Nixon vs. Trump: History Repeated or Bullet Deflected?
With recent investigations surrounding President Donald Trump, the comparisons to the Watergate scandal of President Richard Nixon have come forth strong. At first glance, the similarities between the two presidencies are eerily identical: the investigations, the references to executive privilege, and the resulting instability of the American political system. However, upon closer examination, the two presidential scandals have important differences.
The Watergate scandal was a major American political scandal that occurred in the early 1970s. It began with a break-in by five men at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) on June 17, 1972. Their intention was to to install hearing trackers to obtain information about the Democratic presidential nominee at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. This incident was followed by proof of President Nixon’s involvement in the event, a staunch refusal to hand over the scandal-related tapes, and a Supreme Court decision to impeach Nixon over his abuse of executive privilege. The scandal concluded with his resignation as the 37th President of the United States.
The Mueller investigation is a current, ongoing investigation into the Trump presidency that has had serious effects on the political climate of the United States. Robert Mueller, the sixth director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), is the current Special Counsel tasked with investigating allegations about possible collusion between Russian operatives and Trump associates during the 2016 presidential campaign. Although Trump has refused any collusion, the investigation still continues to probe at various aspects of his life and the lives of those closest to him.
However, the difference between Nixon and Trump is centered on the fact that, while the Watergate scandal had concrete evidence like tapes that supported Nixon’s interference, there is no explicit documentation or testimonies proving any sort of collusion between Trump and the Russians. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, has accused Trump of being a “racist, liar, and cheat” but has not revealed any indication of such collusion. Trump continues to maintain that the Mueller probe is a “witch hunt” since there was no collusion and that “it was based on fraudulent activities and a fake dossier paid by crooked Hillary and the DNC.”
Closer examination reveals a difference in the accomplishments of the two presidents. Nixon was a man of substance with immense political experience. Prior to his presidential downfall, he set many important precedents in both domestic and foreign policy. Nixon, although a Republican President, implemented numerous libertarian policies. He founded the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 in response to rising concerns about conservation and pollution. The agency established the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Mammal Marine Protection Act. Nixon also initiated and oversaw the peaceful desegregation of Southern schools. In March 1970, at a time where there was heavy criticism of the Brown vs. Board of Education doctrine, President Nixon declared Brown to be “right in both constitutional and human terms,” and he placed orders to the states to carry out the Supreme Court’s mandate.
In terms of foreign policy achievements, Nixon signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty which calmed U.S.-Soviet tensions by diminishing the threat of nuclear weapons between the world’s two superpowers. Nixon signed the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 that resulted in stopping U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. He also established several new diplomatic relationships, such as one with the Middle East, which eliminated Soviet dominance in the region.
Though he lacks an equivalent level of political expertise as Nixon, President Trump successfully exploits partisan politics as a means of appealing to his follower base. Since his time in office, President Trump has built a U.S. foreign policy that distrusts its allies, dismisses the validity of international institutions, and ensures non-citizens receive minimal consideration in the pursuit of national interest. Trump’s policies include repealing the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), implementing tax cuts for individuals, small businesses, and corporations, and advocating for stricter immigration laws. Trump has also instituted “extreme vetting” of Muslim immigrants through banning nationals of eight Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The current president continues to use various tactics, such as declaring a national emergency, to convince Congress to sanction funds to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
While his use of partisan politics continues to be criticised by the Democrats for being an abuse of executive power and unconstitutional, it is these conservative policies that continue to appeal to his follower base and garner further support for him. Nixon’s refusal to acknowledge the separation of powers doctrine and abide within the limitations of his executive powers cost him his presidency. However, Trump’s methods make it evident that, unless the Mueller investigation produces tangible evidence of actual collusion with Russia or abuse of executive power, he will continue to dodge the bullet.