Echoes of History | Opinion | Salt Lake City Weekly

Echoes of History 

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"Tricky Dick": That's what they called the once-respected president who went down in disgrace because he had a greater loyalty to his own ego than to the interests of the American people. We all know the story—of how Richard Nixon sent in a team of "plumbers" to wire the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the D.C. Watergate complex in an attempt to gather dirt on his opponents.

A similar inevitably fatal flaw haunts the White House today. President Donald Trump is totally absorbed by getting his own way and hurting those who oppose him. His failures as a president and as a man have reached the point of critical mass. It's hard to say whether he's even aware how close he is to going down in a fireball, but my guess is that he'll just continue to ignore the symptoms of his self-made disaster, gloating naively at his publicists' clever spins until the collapse occurs. Undoubtedly, his fall from grace and dethroning will be similarly characterized: "My presidency," he'll beam, "was the very, very greatest of all."

In 1974, winning at any cost had become Nixon's crazed obsession, and he was hell-bent on doing whatever it took to shore himself up as the undisputed King of the Mountain. Forgive my sounding trite, but it's a well-demonstrated fact that history repeats itself, or at least we will always hear echoes of the past. When one looks at the calamity the White House is today, it is clear that Trump shares many of the same traits with the only U.S. president to ever resign his office.

When Nixon's walls began to crumble, Congress authorized the creation of a special prosecutor. Tricky knew that Archibald Cox's investigation would be his ruin, so he ordered his attorney general to fire him. Elliot Richardson refused and resigned instead. He saw the moral issues involved and he wasn't about to trample on them. (Sound familiar?)

Well, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Nixon was no quitter, so he ordered the assistant attorney general to fire Cox. He, too, refused and resigned on principle. On Nixon's third try, he successfully had Cox removed, but it didn't solve his problem. Teetering at the brink, he weighed his options. In the face of criminal charges, the initiation of impeachment proceedings and growing public contempt, Nixon saw no other way out than stepping down. New President Gerald Ford, out of some misplaced sense of loyalty, pardoned his predecessor a month later.

Disregard for the rule of law was what Watergate was all about, and Nixon was clearly behind it. It's the same thing that's about to inflict a mortal wound on the Trump White House. Nixon's botched DNC break-in was the tip of an iceberg. It started a cascade of discovery. His lies, his flagrant abuse of privacy laws and his maniacal pursuit of bombing Cambodia without Congressional approval made it impossible for Americans to do their usual forgive-and-forget routine. The legendary tolerance of the majority had reached its limits, and the impeachment ball was set into motion. There were plenty of Republicans who were so angered by Nixon's behavior that they'd have willingly participated in a lynching. Instead, the impeachment guillotine was erected in the village square.

Like Nixon, Trump has transitioned from the improper to the outrageous. His attempts to frustrate the special prosecutor's efforts and to obstruct justice—and, of course, the government shutdown and declaration of a national emergency—are causing anger even within the Republican ranks. His hybrid elephant-lemmings are reaching a crossroad—whether to continue abetting the president's crimes and go down with the ship, or to resurrect the extinct Republican vertebrate. At some point, even the president's most diehard constituents will be forced to face the facts.

Nixon kept adding last-straws to the growing pile of no-no's, including overt attempts to frustrate the investigation of his crimes and directing the "plumbers" to lie to Congress. What happened in 1974 was pretty bad, but the reality is that Trump is an even bigger Dick than Nixon. Nixon was blessed with a fine brain, though he ended up using it for devious ends. Trump isn't troubled by the presence of an IQ, so I suppose we should hold him less culpable for the constant stream of lies—some so obvious and outrageous that even loyalists find them laughable.

There are dozens of metaphors that apply to Nixon and Trump. It is Trump's own actions that are chipping away at the foundation of his reign, and collapse is the only logical outcome.

The author is a former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and one mongrel dog. Send feedback to

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