In 1960, Americans voted for a vibrant, young Democratic senator with new ideas to be president. John F. Kennedy promised a New Frontier for our country. Though he didn’t live to fulfill his dreams for America, his vice-president, Lyndon Johnson, did deliver a number of major reforms that established the Great Society. However, in 1969, Republican Richard Nixon entered the White House and a period of disastrous political corruption ensued.
Forty-eight years later in 2008, Americans voted for another vibrant, young Democratic senator to be president. Barack Obama promised “change we can believe in.” Though he was severely hampered by Republican opposition, he did manage to pull the country out of the Great Recession and pass the Affordable Care Act. However, in 2017, Republican Donald Trump entered the White House and apparently another period of terrible political corruption has begun.
While there are striking similarities here, clearly these two episodes in American history are not the same. Moreover, it is still a bit early to tell how the Trump era will play out. Nevertheless, what can we make of all this?
In both situations, a center-left Democratic administration was followed by a conservative Republican presidency. Perhaps more importantly, in each case the new Republican president had an authoritarian personality. That is, an attitude characterized by belief in absolute obedience or submission to one’s own authority, as well as the administration of that belief through the oppression of one’s subordinates. Like Nixon, Trump fits this personality type.
If history is to repeat itself, Trump will come tumbling down just as Nixon did when the Watergate scandal destroyed his presidency. Having lived through the Nixon years, I can remember how much Nixon hated the Washington press corps. Trump despises the media as much, if not more than Nixon did. Trump assails the media, calling the New York Times and the Washington Post, “Fake News.” Like Nixon, he intimidates journalists, avoids White House reporters, and stages events for television.
In addition, Nixon believed that many people were out to get him. He even compiled an “enemies list” and hunkered down alone in the White House. In his book, President Nixon, Richard Reeves wrote that Nixon could trust no one because in his isolation he thought other people were like him. He governed by secret orders and false records.
While Trump is much more outgoing than Nixon was, like the former president he does have a very limited circle of trusted advisors. Thus, Trump kept Vice President Pence out of the loop regarding General Flynn’s activities with the Russians. He even went as far as allowing Pence to publicly and unwittingly repeat Flynn’s lies about it.
Consequently, we have entered another very dark period in our country’s history. When the Watergate scandal broke, courageous members of the President’s own party stepped up and demanded a full accounting of Nixon’s corrupt and illegal behavior, even though the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Republicans like Sen. Howard Baker and John Dean, Nixon’s former White House Counsel, were instrumental in bringing to light the extent of Nixon’s high crimes and misdemeanors which were required to impeach him.
Now the Republicans control both houses of Congress. While some Democrats are calling for full disclosure of Trump’s very questionable and, quite possibly, impeachable behavior, it will take patriotic Republicans to stand up to their President and demand the facts regardless of the consequences. This is the moment of truth for John McCain, Lindsey Graham and the rest of the Republican Party. The fate of our country is in their hands.