Thursday, August 17, 2017

No More Excuses, No More Passive Acceptance Of Evil

Tyler Coates tells the truth today: the attempt to destroy the United States of America between 1861-1865 was an act of T-R-E-A-S-O-N and all of those who supported the destruction of this nation were TRAITORS, from Jefferson Davis through every last secessionist (including the faux saint — Robert E. Lee) gibbering the secessionist blather should have been given the choice of the wall (facing a firing squad) or the gallows. The only response to cancer is to kill the malignant cells. Today, we have TRAITORS in our midst from the Oval Office to every place in the land. If those on the side of hate call this charge treasonous, they should heed the words of Patrick Henry when he was called a traitor during a debate about resistance to the British government in 1775: “If this be treason, make the most of it!” The blog condemns Traitor-Trump and all of his supporters, to the last voter, the usual response is that such espressions are treason. To paraphrase Patrick Henry, if it is treason to criticize the Scum-in-Chief and all of his scummy supporters, then make the most of it. If this is (fair & balanced) patriotism, make the most of it.

[x Esquire]
It's No Longer About Southern Heritage — In Fact, It Never Was
By Tyler Coates

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"It's about heritage, not hate."

As a kid growing up in Virginia, that's the answer I always received when I questioned a Confederate flag hanging on the side of a shed or the statues of Confederate generals lining Monument Avenue in Richmond, our state capital. These weren't symbols of intolerance, racism, or white supremacy. No, these were to honor the lives lost in a lost cause: a war that divided our country in two, a series of battles in which the Southern man bravely defended his homeland and tragically lost.

We Southerners have a strong sense of pride for our history and culture. We're very good at lying to ourselves to fit the narrative we want to believe.

I grew up in Montross, Virginia, a tiny little town about an hour from Richmond. There's not much to say about it, but our bragging rights come from the fact that Montross is the seat of Westmoreland County, where two of America's most famous generals were born: George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Both of them moved away when they were children, but the symbolism is still there: Two men who played major roles in fundamental moments of our nation's history had their origins in our tiny part of the world.

Robert E. Lee, I'll admit, always cast a darker shadow over that part of Virginia than his Revolutionary War counterpart. I grew up being fed the tall tales of his devotion to his home state, his compassion and integrity; he sided not with the South, but with Virginia, and that is why he led the Confederate army against a tyrannical Union. It's bullshit, of course, but again: Southerners like their legends, and we like to present beautiful odes to our heroes even when the acts they committed were hardly heroic—but were, in fact, treasonous.

I have never looked up to the men whose effigies stand tall in various parts of the South. I never thought they were heroes, simply because of the fact that they were fighting for a destructive, evil cause. We can have an endless debate over "states' rights" as the root of the Civil War; I find it pointless, because it is nothing more than a convenient narrative to avoid the truth. These men were fighting against the notion that all men and women—not just the white men in power, and the women who stood beside them—deserve the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for which our forefathers fought in the late 18th century. They wanted to continue the practice of enslaving black men and women, of protecting whiteness. I will never see a Confederate flag or monument and separate it from a history of white supremacy, no matter how often I was instructed by our biased history lessons to ignore it.

Last night in Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacists descended upon the town—and upon the grounds of the University of Virginia—to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park. (Emancipation Park, to be exact; Southerners often turn a blind eye to irony.) Brandishing tiki torches, racist and homophobic slogans, and Nazi salutes, the group began to clash with Black Lives Matter activists and other groups protesting the planned "Unite the Right" rally. Those clashes continued on Saturday morning, when Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency.

To my fellow Virginians and Southerners who have stood so steadfast in their refusal to see our Confederate monuments for what they are, I ask you: What does this say about our heritage? These men and women are not protesting the elimination of Southern culture and history, but rather reacting to their own deluded notions that white people are losing control of our country. When a group of men and women shout out "Jew will not replace us" in front of a statue of Robert E. Lee, what does that say about your symbol of Southern heritage? When these people brandish Nazi symbols and scream "fuck you faggots" in front of your idol, what does it say about a historical figure who supposedly stood up against a tyrannical government to protect his land?

The South lost the war. Over a century later, we're still fighting one—but it has nothing to do with states' rights or Southern pride. It is about racism, intolerance, and hatred. And at the center of it all are symbols that, despite the well-intended Southern narratives that have failed to reframe them as anything else, are the strongest representation of racism in our country's history.

It is time the Confederate monuments come down for good, as they are now forever linked with an intolerance that extends beyond the borders of the Southern states. It's not about Southern heritage anymore, but rather America's heritage of propagating white supremacy as we comfort ourselves with slogans that suggest otherwise. # # #

[Tyler Coates is the Culture Editor at Esquire. His writing has appeared in a variety of places, including The Awl, Brooklyn Magazine, Capital New York, FourTwoNine, GOOD, Gothamist, The Hairpin, Idolator, Matter, Men's Journal, Nylon, Out, Popdust, Ratter, Slate, Thirteen., This Recording, The Village Voice, Vox, and Yahoo. Coates received a BA (English) from James Madison University (VA).]

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Quiet! Does Anyone Else Hear That Fire Bell Ringing?

A prefatory note: the graphical accompanyment for today's post about the possible dissolution of the United States of America is a video segment (<20 minutes) that ran on HBO the day after the bloody weekend in Charlottesville, VA. The audio is unbleeped when the participants speak on camera; the TV code is AL — Adult Language. Robin Wright has seen violence of all stripes in the Middle East and she turns her gaze on the potential meaning of Charlottesville's bloody weekend. If this is a (fair & balanced) prophetic warning, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
Is America Headed For A New Kind Of Civil War?
By Robin Wright

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"Charlottesville: Race and Terror" — VICE News (8/14/2017)

A day after the brawling and racist brutality and deaths in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe asked, “How did we get to this place?” The more relevant question after Charlottesville—and other deadly episodes in Ferguson, Charleston, Dallas, St. Paul, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, and Alexandria—is where the United States is headed. How fragile is the Union, our republic, and a country that has long been considered the world’s most stable democracy? The dangers are now bigger than the collective episodes of violence. “The radical right was more successful in entering the political mainstream last year than in half a century,” the Southern Poverty Law Center reported in February. The organization documents more than nine hundred active (and growing) hate groups in the United States.

America’s stability is increasingly an undercurrent in political discourse. Earlier this year, I began a conversation with Keith Mines about America’s turmoil. Mines has spent his career—in the US Army Special Forces, the United Nations, and now the State Department—navigating civil wars in other countries, including Afghanistan, Colombia, El Salvador, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan. He returned to Washington after sixteen years to find conditions that he had seen nurture conflict abroad now visible at home. It haunts him. In March, Mines was one of several national-security experts whom Foreign Policy asked to evaluate the risks of a second civil war—with percentages. Mines concluded that the United States faces a sixty-per-cent chance of civil war over the next ten to fifteen years. Other experts’ predictions ranged from five per cent to ninety-five per cent. The sobering consensus was thirty-five per cent. And that was five months before Charlottesville.

“We keep saying, ‘It can’t happen here,’ but then, holy smokes, it can,” Mines told me after we talked, on Sunday, about Charlottesville. The pattern of civil strife has evolved worldwide over the past sixty years. Today, few civil wars involve pitched battles from trenches along neat geographic front lines. Many are low-intensity conflicts with episodic violence in constantly moving locales. Mines’s definition of a civil war is large-scale violence that includes a rejection of traditional political authority and requires the National Guard to deal with it. On Saturday, McAuliffe put the National Guard on alert and declared a state of emergency.

Based on his experience in civil wars on three continents, Mines cited five conditions that support his prediction: entrenched national polarization, with no obvious meeting place for resolution; increasingly divisive press coverage and information flows; weakened institutions, notably Congress and the judiciary; a sellout or abandonment of responsibility by political leadership; and the legitimization of violence as the “in” way to either conduct discourse or solve disputes.

President Trump “modeled violence as a way to advance politically and validated bullying during and after the campaign,” Mines wrote in Foreign Policy. “Judging from recent events the left is now fully on board with this,” he continued, citing anarchists in anti-globalization riots as one of several flashpoints. “It is like 1859, everyone is mad about something and everyone has a gun.”

To test Mines’s conjecture, I reached out to five prominent Civil War historians this weekend. “When you look at the map of red and blue states and overlap on top of it the map of the Civil War—and who was allied with who in the Civil War—not much has changed,” Judith Giesberg, the editor of the Journal of the Civil War Era and a historian at Villanova University, told me. “We never agreed on the outcome of the Civil War and the direction the country should go in. The postwar amendments were highly contentious—especially the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides equal protection under the law—and they still are today. What does it mean to deliver voting rights to people of color? We still don’t know.”

She added, “Does that make us vulnerable to a repeat of the past? I don’t see a repeat of those specific circumstances. But that doesn’t mean we are not entering something similar in the way of a culture war. We are vulnerable to racism, tribalism, and conflicting visions of the way forward for our nation.”

Anxiety over deepening schisms and new conflict has an outlet in popular culture: in April, Amazon selected the dystopian novel American War—which centers on a second U.S. civil war—as one of its best books of the month. In a review in the Washington Post, Ron Charles wrote, “Across these scarred pages rages the clash that many of us are anxiously speculating about in the Trump era: a nation riven by irreconcilable ideologies, alienated by entrenched suspicions . . . both poignant and horrifying.” The Times book reviewer noted, “It’s a work of fiction. For the time being, anyway.” The book’s author, Omar El Akkad, was born in Egypt and covered the war in Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, and the Ferguson protest as a journalist for Canada’s Globe and Mail.

Before Charlottesville, David Blight, a Yale historian, was already planning a conference in November on “American Disunion, Then and Now.” “Parallels and analogies are always risky, but we do have weakened institutions and not just polarized parties but parties that are risking disintegration, which is what happened in the eighteen-fifties,” he told me. “Slavery tore apart, over fifteen years, both major political parties. It destroyed the Whig Party, which was replaced by the Republican Party, and divided the Democratic Party into northern and southern parts.”

“So,” he said, “watch the parties” as an indicator of America’s health.

In the eighteen-fifties, Blight told me, Americans were not good at foreseeing or absorbing the “shock of events,” including the Fugitive Slave Act, the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, the John Brown raid, and even the Mexican-American War. “No one predicted them. They forced people to reposition themselves,” Blight said. “We’re going through one of those repositionings now. Trump’s election is one of them, and we’re still trying to figure it out. But it’s not new. It dates to Obama’s election. We thought that would lead culture in the other direction, but it didn’t,” he said. “There was a tremendous resistance from the right, then these episodes of police violence, and all these things [from the past] exploded again. It’s not only a racial polarization but a seizure about identity.”

Generally, Blight added, “We know we are at risk of civil war, or something like it, when an election, an enactment, an event, an action by government or people in high places, becomes utterly unacceptable to a party, a large group, a significant constituency.” The nation witnessed tectonic shifts on the eve of the Civil War, and during the civil-rights era, the unrest of the late nineteen-sixties and the Vietnam War, he said. “It did not happen with Bush v. Gore, in 2000, but perhaps we were close. It is not inconceivable that it could happen now.”

In a reversal of public opinion from the nineteen-sixties, Blight said, the weakening of political institutions today has led Americans to shift their views on which institutions are credible. “Who do we put our faith in today? Maybe, ironically, the FBI,” he said. “With all these military men in the Trump Administration, that’s where we’re putting our hope for the use of reason. It’s not the President. It’s not Congress, which is utterly dysfunctional and run by men who spent decades dividing us in order to keep control, and not even the Supreme Court, because it’s been so politicized.”

In the wake of Charlottesville, the chorus of condemnation from politicians across the political spectrum has been encouraging, but it is not necessarily reassuring or an indicator about the future, Gregory Downs, a historian at the University of California at Davis, told me. During the Civil War, even Southern politicians who denounced or were wary of secession for years—including Jefferson Davis—ended up as leaders of the Confederacy. “If the source of conflict is deeply embedded in cultural or social forces, then politicians are not inherently able to restrain them with calls for reason,” Downs said. He called the noxious white supremacists and neo-Nazis the “messengers,” rather than the “architects,” of the Republic’s potential collapse. But, he warned, “We take our stability for granted.”

He dug out for me a quote from the journalist Murat Halstead’s book The War Claims of the South, published in 1867. “The lesson of the war that should never depart from us,” Halstead wrote, “is that the American people have no exemption from the ordinary fate of humankind. If we sin, we must suffer for our sins, like the Empires that are tottering and the Nations that have perished.”

Eric Foner, the Columbia University historian, won the Pulitzer Prize, in 2011, for his book The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. Like the other scholars I spoke to, Foner is skeptical that any future conflict will resemble America’s last civil war. “Obviously, we have some pretty deep divisions along multiple lines—racial, ideological, rural versus urban,” he told me. “Whether they will lead to civil war, I doubt. We have strong gravitational forces that counteract what we’re seeing today.” He pointed out that “the spark in Charlottesville—taking down a statue of Robert E. Lee—doesn’t have to do with civil war. People are not debating the Civil War. They’re debating American society and race today.”

Charlottesville was not the first protest by the so-called alt-right, nor will it be the last. Nine more rallies are planned for next weekend and others in September. # # #

[Robin Wright is a contributing writer for The New Yorker (online) and has written for the magazine since 1988. Her first piece on Iran won the National Magazine Award for best reporting. A former correspondent for the Washington Post, CBS News, the Los Angeles Times, and the Sunday Times of London, she has reported from more than a hundred and forty countries. She is currently a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She has also been a fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as well as at Yale, Duke, Dartmouth, and the University of California at Santa Barbara. Wright's most recent book book, Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World (2011, 2012), was selected as the best book on international affairs by the Overseas Press Club. See her other books here. Wright received both a BA and an MA (history) from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; she was the first woman appointed as the sports editor of The Michigan Daily aw well.]

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

We Have Fulfilled Pogo Possum's Diagnosis: The Enemy Is... Us

Today, this blog features an essay that is heavy on judgment and common sense. Professor Andrew Bacevich opened this blogger's eyes with "...Trump is not cause but consequence [of our great national and international problems]." If this is (fair & balanced) patriotism, so be it.

[x The Nation]
Trump Is Not The Problem
By Andrew Bacevich

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Like it or not, the president of the United States embodies America itself. The individual inhabiting the White House has become the preeminent symbol of who we are and what we represent as a nation and a people. In a fundamental sense, he is us. It was not always so. Millard Fillmore, the 13th president (1850–1853), presided over but did not personify the American republic. He was merely the federal chief executive. Contemporary observers did not refer to his term in office as the Age of Fillmore. With occasional exceptions, Abraham Lincoln in particular, much the same could be said of Fillmore’s successors. They brought to office low expectations, which they rarely exceeded. So when Chester A. Arthur (1881–1885) or William Howard Taft (1909–1913) left the White House, there was no rush to immortalize them by erecting gaudy shrines—now known as “presidential libraries”—to the glory of their presidencies. In those distant days, ex-presidents went back home or somewhere else where they could find work.

Over the course of the past century, all that has changed. Ours is a republic that has long since taken on the trappings of a monarchy, with the president inhabiting rarefied space as our king-emperor. The Brits have their woman in Buckingham Palace. We have our man in the White House.

Nominally, the Constitution assigns responsibilities and allocates prerogatives to three co-equal branches of government. In practice, the executive branch enjoys primacy. Prompted by a seemingly endless series of crises since the Great Depression and World War II, presidents have accumulated ever-greater authority, partly through usurpation, but more often than not through forfeiture.

At the same time, they also took on various extraconstitutional responsibilities. By the beginning of the present century, Americans took it for granted that the occupant of the Oval Office should function as prophet, moral philosopher, style setter, interpreter of the prevailing zeitgeist, and—last but hardly least—celebrity in chief. In short, POTUS was the bright star at the center of the American solar system.

As recently as a year ago, few saw in this cult of the presidency cause for complaint. On odd occasions, some particularly egregious bit of executive tomfoolery might trigger grumbling about an “imperial presidency.” Yet rarely did such complaints lead to effective remedial action. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 might be considered the exception that proves the rule. Inspired by the disaster of the Vietnam War and intended to constrain presidents from using force without congressional buy-in and support, that particular piece of legislation ranks alongside the Volstead Act of 1919 (enacted to enforce Prohibition) as among the least effective ever to become law.

In truth, influential American institutions—investment banks and multinational corporations, churches and universities, big-city newspapers and TV networks, the bloated national-security apparatus and both major political parties—have found reason aplenty to endorse a system that elevates the president to the status of demigod. By and large, it’s been good for business, whatever that business happens to be.

Furthermore, it’s our president—not some foreign dude—who is, by common consent, the most powerful person in the universe. For inhabitants of a nation that considers itself both “exceptional” and “indispensable,” this seems only right and proper. So Americans generally like it that their president is the acknowledged Leader of the Free World rather than some fresh-faced pretender from France or Canada.

Then came the Great Hysteria. Arriving with a Pearl Harbor–like shock, it erupted on the night of November 8, 2016, just as the news that Hillary Clinton was losing Florida and appeared certain to lose much else besides became apparent.

Suddenly, all the habits and precedents that had contributed to empowering the modern American presidency no longer made sense. That a single deeply flawed individual along with a handful of unelected associates and family members should be entrusted with determining the fate of the planet suddenly seemed the very definition of madness.

Emotion-laden upheavals producing behavior that is not entirely rational are hardly unknown in the American experience. Indeed, they recur with some frequency. The Great Awakenings of the 18th and early 19th centuries are examples of the phenomenon. So also are the two Red Scares of the 20th century, the first in the early 1920s and the second, commonly known as “McCarthyism,” coinciding with the onset of the Cold War.

Yet the response to Donald Trump’s election, combining as it has fear, anger, bewilderment, disgust, and something akin to despair, qualifies as an upheaval without precedent. History itself had seemingly gone off the rails. The crude Andrew Jackson’s 1828 ousting of an impeccably pedigreed president, John Quincy Adams, was nothing compared to the vulgar Donald Trump’s defeat of an impeccably credentialed graduate of Wellesley and Yale who had served as first lady, United States senator, and secretary of state. A self-evidently inconceivable outcome—all the smart people agreed on that point—had somehow happened anyway.

A vulgar, bombastic, thrice-married real-estate tycoon and reality-TV host as prophet, moral philosopher, style setter, interpreter of the prevailing zeitgeist, and chief celebrity? The very idea seemed both absurd and intolerable.

If we have, as innumerable commentators assert, embarked upon the Age of Trump, the defining feature of that age might well be the single-minded determination of those horrified and intent on ensuring its prompt termination. In 2016, TIME magazine chose Trump as its person of the year. In 2017, when it comes to dominating the news, that “person” might turn out to be a group—all those fixated on cleansing the White House of Trump’s defiling presence.

Egged on and abetted in every way by Trump himself, the anti-Trump resistance has made itself the Big Story. Lies, hate, collusion, conspiracy, fascism: Rarely has the everyday vocabulary of American politics been as ominous and forbidding as over the past six months. Take resistance rhetoric at face value and you might conclude that Donald Trump is indeed the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse, his presence in the presidential saddle eclipsing all other concerns. Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death will just have to wait.

The unspoken assumption of those most determined to banish him from public life appears to be this: Once he’s gone, history will be returned to its intended path, humankind will breathe a collective sigh of relief, and all will be well again. Yet such an assumption strikes me as remarkably wrongheaded—and not merely because, should Trump prematurely depart from office, Mike Pence will succeed him. Expectations that Trump’s ouster will restore normalcy ignore the very factors that first handed him the Republican nomination (with a slew of competitors wondering what hit them) and then put him in the Oval Office (with a vastly more seasoned and disciplined, if uninspiring, opponent left to bemoan the injustice of it all).

Not all, but many of Trump’s supporters voted for him for the same reason that people buy lottery tickets: Why not? In their estimation, they had little to lose. Their loathing of the status quo is such that they may well stick with Trump even as it becomes increasingly obvious that his promise of salvation—an America made “great again”—is not going to materialize.

Yet those who imagine that Trump’s removal will put things right are likewise deluding themselves. To persist in thinking that he defines the problem is to commit an error of the first order. Trump is not cause but consequence.

For too long, the cult of the presidency has provided an excuse for treating politics as a melodrama staged at four-year intervals and centering on hopes of another Roosevelt or Kennedy or Reagan appearing as the agent of American deliverance. Donald Trump’s ascent to the office once inhabited by those worthies should demolish such fantasies once and for all.

How is it that someone like Trump could become president in the first place? Blame sexism, Fox News, James Comey, Russian meddling, and Hillary’s failure to visit Wisconsin all you want, but a more fundamental explanation is this: The election of 2016 constituted a de facto referendum on the course of recent American history. That referendum rendered a definitive judgment: The underlying consensus informing US policy since the end of the Cold War has collapsed. Precepts that members of the policy elite have long treated as self-evident no longer command the backing or assent of the American people. Put simply: It’s the ideas, stupid.

“Without the Cold War, what’s the point of being an American?” As the long twilight struggle was finally winding down, Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, novelist John Updike’s late-20th-century Everyman, pondered that question. In short order, Rabbit got his answer. So, too, after only perfunctory consultation, did his fellow citizens.

The passing of the Cold War offered cause for celebration. On that point all agreed. Yet, as it turned out, it did not require reflection from the public at large. Policy elites professed to have matters well in hand. The dawning era, they believed, summoned Americans not to think anew, but to keep doing precisely what they were accustomed to doing, albeit without fretting further about Communist takeovers or the risks of nuclear Armageddon. In a world where a “single superpower” was calling the shots, utopia was right around the corner. All that was needed was for the United States to demonstrate the requisite confidence and resolve.

Three specific propositions made up the elite consensus that coalesced during the initial decade of the post–Cold War era. According to the first, the globalization of corporate capitalism held the key to wealth creation on a hitherto unimaginable scale. According to the second, jettisoning norms derived from Judeo-Christian religious traditions held the key to the further expansion of personal freedom. According to the third, muscular global leadership exercised by the United States held the key to promoting a stable and humane international order.

Unfettered neoliberalism plus the unencumbered self plus unabashed American assertiveness: These defined the elements of the post–Cold War consensus that formed during the first half of the 1990s—plus what enthusiasts called the information revolution. The miracle of that “revolution,” gathering momentum just as the Soviet Union was going down for the count, provided the secret sauce that infused the emerging consensus with a sense of historical inevitability.

The Cold War itself had fostered notable improvements in computational speed and capacity, new modes of communication, and techniques for storing, accessing, and manipulating information. Yet, however impressive, such developments remained subsidiary to the larger East-West competition. Only as the Cold War receded did they move from background to forefront. For true believers, information technology came to serve a quasi-theological function, promising answers to life’s ultimate questions. Although God might be dead, Americans found in Bill Gates and Steve Jobs nerdy but compelling idols.

More immediately, in the eyes of the policy elite, the information revolution meshed with and reinforced the policy consensus. For those focused on the political economy, it greased the wheels of globalized capitalism, creating vast new opportunities for trade and investment. For those looking to shed constraints on personal freedom, information promised empowerment, making identity itself something to choose, discard, or modify. For members of the national-security apparatus, the information revolution seemed certain to endow the United States with seemingly unassailable military capabilities. That these various enhancements would combine to improve the human condition was taken for granted; that they would, in due course, align everybody—from Afghans to Zimbabweans—with American values and the American way of life seemed more or less inevitable.

The three presidents of the post–Cold War era—Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama—put these several propositions to the test. Politics-as-theater requires us to pretend that our 42nd, 43rd, and 44th presidents differed in fundamental ways. In practice, however, their similarities greatly outweighed any of those differences. Taken together, the administrations over which they presided collaborated in pursuing a common agenda, each intent on proving that the post–Cold War consensus could work in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.

To be fair, it did work for some. “Globalization” made some people very rich indeed. In doing so, however, it greatly exacerbated inequality, while doing nothing to alleviate the condition of the American working class and underclass.

The emphasis on diversity and multiculturalism improved the status of groups long subjected to discrimination. Yet these advances have done remarkably little to reduce the alienation and despair pervading a society suffering from epidemics of chronic substance abuse, morbid obesity, teen suicide, and similar afflictions. Throw in the world’s highest incarceration rate, a seemingly endless appetite for porn, urban school systems mired in permanent crisis, and mass shootings that occur with metronomic regularity, and what you have is something other than the profile of a healthy society.

As for militarized American global leadership, it has indeed resulted in various bad actors’ meeting richly deserved fates. Goodbye, Saddam. Good riddance, Osama. Yet it has also embroiled the United States in a series of costly, senseless, unsuccessful, and ultimately counterproductive wars. As for the vaunted information revolution, its impact has been ambiguous at best, even if those with eyeballs glued to their personal electronic devices can’t tolerate being offline long enough to assess the actual costs of being perpetually connected.

In November 2016, Americans who consider themselves ill served by the post–Cold War consensus signaled that they had had enough. Voters not persuaded that neoliberal economic policies, a culture taking its motto ["No Rules, Just Right"] from the Outback steakhouse chain, and a national-security strategy that employs the US military as a global police force were working to their benefit provided a crucial margin in the election of Donald Trump.

The response of the political establishment to this extraordinary repudiation testifies to the extent of its bankruptcy. The Republican Party still clings to the notion that reducing taxes, cutting government red tape, restricting abortion, curbing immigration, prohibiting flag-burning, and increasing military spending will alleviate all that ails the country. Meanwhile, to judge by the promises contained in their recently unveiled (and instantly forgotten) program for a “Better Deal,” Democrats believe that raising the minimum wage, capping the cost of prescription drugs, and creating apprenticeship programs for the unemployed will return their party to the good graces of the American electorate.

In both parties embarrassingly small-bore thinking prevails, with Republicans and Democrats equally bereft of fresh ideas. Each party is led by aging hacks. Neither has devised an antidote to the crisis in American politics signified by the nomination and election of Donald Trump.

While our emperor tweets, Rome itself fiddles.

I am by temperament a conservative and a traditionalist, wary of revolutionary movements that more often than not end up being hijacked by nefarious plotters more interested in satisfying their own ambitions than in pursuing high ideals. Yet even I am prepared to admit that the status quo appears increasingly untenable. Incremental change will not suffice. The challenge of the moment is to embrace radicalism without succumbing to irresponsibility.

The one good thing we can say about the election of Donald Trump—to borrow an image from Thomas Jefferson—is this: It ought to serve as a fire bell in the night. If Americans have an ounce of sense, the Trump presidency will cure them once and for all of the illusion that from the White House comes redemption. By now we ought to have had enough of de facto monarchy.

By extension, Americans should come to see as intolerable the meanness, corruption, and partisan dysfunction so much in evidence at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue. We need not wax sentimental over the days when Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen presided over the Senate to conclude that Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer represent something other than progress. If Congress continues to behave as contemptibly as it has in recent years (and in recent weeks), it will, by default, allow the conditions that have produced Trump and his cronies to prevail.

So it’s time to take another stab at an approach to governance worthy of a democratic republic. Where to begin? I submit that Rabbit Angstrom’s question offers a place to start: What’s the point of being an American?

Authentic progressives and principled conservatives will offer different answers to Rabbit’s query. My own answer is rooted in an abiding conviction that our problems are less quantitative than qualitative. Rather than simply more—yet more wealth, more freedom, more attempts at global leadership—the times call for different. In my view, the point of being an American is to participate in creating a society that strikes a balance between wants and needs, that exists in harmony with nature and the rest of humankind, and that is rooted in an agreed upon conception of the common good.

My own prescription for how to act upon that statement of purpose is unlikely to find favor with most readers of The Nation. But therein lies the basis for an interesting debate, one that is essential to prospects for stemming the accelerating decay of American civic life.

Initiating such a debate, and so bringing into focus core issues, will remain next to impossible, however, without first clearing away the accumulated debris of the post–Cold War era. Preliminary steps in that direction, listed in no particular order, ought to include the following:

First, abolish the Electoral College. Doing so will preclude any further occurrence of the circumstances that twice in recent decades cast doubt on the outcome of national elections and thereby did far more than any foreign interference to undermine the legitimacy of American politics.

Second, rollback gerrymandering. Doing so will help restore competitive elections and make incumbency more tenuous.

Third, limit the impact of corporate money on elections at all levels, if need be by amending the Constitution.

Fourth, mandate a balanced federal budget, thereby demolishing the pretense that Americans need not choose between guns and butter.

Fifth, implement a program of national service, thereby eliminating the all-volunteer military and restoring the tradition of the citizen-soldier. Doing so will help close the gap between the military and society and enrich the prevailing conception of citizenship. It might even encourage members of Congress to think twice before signing off on wars that the commander in chief wants to fight.

Sixth, enact tax policies that will promote greater income equality.

Seventh, increase public funding for public higher education, thereby ensuring that college remains an option for those who are not well-to-do.

Eighth, beyond mere “job” creation, attend to the growing challenges of providing meaningful work—employment that is both rewarding and reasonably remunerative—for those without advanced STEM degrees.

Ninth, end the thumb-twiddling on climate change and start treating it as the first-order national-security priority that it is.

Tenth, absent evident progress on the above, create a new party system, breaking the current duopoly in which Republicans and Democrats tacitly collaborate to dictate the policy agenda and restrict the range of policy options deemed permissible.

These are not particularly original proposals and I do not offer them as a panacea. They may, however, represent preliminary steps toward devising some new paradigm to replace a post–Cold War consensus that, in promoting transnational corporate greed, mistaking libertinism for liberty, and embracing militarized neo-imperialism as the essence of statecraft, has paved the way for the presidency of Donald Trump.

We can and must do better. But doing so will require that we come up with better and truer ideas to serve as a foundation for American politics. # # #

[Andrew J. Bacevich is professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University. Bacevitch received a BS (history) from the United States Military Academy as well as a PhD (history) from Princeton University. He retired from Army active duty as a colonel in a career that spanned Vietnam to the Persian Gulf. Bacevich is the author of Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country (2013), among other works. His newest book is America’s War for the Greater Middle East (2016). See all books by Andrew Bacevich here.]

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Monday, August 14, 2017

There Is Stupidity "On All Sides" Of Bedminster, NJ Unless Traitor-Trump Goes On A "Day Trip" To DC

Tom/Dan wrote in the e-mail that brought today's TMW 'toon:

I finished this one way, way back on Friday, when we were all still focused on the possibility of a nuclear war, and then revised the final panel yesterday, in response to the events in Charlottesville. It’s a challenge to keep up with the sheer onslaught of awfulness these days. I’d say that next week’s cartoon is probably going to be about the neo-Nazis and their enabler-in-chief, but who knows what new and even more terrible thing we’ll actually be talking about by then.

Until next week!

Dan (aka Tom)

Today's 'toon begins with the stock pair of True Believers (in Traitor-Trump). In the third panel (and thereafter), Sparky the Wonder Penguin (wearing his trademark Inuit-style bull$hit-blindness goggles) enters into a 3-party colloquy. Sparky is sardonic in the face meat-headed obtuseness. If this is a (fair & balanced) critique of stupidity "on all sides" of the Traitor's camp, so be it.

[x TMW]
Threat Assessment
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow." His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Today's Daily Double Offers A Double Surprise

As has been stated many times in this blog, today's writer — Frank Rich — is distinguished by the sobriquet, "The Butcher," when Rich was known as "the Butcher on Broadway" during his lengthy tenure as the NY Fishwrap's theater critic with emphasis on "critic." Today, The Butcher achieves a new moment in this blog: a double-feature of The Butcher's essays, posted nearly a year apart — August 16, 2016 and August 13, 2017. In the firmer, The Butcher anticipated the result of the 2016 presidential election and in the latter, The Butcher speculates on another presidential resignation. If this is (fair & balanced) magical thinking, so be it.

PS: Look at the Directory below and click on the [bracketed number] to go to that essay; click on "Back To Directory" to return to the top of the page.

Vannevar Bush hypertextBracketed numericsDirectory]
[1] Posted August 16, 2016 — Frank (The Butcher) Rich Predicts An Election Surprise
[2] Today (8/12/17) — Frank (The Butcher) Rich Predicts A Presidential Departure

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[x NY 'Zine]
What The Donald Shares With The Ronald
By Frank (The Butcher) Rich

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In an election cycle that has brought unending surprises, let it be said that one time-honored tradition has been upheld: the Republican presidential contenders' quadrennial tug-of-war to seize the mantle of Ronald Reagan. John Kasich, gesturing toward the Air Force One on display at the Reagan-library debate, said, "I think I actually flew on this plane with Ronald Reagan when I was a congressman." Rand Paul claimed to have met Reagan as a child; Ben Carson said he switched parties because of Reagan; Chris Christie said he cast his first vote for Reagan; Ted Cruz cheered Reagan for having defeated Soviet Communism and vowed, for nonsensical good measure, to "do the same thing." And then there was Donald Trump, never one to be outdone by the nobodies in any competition. "I helped him," he said of Reagan on NBC last fall. "I knew him. He liked me and I liked him."

The Reagan archives show no indication that the two men had anything more than a receiving-line acquaintanceship; Trump doesn’t appear in the president’s voluminous diaries. But of all the empty boasts that have marked Trump’s successful pursuit of the Republican nomination, his affinity to Reagan may have the most validity and the most pertinence to 2016. To understand how Trump has advanced to where he is now, and why he has been underestimated at almost every step, and why he has a shot at vanquishing Hillary Clinton in November, few road maps are more illuminating than Reagan’s unlikely path to the White House. One is almost tempted to say that Trump has been studying the Reagan playbook — but to do so would be to suggest that he actually might have read a book, another Trumpian claim for which there is scant evidence.

Before the fierce defenders of the Reagan faith collapse into seizures at the bracketing of their hero with the crudest and most vacuous presidential candidate in human memory, let me stipulate that I am not talking about Reagan the president in drawing this parallel, or about Reagan the man. I am talking about Reagan the candidate, the canny politician who, after a dozen years of failed efforts attended by nonstop ridicule, ended up leading the 1980 GOP ticket at the same age Trump is now (69) and who, like his present-day counterpart, was best known to much of the electorate up until then as a B-list show-business personality.

It’s true that Reagan, unlike Trump, did hold public office before seeking the presidency (though he’d been out of government for six years when he won). But Trump would no doubt argue that his executive experience atop the august Trump Organization more than compensates for Reagan’s two terms in Sacramento. (Trump would also argue, courtesy of Arnold Schwarzenegger, that serving as governor of California is merely a bush-league audition for the far greater responsibilities of hosting "Celebrity Apprentice.") It’s also true that Reagan forged a (fairly) consistent ideology to address late-20th-century issues that are no longer extant: the Cold War, a federal government that feasted on a top income-tax bracket of 70 percent, and runaway inflation. Trump has no core conviction beyond gratifying his own bottomless ego.

Remarkably, though, the Reagan model has proved quite adaptable both to Trump and to our different times. Trump’s tenure as an NBC reality-show host is comparable to Reagan’s stint hosting the highly rated but disposable "General Electric Theater" for CBS in the Ed Sullivan era. Trump’s embarrassing turn as a supporting player in a 1990 Bo Derek movie (Ghosts Can’t Do It) is no more egregious than Reagan’s starring opposite a chimp in Hollywood’s "Bedtime for Bonzo" of 1951. While Trump has owned tacky, bankrupt casinos in Atlantic City, Reagan was a mere casino serf — the emcee of a flop nightclub revue featuring barbershop harmonizing and soft-shoe dancing at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas in 1954. While Trump would be the first president to have been married three times, here, too, he is simply updating his antecedent, who broke a cultural barrier by becoming the first White House occupant to have divorced and remarried. Neither Reagan nor Trump paid any price with the Evangelical right for deviations from the family-values norm; they respectively snared the endorsements of Jerry Falwell and Jerry Falwell Jr.

Reflecting the contrasting pop cultures of their times, Reagan’s and Trump’s performance styles are antithetical. Reagan’s cool persona of genial optimism was forged by his stints as a radio baseball broadcaster and a movie-studio utility player, and finally by his emergence on television when it was ruled by the soothing suburban patriarchs of "Ozzie and Harriet," "Father Knows Best," and "Leave It to Beaver." Trump’s hot shtick, his scowling bombast and put-downs, is tailor-made for a culture that favors conflict over consensus, musical invective over easy listening, and exhibitionism over decorum in prime time. The two men’s representative celebrity endorsers — Jimmy Stewart and Pat Boone for Reagan, Hulk Hogan and Bobby Knight for Trump — belong to two different American civilizations.

But Reagan’s and Trump’s opposing styles belie their similarities of substance. Both have marketed the same brand of outrage to the same angry segments of the electorate, faced the same jeering press, attracted some of the same battlefront allies (Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Phyllis Schlafly), offended the same elites (including two generations of Bushes), outmaneuvered similar political adversaries, and espoused the same conservative populism built broadly on the pillars of jingoistic nationalism, nostalgia, contempt for Washington, and racial resentment. They’ve even endured the same wisecracks about their unnatural coiffures. “Governor Reagan does not dye his hair,” said Gerald Ford at a Gridiron Dinner in 1974. “He is just turning prematurely orange.” Though Reagan’s 1980 campaign slogan (“Let’s Make America Great Again”) is one word longer than Trump’s, that word reflects a contrast in their personalities — the avuncular versus the autocratic — but not in message. Reagan’s apocalyptic theme, “The Empire is in decline,” is interchangeable with Trump’s, even if the Gipper delivered it with a smile.

Craig Shirley, a longtime Republican political consultant and Reagan acolyte, has written authoritative books on the presidential campaigns of 1976 and 1980 that serve as correctives to the sentimental revisionist history that would have us believe that Reagan was cheered on as a conquering hero by GOP elites during his long climb to national power. To hear the right’s triumphalism of recent years, you’d think that only smug Democrats were appalled by Reagan while Republicans quickly recognized that their party, decimated by Richard Nixon and Watergate, had found its savior.

Grassroots Republicans, whom Reagan had been courting for years with speeches, radio addresses, and opinion pieces beneath the mainstream media’s radar, were indeed in his camp. But aside from a lone operative (John Sears), Shirley wrote, “the other major GOP players — especially Easterners and moderates — thought Reagan was a certified yahoo.” By his death in 2004, “they would profess their love and devotion to Reagan and claim they were there from the beginning in 1974, which was a load of horse manure.” Even after his election in 1980, Shirley adds, “Reagan was never much loved” by his own party’s leaders. After GOP setbacks in the 1982 midterms, “a Republican National Committee functionary taped a piece of paper to her door announcing the sign-up for the 1984 Bush for President campaign.”

Shirley’s memories are corroborated by reportage contemporaneous with Reagan’s last two presidential runs. (There was also an abortive run in 1968.) A poll in 1976 found that 90 percent of Republican state chairmen judged Reagan guilty of “simplistic approaches,” with “no depth in federal government administration” and “no experience in foreign affairs.” It was little different in January 1980, when a US News and World Report survey of 475 national and state Republican chairmen found they preferred George H.W. Bush to Reagan. One state chairman presumably spoke for many when he told the magazine that Reagan’s intellect was “thinner than spit on a slate rock.” As Rick Perlstein writes in The Invisible Bridge (2014), the third and latest volume of his epic chronicle of the rise of the conservative movement, both Nixon and Ford dismissed Reagan as a lightweight. Barry Goldwater endorsed Ford over Reagan in 1976 despite the fact that Reagan’s legendary speech on behalf of Goldwater’s presidential campaign in October 1964, “A Time for Choosing,” was the biggest boost that his kamikaze candidacy received. Only a single Republican senator, Paul Laxalt of Nevada, signed on to Reagan’s presidential quest from the start, a solitary role that has been played in the Trump campaign by Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

What put off Reagan’s fellow Republicans will sound very familiar. He proposed an economic program — 30 percent tax cuts, increased military spending, a balanced budget — whose math was voodoo and then some. He prided himself on not being “a part of the Washington Establishment” and mocked Capitol Hill’s “buddy system” and its collusion with “the forces that have brought us our problems—the Congress, the bureaucracy, the lobbyists, big business, and big labor.” He kept a light campaign schedule, regarded debates as optional, wouldn’t sit still to read briefing books, and often either improvised his speeches or worked off index cards that contained anecdotes and statistics gleaned from Reader’s Digest and the right-wing journal Human Events — sources hardly more elevated or reliable than the television talk shows and tabloids that feed Trump’s erroneous and incendiary pronouncements.

Like Trump but unlike most of his (and Trump’s) political rivals, Reagan was accessible to the press and public. His spontaneity in give-and-takes with reporters and voters played well but also gave him plenty of space to disgorge fantasies and factual errors so prolific and often outrageous that he single-handedly made the word gaffe a permanent fixture in America’s political vernacular. He confused Pakistan with Afghanistan. He claimed that trees contributed 93 percent of the atmosphere’s nitrous oxide and that pollution in America was “substantially under control” even as his hometown of Los Angeles was suffocating in smog. He said that the “finest oil geologists in the world” had found that there were more oil reserves in Alaska than Saudi Arabia. He said the federal government spent $3 for each dollar it distributed in welfare benefits, when the actual amount was 12 cents.

He also mythologized his own personal history in proto-Trump style. As Garry Wills has pointed out, Reagan referred to himself as one of “the soldiers who came back” when speaking plaintively of his return to civilian life after World War II — even though he had come back only from Culver City, where his wartime duty was making Air Force films at the old Hal Roach Studio. Once in office, he told the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir that he had filmed the liberated Nazi death camps, when in reality he had not seen them, let alone (as he claimed) squirreled away a reel of film as an antidote to potential Holocaust deniers. For his part, Trump has purported that his enrollment at the New York Military Academy, a prep school, amounted to Vietnam-era military service, and has borne historical witness to the urban legend of “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in Jersey City celebrating the 9/11 attacks. Even when these ruses are exposed, Trump follows the Reagan template of doubling down on mistakes rather than conceding them.

Nor was Reagan a consistent conservative. He deviated from party orthodoxy to both the left and the right. He had been by his own account a “near hopeless hemophilic liberal” for much of his adult life, having campaigned for Truman in 1948 and for Helen Gahagan Douglas in her senatorial race against Nixon in California in 1950. He didn’t switch his registration to Republican until he was 51. As California governor, he signed one of America’s strongest gun-control laws and its most liberal abortion law (both in 1967). His vocal opposition helped kill California’s 1978 Briggs Initiative, which would have banned openly gay teachers at public schools. As a 1980 presidential candidate, he flip-flopped to endorse bailouts for both New York City and the Chrysler Corporation. Reagan may be revered now as a free-trade absolutist in contrast to Trump, but in that winning campaign he called for halting the “deluge” of Japanese car imports raining down on Detroit. “If Japan keeps on doing everything that it’s doing, what they’re doing, obviously, there’s going to be what you call protectionism,” he said.

Republican leaders blasted Reagan as a trigger-happy warmonger. Much as Trump now threatens to downsize NATO and start a trade war with China, so Reagan attacked Ford, the sitting Republican president he ran against in the 1976 primary, and Henry Kissinger for their pursuit of the bipartisan policies of détente and Chinese engagement. The sole benefit of détente, Reagan said, was to give America “the right to sell Pepsi-Cola in Siberia.” For good measure, he stoked an international dispute by vowing to upend a treaty ceding American control over the Panama Canal. “We bought it, we paid for it, it’s ours, and we’re going to keep it!” he bellowed with an America First truculence reminiscent of Trump’s calls for our allies to foot the bill for American military protection. Even his own party’s hawks, like William F. Buckley Jr. and his pal John Wayne, protested. Goldwater, of all people, inveighed against Reagan’s “gross factual errors” and warned he might “take rash action” and “needlessly lead this country into open military conflict.”

Trump’s signature cause of immigration was not a hot-button issue during Reagan’s campaigns. In the White House, he signed a bill granting “amnesty” (Reagan used the now politically incorrect word) to 1.7 million undocumented immigrants. But if Reagan was free of Trump’s bigoted nativism, he had his own racially tinged strategy for wooing disaffected white working-class Americans fearful that liberals in government were bestowing favors on freeloading, lawbreaking minorities at their expense. Taking a leaf from George Wallace’s populist campaigns, Reagan scapegoated “welfare chiselers” like the nameless “strapping young buck” he claimed used food stamps to buy steak. His favorite villain was a Chicago “welfare queen” who, in his telling, “had 80 names, 30 addresses, and 12 Social Security cards, and is collecting veterans’ benefits on four nonexistent deceased husbands” to loot the American taxpayer of over $150,000 of “tax-free cash income” a year. Never mind that she was actually charged with using four aliases and had netted $8,000: Reagan continued to hammer in this hyperbolic parable with a vengeance that rivals Trump’s insistence that Mexico will pay for a wall to fend off Hispanic rapists.

The Republican elites of Reagan’s day were as blindsided by him as their counterparts have been by Trump. Though Reagan came close to toppling the incumbent president at the contested Kansas City convention in 1976, the Ford forces didn’t realize they could lose until the devil was at the door. A “President Ford Committee” campaign statement had maintained that Reagan could “not defeat any candidate the Democrats put up” because his “constituency is much too narrow, even within the Republican party” and because he lacked “the critical national and international experience that President Ford has gained through 25 years of public service.” In Ford’s memoirs, written after he lost the election to Jimmy Carter, he wrote that he hadn’t taken the Reagan threat seriously because he “didn’t take Reagan seriously.” Reagan, he said, had a “penchant for offering simplistic solutions to hideously complex problems” and a stubborn insistence that he was “always right in every argument.” Even so, a Ford-campaign memo had correctly identified one ominous sign during primary season: a rising turnout of Reagan voters who were “not loyal Republicans or Democrats” and were “alienated from both parties because neither takes a sympathetic view toward their issues.” To these voters, the disdain Reagan drew from the GOP elites was a badge of honor. During the primary campaign, Times columnist William Safire reported with astonishment that Kissinger’s speeches championing Ford and attacking Reagan were helping Reagan, not Ford — a precursor of how attacks by Trump’s Establishment adversaries have backfired 40 years later.

Much of the press was slow to catch up, too. A typical liberal-Establishment take on Reagan could be found in Harper’s, which called him Ronald Duck, “the Candidate from Disneyland.” That he had come to be deemed “a serious candidate for president,” the magazine intoned, was “a shame and embarrassment for the country.” But some reporters who tracked Reagan on the campaign trail sensed that many voters didn’t care if he came from Hollywood, if his policies didn’t add up, if his facts were bogus, or if he was condescended to by Republican leaders or pundits. As Elizabeth Drew of The New Yorker observed in 1976, his appeal “has to do not with competence at governing but with the emotion he evokes.” As she put it, “Reagan lets people get out their anger and frustration, their feeling of being misunderstood and mishandled by those who have run our government, their impatience with taxes and with the poor and the weak, their impulse to deal with the world’s troublemakers by employing the stratagem of a punch in the nose.”

The power of that appeal was underestimated by his Democratic foes in 1980 even though Carter, too, had run as a populist and attracted some Wallace voters when beating Ford in 1976. By the time he was up for reelection, Carter was an unpopular incumbent presiding over the Iranian hostage crisis, gas shortages, and a reeling economy, yet surely the Democrats would prevail over Ronald Duck anyway. A strategic memo by Carter’s pollster, Patrick Caddell, laid out the campaign against Reagan’s obvious vulnerabilities with bullet points: “Is Reagan Safe? … Shoots From the Hip … Over His Head … What Are His Solutions?” But it was the strategy of Caddell’s counterpart in the Reagan camp, the pollster Richard Wirthlin, that carried the day with the electorate. Voters wanted to “follow some authority figure,” he theorized — a “leader who can take charge with authority; return a sense of discipline to our government; and, manifest the willpower needed to get this country back on track.” Or at least a leader from outside Washington, like Reagan and now Trump, who projects that image (“You’re fired!”) whether he has the ability to deliver on it or not.

What we call the Reagan Revolution was the second wave of a right-wing populist revolution within the GOP that had first crested with the Goldwater campaign of 1964. After Lyndon Johnson whipped Goldwater in a historic landslide that year, it was assumed that the revolution had been vanquished. The conventional wisdom was framed by James Reston of the Times the morning after Election Day: “Barry Goldwater not only lost the presidential election yesterday but the conservative cause as well.” But the conservative cause hardly lost a step after Goldwater’s Waterloo; it would soon start to regather its strength out West under Reagan. It’s the moderate wing of the party, the GOP of Nelson Rockefeller and George Romney and Henry Cabot Lodge and William Scranton, that never recovered and whose last, long-smoldering embers were finally extinguished with a Jeb Bush campaign whose high-water mark in the Republican primaries was 11 percent of the vote in New Hampshire.

Mitt Romney and his ilk are far more conservative than that previous generation of ancien régime Republicans. But the Romney crowd is not going to have a restoration after the 2016 election any more than his father’s crowd did post-1964 — regardless of whether Trump is buried in an electoral avalanche, as Goldwater was, or wins big, as Reagan did against both Carter and Walter Mondale. Trump is far more representative of the GOP base than all the Establishment conservatives who are huffing and puffing that he is betraying the conservative movement and the spirit of Ronald Reagan. When the Bush family announces it will skip the Cleveland convention, the mainstream media dutifully report it as significant news. But there’s little evidence that many grassroots Republicans now give a damn what any Bush has to say about Trump or much else.

The only conservative columnist who seems to recognize this reality remains Peggy Noonan, who worked in the Reagan White House. As she pointed out in Wall Street Journal columns this spring, conservatism as “defined the past 15 years by Washington writers and thinkers” (i.e., since George W. Bush’s first inauguration) — “a neoconservative, functionally open borders, slash-the-entitlements party” — appears no longer to have any market in the Republican base. A telling poll [PDF] by Public Policy Polling published in mid-May confirmed that the current GOP Washington leadership is not much more popular than the departed John Boehner and Eric Cantor: Only 40 percent of Republicans approve of the job performance of Paul Ryan, the Establishment wonder boy whose conservative catechism Noonan summarized, while 44 percent disapprove. Only 14 percent of Republicans approve of Mitch McConnell. This is Trump’s party now, and it was so well before he got there. It’s the populist-white-conservative party that Goldwater and Reagan built, with a hefty intervening assist from Nixon’s southern strategy, not the atavistic country-club Republicanism whose few surviving vestiges had their last hurrahs in the administrations of Bush père and fils. The third wave of the Reagan Revolution is here to stay.

Were Trump to gain entry to the White House, it’s impossible to say whether he would or could follow Reagan’s example and function within the political norms of Washington. His burlesque efforts to appear “presidential” are intended to make that case: His constant promise to practice “the art of the deal” echoes Reagan’s campaign boast of having forged compromises with California’s Democratic legislature while governor. More likely a Trump presidency would be the train wreck largely predicted, an amalgam of the blunderbuss shoot-from-the-hip recklessness of George W. Bush and the randy corruption of Warren Harding, both of whom were easily manipulated by their own top brass. The love child of Hitler and Mussolini Trump is not. He lacks the discipline and zeal to be a successful fascist.

The good news for those who look with understandable horror on the prospect of a Trump victory is that the national demographic math is different now from Reagan’s day. The nonwhite electorate, only 12 percent in 1980, was 28 percent in 2012 and could hit 30 percent this year. Few number crunchers buy the Trump camp’s spin that the GOP can reclaim solidly Democratic territory like Pennsylvania and Michigan — states where many white working-class voters, soon to be christened “Reagan Democrats,” crossed over to vote Republican in Reagan’s 1984 landslide. Many of those voters are dead; their epicenter, Macomb County, Michigan, was won by Barack Obama in 2008. Nor is there now the ’70s level of discontent that gave oxygen to Reagan’s insurgency. President Obama’s approval numbers are lapping above 50 percent. Both unemployment and gas prices are low, hardly the dire straits of Carter’s America. Trump’s gift for repelling women would also seem to be an asset for Democrats, creating a gender gap far exceeding the one that confronted Reagan, who was hostile to the Equal Rights Amendment.

And yet, to quote the headline of an Economist cover story on Reagan in 1980: It’s time to think the unthinkable. Trump and Bernie Sanders didn’t surge in a vacuum. This is a volatile nation. Polls consistently find that some two-thirds of the country thinks the country is on the wrong track. The economically squeezed middle class rightly feels it has been abandoned by both parties. The national suicide rate is at a 30-year high. Anything can happen in an election where the presumptive candidates of both parties are loathed by a majority of their fellow Americans, a first in the history of modern polling. It’s not reassuring that some of those minimizing Trump’s chances are the experts who saw no path for Trump to the Republican nomination. There could be a July surprise in which party divisions capsize the Democratic convention rather than, as once expected, the GOP’s. An October surprise could come in the form of a terrorist incident that panics American voters much as the Iranian hostage crisis is thought to have sealed Carter’s doom in 1980.

While I did not rule out the possibility that Trump could win the Republican nomination as his campaign took off after Labor Day last year, I wrote that he had “no chance of ascending to the presidency.” Meanwhile, he was performing an unintended civic service: His bull-in-a-china-shop candidacy was exposing, however unintentionally, the sterility, corruption, and hypocrisy of our politics, from the consultant-and-focus-group-driven caution of candidates like Clinton to the toxic legacy of Sarah Palin on a GOP that now pretends it never invited her cancerous brand of bigoted populism into its midst. But I now realize I was as wrong as the Reagan naysayers in seeing no chance of Trump’s landing in the White House. I will henceforth defer to Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, one of the few Washington analysts who saw Trump’s breakthrough before the pack did. As of early May, he was giving Trump a 20 percent chance of victory in November.

What is to be done to lower those odds further still? Certainly the feeble efforts of the #NeverTrump Republicans continue to be, as Trump would say, Sad! Alumni from the Romney, Bush, and John McCain campaigns seem to think that writing progressively more enraged op-ed pieces about how Trump is a shame and embarrassment for the country will make a difference. David Brooks has called this a “Joe McCarthy moment” for the GOP — in the sense that history will judge poorly those who don’t stand up to the bully in the Fifth Avenue tower. But if you actually look at history, what it says is that there were no repercussions for Republicans who didn’t stand up to McCarthy — or, for that matter, to Nixon at the height of his criminality. William Buckley co-wrote a book defending McCarthy in 1954, and his career only blossomed thereafter. Goldwater was one of McCarthy’s most loyal defenders, and Reagan refused to condemn Nixon even after the Republican senatorial leadership had deserted him in the endgame of Watergate. Far from being shunned, both men ended up as their party’s presidential nominees, and one of them became president.

If today’s outraged Republican elites are seriously determined to derail Trump, they have a choice between two options: (1) Put their money and actions where their hashtags are and get a conservative third-party candidate on any state ballots they can, where a protest vote might have a spoiler effect on Trump’s chances; (2) Hold their nose and support Clinton. Both (1) and (2) would assure a Clinton presidency, so this would require those who feel that Trump will bring about America’s ruin to love their country more than they hate Clinton.

Dream on. That’s not happening. It’s easier to write op-ed pieces invoking Weimar Germany for audiences who already loathe Trump. Meanwhile, Republican grandees will continue to surrender to Trump no matter how much they’ve attacked him or he’s attacked them or how many high-minded editorials accuse them of failing a Joe McCarthy moral test. Just as Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus capitulated once Trump signed a worthless pledge of party loyalty last fall, so other GOP leaders are now citing Trump’s equally worthless list of potential Supreme Court nominees as a pretext for jumping on the bandwagon.

The handiest Reagan-era prototype for Christie, McCain, Nikki Haley, Peter King, Bobby Jindal, and all the other former Trump-haters who have now about-faced is Kissinger. Reagan had attacked him in the 1976 campaign for making America what Trump would call a loser — “No. 2” — to the Soviets in military might. Kissinger’s disdain of Reagan was such that, as Craig Shirley writes, he tried to persuade Ford to run again in 1980 so Reagan could be blocked. When that fizzled, Kissinger put out the word that Reagan was the only Republican contender he wouldn’t work with. But once Reagan had locked up the nomination, Kissinger declared him the “trustee of all our hopes” and lobbied to return to the White House as secretary of State. As I write these words, Kissinger is meeting with Trump.

And the Democrats? Hillary Clinton is to Trump what Carter and especially Mondale were to Reagan: a smart, mainstream liberal with a vast public-service résumé who stands for all good things without ever finding that one big thing that electrifies voters. No matter how many journalistic exposés are to follow on both candidates, it’s hard to believe that most Americans don’t already know which candidate they prefer when the choices are quantities as known as she and Trump. The real question is which one voters are actually going to show up and cast ballots for. Could America’s fading white majority make its last stand in 2016? All demographic and statistical logic says no. But as Reagan seduced voters and confounded the experts with his promise of "Morning in America," we can’t entirely rule out the possibility that Trump might do the same with his stark, black-and-white entreaties to "High Noon." Ω

[Frank Rich joined New York magazine in June 2011 as Writer-at-Large, writing monthly on politics and culture, and editing a special monthly section anchored by his essay. Rich joined the magazine following a distinguished career at the New York Times, where he had been an op-ed columnist since 1994. He was previously the paper's chief drama critic, from 1980 to 1993. As a theater critic, he was known as "The Butcher On Broadway." Before joining The Times, Rich was a film critic at Time magazine, the New York Post, and New Times magazine. He was a founding editor of the Richmond (Va.) Mercury, a weekly newspaper, in the early 1970s. Rich is the author of a childhood memoir, Ghost Light (2000), a collection of drama reviews, Hot Seat: Theater Criticism for The New York Times, 1980-1993 (1998), The Theatre Art of Boris Aronson (with Lisa Aronson, 1987), and The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina (2006). Rich is a graduate of the Washington, DC public schools. He earned a BA degree in American History and Literature from Harvard College in 1971.]

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“Let others wallow in Watergate, we are going to do our job,” said Richard Nixon with typical unearned self-righteousness in July 1973. By then, more than a year had passed since a slapstick posse of five had been caught in a bungled burglary at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex. It had been nine months since Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein reported in the Washington Post that the break-in was part of a “massive campaign of political spying and sabotage” conducted by all the president’s men against most of their political opponents. Now the nation was emerging from two solid months of Senate Watergate hearings, a riveting cavalcade of White House misfits and misdeeds viewed live by 71 percent of the public.

Even so, Nixon had some reason to hope that Americans would heed his admonition to change the channel. That summer, the Times reported that both Democratic and Republican congressmen back home for recess were finding “a certain numbness” about Watergate and no “public mandate for any action as bold as impeachment.”

For all the months of sensational revelations and criminal indictments (including of his campaign manager and former attorney general, John Mitchell), a Harris poll found that only 22 percent thought Nixon should leave office. Gallup put the president’s approval rating in the upper 30s, roughly where our current president stands now — lousy, but not apocalyptic. There had yet to be an impeachment resolution filed in Congress by even Nixon’s most partisan adversaries.

He had defied his political obituaries before, staging comebacks after a slush-fund scandal nearly cost him his vice-presidential perch on the GOP ticket in 1952 and again after his 1962 defeat in the California governor’s race prompted the angry “last press conference” at which he vowed that “you won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Might Tricky Dick pull off another Houdini? He was capable of it, and, as it happened, it would take another full year of bombshells and firestorms after the televised Senate hearings before a clear majority of Americans (57 percent) finally told pollsters they wanted the president to go home. Only then did he oblige them, in August 1974.

In the decades since, Watergate has become perhaps the most abused term in the American political lexicon. Washington has played host to legions of “-gates,” most unworthy of the name, and the original has blurred in memory, including for those of us who lived through it. Now, of course, invocations of Watergate are our daily bread, as America contemplates the future of a president who not only openly admires Nixon — he vowed to put a framed Nixon note on display in the Oval Office — but seems intent on emulating his most impeachable behavior. And among those of us who want Donald Trump gone from Washington yesterday, there’s a fair amount of fear that he, too, could hang on until the end of a four-year term that stank of corruption from the start. Even if his White House scandals turn out to exceed his predecessor’s — as the former director of national intelligence James Clapper posited in early June — impeachment is a political, not a legal, matter, and his political lock on the presidency would seem secure. Unlike Nixon, who had to contend with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, Trump has the shield of a Republican Congress led by craven enablers terrified of crossing their Dear Leader’s fiercely loyal base. That distinction alone is enough to make anti-Trumpers abandon all hope.

I’m here to say don’t do so just yet. There’s a handy antidote to despair: a thorough wallow in Watergate, the actual story as it unfolded, not the expedited highlight reel that most Americans know from a textbook précis or cultural artifacts like the film version of All the President’s Men. If you look through a sharp Nixonian lens at Trump’s trajectory in office to date, short as it has been, you will discover more of an overlap than you might expect. You will learn that Democratic control of Congress in 1973 was not a crucial factor in Nixon’s downfall and that Republican control of Congress in 2017 may not be a life preserver for Trump. You will find reason to hope that the 45th president’s path through scandal may wind up at the same destination as the 37th’s — a premature exit from the White House in disgrace — on a comparable timeline.

The skids of Trump’s collapse are already being greased by some of the same factors that brought down his role model: profound failings of character, disdain for the law (“If the president does it, that means that it is not illegal,” in Nixon’s notorious post-resignation formulation to David Frost), an inability to retain the loyalty of feuding White House aides who will lawyer up to save their own skins (H. R. McMaster may bolt faster than the ultimately imprisoned Nixon chief of staff H. R. Haldeman), and dubious physical health (Trump’s body seems to be bloating in stress as Nixon’s phlebitis-stricken leg did). Further down the road, he’ll no doubt face the desertion of politicians in his own party who hope to cling to power after he’s gone. If the good Lordy hears James Comey’s prayers, there may yet be incriminating tapes as well, Trump’s weirdly worded denial notwithstanding.

The American University historian Allan Lichtman, famous for his lonely prediction of Trump’s electoral victory, has followed up that feat with The Case for Impeachment (2017), a book-length forecast of Trump’s doom. The impeachment, he writes, “will be decided not just in the halls of Congress but in the streets of America.” I’d go further to speculate that Trump’s implosion is more likely to occur before there’s an impeachment vote on the floor of the House — as was the case with Nixon. But where Nixon’s exit was catalyzed by an empirical recognition that he’d lost the votes he needed to survive a Senate trial, in Trump’s case the trigger will be his childish temper, not the facts. He’s already on record as finding the job to be more work than he bargained for. He’ll tire of being perceived as a loser by nearly everyone except the sort of people he’d never let in the front door of Mar-a-Lago — and of seeing the Trump brand trashed to the point of jeopardizing his children’s future stake in the family kleptocracy. When he’s had enough, I suspect he’ll find a way to declare “victory,” blame his departure on a conspiracy by America’s (i.e., his) “enemies,” and vow to fight another day on a network TBA.

But as was also true with Nixon, some time and much patience will be required while waiting for the endgame. The span between Nixon’s Second Inaugural and his resignation was almost 19 months. Trump’s presidency already seems as if it’s lasted a lifetime, but it’s only five months old. Never forget that the Watergate auto-da-fé wasn’t built in a day.

For those who haven’t refreshed their Watergate memories lately — or only vaguely know the history to start with — there’s a vast trove of entertaining Nixon literature worth taking to the beach, from Woodward and Bernstein’s classic The Final Days (1976, 2005), featuring a sobbing Nixon and Henry Kissinger dropping to their knees in prayer, to the recent tell-all by one of Nixon’s last White House loyalists, Pat Buchanan (Nixon’s White House Wars [2017]). To understand how the melodrama played out in real time in the capital, there may be no better guide than Washington Journal (2014), the collected 1973–74 dispatches of Elizabeth Drew, The New Yorker’s Washington columnist at the time. (Drew is on the DC Trump beat now for The New York Review of Books.) This book had long been out of print, but, as luck would have it, its republication in 2014, to mark the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, proved more timely than anyone except perhaps Allan Lichtman could have predicted.

Here’s Drew describing a typical Watergate day:

“The news is coming too fast. Faster and harder than anyone expected. It is almost impossible to absorb.” And here she is a week after Nixon’s vice-president, Spiro Agnew, resigned upon pleading no contest to charges of bribery and tax fraud: “The city seems to be reeling around amidst the events and the breaking stories. In the restaurants, the noise level is higher. At the end of the day, someone says, ‘It’s like being drunk.’ ”

It already feels like that right now.

One could argue that the context is different today — that the America of 2017 is not the America of the early 1970s. We think of our current culture as being harder to shock, easier to distract, and more inured to crude public figures who violate traditional societal norms as unabashedly as Trump. This, in theory, would make him harder to dislodge than Nixon, whose sins would more easily scandalize a relatively innocent 20th-century citizenry. But even without the internet’s cacophony, Nixon faced a post-1960s America as factionalized, jaded, and accustomed to shock as our own: It had witnessed the assassination of two Kennedys and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a complete overhaul of its mores as a consequence of a rising counterculture and women’s movement, and a domestic civil war precipitated by the catastrophe of Vietnam. The alarming toxicity of Trump has burst through the noise of our America much as Nixon’s did through his. And while the technology for delivering news makes it come faster and harder in 2017 than Drew or any of us could have anticipated in that day of daily newspapers and nightly news broadcasts, the onslaught of shocking developments felt no less overwhelming then than now.

Human nature hasn’t changed — not for those of us standing outside a teetering White House or for the cast of characters within. Much as Trump risked his presidency by empowering hotheaded ideologues like Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon, so Nixon’s White House had recruited the similarly reckless G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt to wage war on the president’s perceived enemies. As John A. Farrell writes in his new, state-of-the-art Richard Nixon: The Life (2017), both of them were “wannabe James Bonds.” Hunt, an alumnus of the CIA’s Bay of Pigs fiasco, was the prolific author of often pseudonymous spy novels, while Liddy was alt-right before it was cool: “a right-wing zealot, with a fixation for Nazi regalia and a kinky kind of Nietzschean philosophy,” who “organized a White House screening of the Nazi propaganda film 'Triumph of the Will.' ”

Though there are a number of areas where the Nixon and Trump narratives diverge, in nearly every case Trump’s deviations from the Watergate model make it even less likely that he will survive his presidency. (One exception to the rule: Nixon drank to excess; Trump is a teetotaler.) Nixon was genuinely tough, a self-made man who’d climbed out of what may have been the most Dickensian childhood of any American president. He’d served as a Navy officer in the Pacific theater during World War II. He entered the White House at a younger age than Trump — 56, not 70 — hardened by decades of political combat as a savage knife-fighter during the McCarthy witch hunts and the explosive American divisions of the 1960s. Nixon actually knew American history, read books, and, unencumbered by ADD, played the long game in life (his courtship of his wife, Pat) as well as in politics. He was a lawyer who repeatedly (and presciently) advised his staff that the cover-up, not the crime, posed the greater legal threat, a lesson he had learned during his star-making turn on the House Un-American Activities Committee; his prey, the State Department official Alger Hiss, was convicted of perjury, not for being a Soviet spy. Nixon was also a far more strategic liar than Trump, crafting sanctimonious and legalistic falsehoods to paper over wrongdoing rather than spewing self-incriminating lies indiscriminately about everything.

Nixon knew how to pull the levers of government and pile up achievements, variously admirable and horrid, especially in foreign policy (opening up China, the secret carpet bombing and invasion of Cambodia) but also on the domestic front (embracing the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, impounding billions of dollars appropriated to enforce the Clean Air Act). His active governance was a more effective tool in distracting the public from White House scandals than Trump’s tediously serial signing of executive orders. Nixon not only took an elaborately theatrical trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel to try to drown out ominous headlines (Trump’s recent trip barely departed from the Nixon playbook) but also became the first American president to visit Moscow, in the substantive cause of furthering détente and negotiating historic arms agreements.

Nixon’s most empowering asset in deflecting Watergate was one Trump can only fantasize about (and clearly does): the size of his election victory. Nixon defeated George McGovern by 18 million votes (still a record) and carried all but a single state in the Electoral College (then a record, matched since by Ronald Reagan in 1984), allowing him to arrive at his second Inaugural with the political capital of a 68 percent approval rating. Nixon also was blessed by a Democratic opposition even more splintered and hapless than that facing Trump in 2017. Its majorities in Congress were managed by a Speaker, Carl Albert, and a Senate majority leader, Mike Mansfield, who were weak beer next to the powerhouses who bracketed them. (Albert would be succeeded by Tip O’Neill in 1977; Mansfield’s predecessor had been LBJ.) The two presidential tickets that Nixon had vanquished were both trainwrecks, the defective products of the party’s post–JFK-LBJ civil war.

The underside of Nixon’s character, which would eviscerate his virtues and advantages, was very Trumpian. His flaws led to both the creation of the Watergate scandal and the commission of the political and legal mistakes that would entomb him within it. No matter what success he achieved, as Drew wrote, Nixon “never lost his resentments” or “his desire for revenge.” Success also failed to tame his kleptomaniacal tendencies; he was caught using government funds to pay for luxurious improvements to his private residences in Key Biscayne, Florida, and San Clemente, California, and manipulating his tax bill to near zero even as he became a millionaire in office. (Like Trump, he gave virtually nothing to charity.) Devoted to his adult daughters but distant from his wife during his White House years (at times literally so in their living arrangements), Nixon had but one close friend, the Florida businessman Bebe Rebozo. He ridiculed those running government agencies and contemplated curbing the tenure of federal judges. “His attitude was that the only bright, really intelligent fellow in town was himself,” said the CIA chief Richard Helms. Prone to temper tantrums, he ended up with an ever-shrinking Oval Office inner circle restricted to fearful yes-men. As Drew concluded, “There was no one to challenge his assumptions, to set him straight in his confusion of political opponents with enemies. He didn’t recognize boundaries. He never learned to observe limits — anything went — and one thing led to another until he was in too deep to extricate himself.”

The genesis of Watergate was Nixon’s desire to sabotage the opposition in the 1972 presidential race at a time when he thought Edmund Muskie, Teddy Kennedy, and George Wallace all posed serious threats to his reelection prospects. It was left to underlings to dream up the various dirty tricks, including the ill-fated efforts to tap phones and steal files at the Democratic National Committee’s office. While we don’t know yet the extent to which Trump or those around him collaborated or colluded with the Russians (and WikiLeaks) in the subterfuge that roiled the 2016 election, the motive, the means, and the goal were roughly the same as Nixon’s: to sabotage the Democrats by stealing the internal communications (emails in lieu of files) of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC. (One should note that Nixon and Trump were both beneficiaries of dirty tricks hatched by Roger Ailes and Roger Stone.) In a move that would have floored Nixon, Trump was stupid enough to publicly ask Russia to hack Clinton on his behalf. If it turns out that Trump’s campaign did collude with a foreign adversary to undermine the election — whether through hacking or other means — Clapper and others who judge Trump’s potential crimes as worse than Watergate will be easily vindicated.

Even as the jury remains out on that question, Trump is clumsily mimicking Nixon in orchestrating what looks like a cover-up. He persisted in flattering the jettisoned Flynn, who surely has stories to tell prosecutors in exchange for immunity, much as Nixon made sure to praise his intimates Haldeman and John Ehrlichman as “two of the finest public servants it has been my privilege to know” when he sent them packing. But Trump failed to heed a bigger lesson he might have drawn from Watergate history: Don’t antagonize the FBI and CIA. Trump started insulting both agencies even before he took office. He apparently was unaware that Woodward and Bernstein’s Deep Throat was a Comey of their day — the FBI’s No. 2, the associate director Mark Felt. If Trump knew history, he also would have known that it was a self-impaling blunder to try to enlist the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and the NSA director, Mike Rogers, to intervene in an investigation on his behalf. Nixon attempted the same by leaning on Vernon Walters, a loyalist he’d promoted to be deputy director of the CIA. But as John Farrell writes, “Walters’s knowledge and experience” of both Nixon and Washington prompted him to write “self-protective memos (‘Notes to refresh my memory, if I should need it,’ Walters called them) when the White House ordered him to impede the FBI’s investigation.” The memos found their way to the New York Times.

Another counterproductive Watergate defense strategy that Trump emulates is Nixon’s obsessive effort to counteract the daily leaks by trying to discredit the press that reported on them. “Never forget, the press is the enemy,” Nixon told his aides, instructing them to “write that on the blackboard a hundred times.” His notorious communications strategy — led by Ron Ziegler, a former tour guide on Disneyland’s “Jungle Cruise” ride — is the template for the Trump White House’s denials: an ad hominem attack on the offending news organization coupled with false claims of exoneration and false charges that the press was ignoring the opposition’s wrongdoing. Here is the Nixon campaign manager Clark MacGregor’s statement responding to a relatively early Washington Post investigative report after the break-in: “Using innuendo, third-person hearsay, unsubstantiated charges, anonymous sources, and huge scare headlines, the Post has maliciously sought to give the appearance of a direct connection between the White House and the Watergate, a charge the Post knows — and a half-dozen investigations have found — to be false.” MacGregor went on to complain about how Democratic “disruptions of the president’s campaign” were “buried deep inside the paper.” The Post’s motive, he asserted, was “to divert public and national attention away from the real issues of this campaign — peace, jobs, foreign policy, welfare, taxes, defense, and national priorities — and onto phony issues manufactured” by the Post and the McGovern camp. Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway should be embarrassed that they lack the creativity to improve on spin devised nearly a half-century ago.

Nixon’s flunkies, like Trump’s, wielded intimidation along with bluster against the press. The White House tried to challenge the licenses of Florida television stations owned by the Washington Post and was successful in browbeating William Paley, the head of CBS, to truncate a Walter Cronkite special report on Watergate. At the same time that the Nixon administration was trying to hobble what was then derided by conservatives as “the eastern media conspiracy,” it basked in the alternative facts spread by the Limbaughs, Drudges, and Breitbarts of its day — right-wing radio stars like Clarence Manion and Paul Harvey and their print adjuncts. In the judgment of the weekly publication Human Events, the supposed White House scandals were nothing more than a manufactured Democratic plot, a “legal Putsch” to “countermand the 1972 election results and install a Democrat in the White House.” Or, as the truculent White House spokesman Ken Clawson called it, a “witch hunt” by “people who were completely rejected at the polls” and were “trying to bring down this presidency.”

The constituency for press-bashing and alternative-right-wing media was the populist base that Nixon considered his ultimate insurance policy against being driven from office — not just Republicans but former George Wallace voters, those disaffected southern white and northern blue-collar Democrats who resented both the antiwar cultural left and blacks empowered by new civil-rights laws. Nixon christened this base “the silent majority,” a retro designation Trump has adopted, and pandered to it by railing against the Establishment, demagoguing what he saw as a national breakdown in “law and order,” and choosing, in Agnew, a vice-president whose only talent was for vilifying the press and black civil-rights advocates. Nixon, too, would seek solace among this faithful at proto–“Make America Great Again” rallies. As he arrived in Nashville for the opening of the new Grand Ole Opry theater, the president was serenaded in a National Guard hangar by a flag-waving crowd singing special lyrics (“Stand up and cheer for Richard Nixon”) to the tune of “Okie From Muskogee.”

In the end, none of this was to any avail. For all the cover-ups, the efforts to stifle the press, and the stoking of his pugilistic base, Nixon failed to save himself. That his demise was not primarily a consequence of the Democrats’ control of Congress is due to the fact that some of his most reliable and powerful allies in both chambers were Democrats. Even as Nixon’s race-baiting “southern strategy” was hastening the realignment of the GOP as a new home for conservative southern Democrats (like the Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond, who had defected to the Republicans in 1964), most in Congress had yet to transition, as typified by the segregationist Mississippi senators James Eastland and John Stennis, both Democrats and firm Nixon supporters. Even Sam Ervin, the North Carolina Democrat who presided over the 1973 Watergate hearings, was a segregationist and Vietnam War hawk who, as the historian Rick Perlstein has pointed out, was “one of the most loyal votes for Nixon in the Senate” and had initially declared that it was “simply inconceivable that Nixon might have been involved” in the White House horrors.

A related misperception that some present-day liberals tend to retrofit to 1973 has it that the Washington Republican leadership of that time included ballsy, principled moderates who would speak truth to their gangster president as the pathetic Trump lackeys Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan will not. If only. A few Republican senators did ask tough questions during the Watergate hearings — Howard Baker and Lowell Weicker, famously — but it took even them a year after the Watergate break-in to find their voices, and they were not in the leadership. Then, as now, so-called Establishment Republicans were more likely to gripe about Nixon in private or in not-for-attribution conversations with reporters. In public, they usually cowered, sparing the president their harshest criticism and cordoning him off from impeachable offenses out of fear of him and his base. The Republican minority leader in the House, the Arizona congressman John Rhodes, found his mail running three to one against Nixon until he talked about a possible presidential resignation; then the count flipped to eight to one in Nixon’s favor.

It was not until three months before Nixon did quit that a trio of Republican senators — all up for election that fall — called for him either to resign or step aside temporarily under the 25th Amendment. More typical were towers of Jell-O like the secretary of the Interior, Rogers Morton, a former Maryland congressman and chairman of the Republican National Committee. In that same month, May 1974, he told the Times he was having “a very difficult time in living with” what he called “a breakdown in our ethics of government” — only to pop up in the Post 24 hours later saying that he was “not going to jump off the ship until there’s evidence that the ship is sinking.” (And he still held on tight, surviving in the Cabinet after Gerald Ford assumed the presidency.)

Nor did Nixon’s base ever desert him. At the nadir of Watergate, Nixon’s approval rating fell to 27 percent; by the time he resigned, that number had dropped to 24 percent. In other words, at least a quarter of the American populace had no problem telling pollsters that they were still behind a president who had lied repeatedly and engaged in unambiguously criminal conspiracies. They still saw Nixon as “one of us,” as he billed himself on posters in his first House run in 1946, and as a fighter who took on “them” — essentially the same elites that Trump inveighs against today.

Trump’s base is roughly the same size as Nixon’s then, or only a shade less. At FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver quantifies that base as voters who “strongly approve” of Trump, a figure that peaked at 30 after the Inaugural and had dropped to 21 to 22 percent by late May. They will no more abandon Trump than their parents and grandparents did Nixon. If anything, Trump’s ascent has once more confirmed that this constituency is a permanent factor in the American political equation. Should Trump follow Nixon into ignominy, that base may in time rally around a more cunning and durable Trump — a new Nixon, if you will. He will be far scarier than an understudy like Pence, who is unlikely to survive his association with a tainted president any longer than Ford did (if even that long). Future Democrats may be just as ineffectual at stopping the next right-wing populist before he (or she) lands in the White House, but that’s a depression for another day.

What finally did in Nixon — besides himself — is what will do in Trump: not the Democrats, or a turncoat base, or brave GOP leaders. “Historians have written that Nixon was persuaded to resign after the arrival at the White House on Wednesday, August 7, of a delegation from the Hill — Senator Barry Goldwater, Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, and House Minority Leader John Rhodes — to tell him he must go,” writes Pat Buchanan in his memoir. “This is myth.” Nixon’s collapse was well under way by then, from the ground up. With the midterms growing ever nearer, garden-variety GOP officeholders, most of them as cowardly as today’s, started to flee. The House Judiciary Committee voted on an article of impeachment on July 27, three days after a unanimous 8-0 Supreme Court, including three Nixon appointees, ruled that the president would have to turn over the White House tapes. Even then there was wavering. The ten Republicans who voted “No” on all the impeachment articles in committee would switch their votes only after the August 5 release of the “smoking gun” (a new coinage then) — the transcript of a June 23, 1972, tape showing that Nixon had ordered the facts of the Watergate break-in to be covered up six days after it happened despite his repeated public protestations otherwise. One congressman who didn’t bolt even then, Earl Landgrebe, regarded such revelations as fake news (“Don’t confuse me with the facts”), telling the "Today" show hours before Nixon resigned that he was “sticking with my president even if he and I have to be carried out of this building and shot.” Landgrebe hailed from Indiana’s Second Congressional District, which decades later would send Mike Pence to the House.

As Buchanan and Nixon’s speechwriter Raymond Price (in his 1977 memoir, With Nixon) attested, the president’s resignation speech was already in hand by the time Goldwater & Co. visited the White House on August 7. Rather than the importuning of noble Republican elders, it was the stampede of defections that followed the revelation of the smoking gun that finally convinced him he could not numerically survive a trial in the Senate. By then, it was too late for some of his congressional backers to leap into the lifeboats. On Election Day that November, the GOP would lose four seats in the Senate and 49 in the House. Typical of the losers was Charles Sandman Jr., from New Jersey’s still solidly red second district, which in 2016 voted for Trump over Clinton by a margin of five percentage points. In 1972, Sandman had beaten his Democratic opponent by 23 percentage points; in 1974, after remaining a loyal anti-impeachment advocate until the final week of Nixon’s presidency, he lost by 16 points.

It’s always possible that there’s only smoke, no fire, and Trump will yet save himself, his party, and his country. Perhaps he won’t fire Robert Mueller. Perhaps Mueller will determine that Trump is not guilty of collusion with the Russians (with Trump’s voluntarily released tax returns as confirming evidence) or of obstruction of justice. Perhaps he will uncover no untoward financial dealings or subversive collaborations with the Kremlin and its network by any of the president’s men. Perhaps the courts will find Trump not guilty of violating the “emoluments clause” that restricts a president from profiting from office. (This last was debated as a possible article of impeachment for Nixon.) Perhaps Trump will stay out of trouble, stay off Twitter, miraculously avoid perjury, brilliantly staff up the executive branch, and deliver fabulously on his promises to secure cheap health care for all Americans, cut everyone’s taxes, and rebuild America’s infrastructure. Perhaps Jared Kushner will bring peace to the Middle East and reinvent American government rather than follow his father to prison.

What’s more likely is that the Trump administration will continue to mirror Garry Wills’s description of Nixon’s: “a world of little men using large powers incompetently from a combination of suspicion and panic.” The little men will continue to drive the country into a ditch. And GOP leaders will look the other way right up to that moment when Republicans in the 60 to 80 districts (according to FiveThirtyEight) more competitive than those in last week’s special elections figure out that they may have to choose between the minority of voters who are Trump’s irreducible base and a larger group, including Independents, who will determine whether they keep their jobs.

Between now and then, there will be lulls in the downward trajectory — after Nixon hit a new low of a 27 percent approval rating in November 1973, he spiked to 37 in a Harris poll a month later — and many shocks and surprises. In the 13 months that fell between our comparable point in the electoral cycle — the Fourth of July, 1973, when Nixon was still safely riding out the storm — and his resignation in August 1974, as the midterms loomed, the following happened: He was hospitalized with pneumonia; the White House taping system was revealed, and Nixon refused to release the tapes; a first impeachment resolution was introduced in the House by a liberal antiwar Massachusetts Democrat widely dismissed as an outlier; Agnew resigned; a special election to fill the House seat of Agnew’s successor, Ford, yielded a Democrat in what had been a safe Republican district; Nixon fired the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, and abolished his office, forcing out both the attorney general and deputy attorney general in the “Saturday Night Massacre”; a crucial White House tape was revealed to have an unexplained 18-and-a-half-minute “gap”; seven former administration officials were indicted by a grand jury; and the president appeared at a press event at Disney World where he declared, “I am not a crook.”

Looking back on it all, Elizabeth Drew would write, “In retrospect, the denouement appeared inevitable — but it certainly didn’t feel like that at the time.” That’s how I remember it. Certainly such a denouement for Trump doesn’t feel inevitable now. But whatever the end proves to be, we cannot expect to have a real inkling until an impending election starts concentrating Republican politicians’ minds next summer. The best thing to do in the meantime is to keep calm, carry on with the resistance, and rest assured that the day is coming when we won’t have Trump to kick around anymore. # # #

[Frank Rich joined New York magazine in June 2011 as Writer-at-Large, writing monthly on politics and culture, and editing a special monthly section anchored by his essay. Rich joined the magazine following a distinguished career at the New York Times, where he had been an op-ed columnist since 1994. He was previously the paper's chief drama critic, from 1980 to 1993. As a theater critic, he was known as "The Butcher On Broadway." Before joining The Times, Rich was a film critic at Time magazine, the New York Post, and New Times magazine. He was a founding editor of the Richmond (Va.) Mercury, a weekly newspaper, in the early 1970s. Rich is the author of a childhood memoir, Ghost Light (2000), a collection of drama reviews, Hot Seat: Theater Criticism for The New York Times, 1980-1993 (1998), The Theatre Art of Boris Aronson (with Lisa Aronson, 1987), and The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina (2006). Rich is a graduate of the Washington, DC public schools. He earned a BA (history and literature) from Harvard College.]

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