfare” where they have no reservations using unelected proxies- the courts- to win political and policy battles they cannot rightfully win in the political sphere.
So, it seems only natural that today we see the same dynamics in 2016 that we saw in 1972. Donald Trump arrived on the political scene and acted like no candidate before him in recent history by obliterating his opponents in the primaries and then defeating the poster child of the status quo. The Democrats were stunned by the results on election night and remain stunned today. Trump has behaved as President as he behaved as a candidate throughout that campaign.
The current Leftist/Democratic Party backlash against Trump starting roughly three days after the election is a reaction to that stunning defeat. Here, throughout one of the most bizarre campaigns in modern political history, Trump defeated the heir-apparent to the throne of Obama. What the Democrats failed to realize is that he who they anointed to saintly status- Obama- was actually not a saint after all in the minds of just enough voters in just enough states.
Yet, instead of learning from their mistakes, they resorted to the same tactics used against Nixon to bring down a duly-elected president. Unlike 1972, unless your last name is Romney, McCain or Flake, or if you subscribe to The Bulwark, there is NOT an abandonment of Trump on the Right as there was against Nixon in 1972. In fact, there seems to be some heel digging.
This writer was never a believer in the concept of a “deep state,” instead preferring to believe it was the musings of people like Alex Jones. However, with every drip-drip of revelations of the attempted silent coup against Trump, this writer is convinced that not only does a deep state exist, but it runs deeper than most think. They have revealed themselves as a greater threat to American democracy than anything Putin and Russia could conjure up in their wildest dreams. Or, perhaps, Putin and Russia are just smarter than we think. Perhaps, they have a greater understanding of American politics post-Watergate than any self-righteous American politician has.
Regardless, voters must ask themselves come 2020: What is the greater threat to American democracy? Is it Donald Trump, or is it the unknowing, or perhaps, true willing dupes of Putin?