Donald Trump And a Political Trial, After 45 Years After The Dismissal Of Nixon

On August 7, 1974, three Republican leaders went to the White House and told President Richard Nixon that his party's support was fading and that a political trial was inevitable. Nixon resigned the next day.

Forty-five years later, another president of the United States, Donald Trump, faces a process of impeachment in the House of Representatives, and a potential trial in the Senate.

However, unlike Nixon, Trump seems to enjoy, at least for the moment, the support of Republican congressmen and has given no indication of being willing to give in to what he has described as a "witch hunt."


"Part of the history of Watergate and research is to see how Republicans move away, start questioning their support for Nixon," says Kevin Mattson, a professor of contemporary history at the University of Ohio.

"Now it seems that (Republicans) are hardening," says Mattson, author of "Rebels All !: A Short History of the Conservative Mind in Postwar America." ("Rebels all !: a brief history of the conservative mind in the postwar period of the United States").

"Partisanship is much stronger today than in the days of Watergate."
Trump is accused of withholding vital military aid from Ukraine, a country at war with Russia, in an attempt to obtain compromised political information from Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate most likely to contest the 2020 presidential elections.

Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee and leader of the political trial investigation, said Trump's conduct "goes beyond anything that Nixon has done."

"What we are seeing here is much more serious than a third-class robbery of the Democratic Party headquarters," Schiff said in reference to the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon's resignation in 1974.

Like Nixon, Trump is being accused of "using the powers of the presidency for personal political reasons," says Jon Marshall, an assistant professor at the Medill Journalism School at Northwestern University.

But the accusations against Trump are more serious than those faced by Nixon, explains Louis Caldera, who served as secretary of the Army in the government of Democratic President Bill Clinton and is now an academic at American University.

Nixon is a matter of "national politics," says Caldera, while Trump "withheld military aid to an ally at war."

Trump "is not acting for legitimate purposes of local or foreign US policy," he adds. "He is basically trying to stir the well to create problems for a political rival."

Alan Baron, a lawyer who served as a special political trial advisor in the cases of four federal judges, says Trump's actions "make Watergate look like a child's play."

What has changed since Nixon faced a political trial is the "media environment and the nature of our politics."

"There was a lot more bipartisanship in the 1970s in Congress than there is now," says Marshall, author of "Watergate's Legacy and the Press: The Investigative Impulse." ("The legacy of Watergate and the press: the investigative impulse").

"There were conservative Democrats and there were liberal Republicans and they were used to working together."

"The state of the media and how much people trust in the media is radically different now than in the 1970s," Mattson says.

The three television channels in the 1970s and some important newspapers and news magazines "really determined the coverage," Marshall recalls.

"Now it is much easier for people to choose a partisan medium with which they feel comfortable," he says. "And, of course, we now have an infinite number of media and websites that people can go to get their own partisan turn."

In addition, according to Marshall, Trump can talk about his case to the American people directly through Twitter, while Nixon only used occasional press conferences.

In their investigation with a view to a political trial, the Democrats have held five days of public hearings with 12 witnesses, but the White House has so far refused to hand over documents or allow Trump's top advisors to testify.

"Finally, during the Watergate the White House tapes were published and that was the smoking gun that aimed directly at the president; his voice could be heard ordering a cover-up," Marshall recalls. "And in the end, all of Nixon's top advisors testified."

After all, Caldera says, Democrats, with or without a smoking gun, will have to "convince the American people that what they did (Trump) was an abuse of power."

"If there is public support for the accusation, that creates the excuse for Republican members to be brave," he said. "Without that, they won't be brave."



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