Trump’s Legacy of Shame — a scandal for the ages…
As I read the many stories about the transgressions of the Trump Administration, I am surprised that there is no common referent for its multiple facets. The most common one is the belabored and overused use of the -gate suffix that has dominated the branding of nearly all political scandals post-Watergate. It is a lazy and rather derivative shortcut that denies the substantive evils of Trump’s latest scandals that will likely establish his legacy as our worst and most dishonored leader. What got my attention most recently was the headline for an article in Foreign Policy :
Over the past three years, Donald Trump and his henchmen have broken laws and destroyed norms that have been observed in our nation since its inception. What we are now witnessing is far beyond the Nixon era crimes, far outside the “gates” that defined the Nixon era crimes. Recalling that era, there are aspects of the Watergate scandal that now seem venal when compared to the Trump scandals. While both Nixon and Trump serve as the standard-bearers for corruption, and while both scandals involve the integrity of free and fair elections at the highest level, Nixon’s crimes at the time they were uncovered were primarily domestic in nature — his motives generated by personal demons born of an early poverty of means and a latter poverty of spirit. The conflation of Nixon’s burglars, their break-in of the Democratic headquarters, and Nixon’s subsequent coverup provided into an illustrative handle to describe them — Watergate. The eponymous Watergate complex was indeed the physical site of the crime that led to Nixon’s undoing and became shorthand for most political wrongdoing for more than a generation.
Trump, like Nixon, has abused his powers for a time with impunity. His base in the country and in Congress has so far managed to insulate him. The most recent events that began with a whistleblower and has continued with a growing call for impeachment closely resemble Nixon’s undoing. Nixon’s focus was on crime — his platform heavy with references on law and order. The cause and its enactment as a campaign mantra were both ironic and disingenuous. The crooks were living and meeting in the White House. So too, the Trump campaign began with an illogical rant — that infamous speech announcing his candidacy. The bumper sticker demanded that he “build the wall” as he destroyed civility and the rule of law. This president targeted immigrants, defining them in terms that were both racist and inimical to our constitution. Trump’s resultant war on immigrants included constitutional and humanitarian violations involving the mistreatment of individuals who, whether legally or not, wanted to be like us — to live with us. For our part, too many of us stood by as he denied asylum seekers their rights of due process and neglected the most basic humanitarian responsibilities. On our behalf, Trump not only failed to provide for their legal protections but chose to withhold adequate health and living standards for those in our custody. To exacerbate their pain and discomfort, the Trump administration abused and separated family members, and in particular, minors who were distributed to detention centers far from their parents in an act of cruelty so offensive that it continues to shock the conscience of most Americans. Children ripped from parents and in our care, died in our custody. These crimes of omission and commission had been covered over by a thin veneer of policy that in itself evokes charges of unconstitutionality, if not inhumanity, worthy of reproof. These are in addition to Trump’s unrelenting abuse of presidential powers regarding Congressional authority and the Constitution. All of this continues to be done in our name.
Both Nixon and Trump used fear to ignite their bases. Both promised to effect “law and order” while breaking the first and disrupting the latter. The nation later discovered after Nixon was sent packing that he, like Trump, invited a foreign nation to interfere in the 1968 election. The Anna Chennault affair which many believe helped Nixon overcome a fast-closing Hubert Humphrey at the end of the presidential race involved Chennault making contact with South Vietnamese negotiators in order to forestall a belated Johnson Administration peace proposal:
Chennault joined in a covert operation to sabotage Johnson’s efforts to settle the Vietnam War on the eve of the election. We know how promises from the Nixon campaign, conveyed to Saigon by Chennault and others, no doubt helped to persuade the South Vietnamese government to boycott proposed peace talks, shutting a door that Johnson had opened and clinching Nixon’s victory. “Hold on,” Chennault told the South Vietnamese ambassador, three days before the U.S. election, as FBI agents eavesdropped on the phone call. “We are gonna win.”
So, Trump has not invented foreign interference in our election process, he has simply emboldened it. The Chennault affair was unknown at the time and was later overshadowed by the botched burglary on June 17, 1972.
Trump’s transgressions while somewhat similar in nature to Nixon’s, are far worse by degree. Both men tried to rig their elections. Each had surrounded himself with sycophants and toadies who themselves broke laws and sought personal enrichment for their efforts. But Trump and company have traded the security and reputation of the nation in a way that the Watergate crew had not. Trump’s crimes are more unforgivable because they have immeasurably helped our enemies at the expense of all Americans and our most trusted allies. Vladamir Putin and Russia are incomprehensibly the beneficiaries of every Trump Administration foreign policy decision at our nation’s expense. For all his malevolence and criminality, Nixon, in the end, acquiesced to the rule of law. Trump, on the other hand, seems inspired by foreign powers and their autocratic leaders, believing he is immune from scrutiny and, like his autocratic friends, must answer to no one.
Therefore, branding Trump’s scandals as some extension of the “gate” political era does both Trump and his disgraceful hustle a great disservice. Some corruption is unique unto itself — deserves a calling card of its own. The ignominy foisted on us at this time by Trump and his henchmen and women warrants a special name. I invite suggestions from my readers on this, but I feel the appellation for this group’s heinous crimes and Trump’s singular high crimes and misdemeanors should include words that are reserved for the worst acts that one can commit against one’s own country. While some would argue that the word “treason” is weighted with a particular meaning under the law, its generic definition out of a dictionary is more than appropriate here. For my part, I suggest that this era should be remembered for all times as an era in which a president betrayed his country — and that his scandalous acts be forever deemed “The Trump Betrayal”.
First published on Daily Kos, October 13, 2019