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The ’70s and Now, and the Big Difference Between the Two

Former White House counsel John Dean testified before the House judiciary committee on Monday, and it gave us a nostalgic feeling. The last time Dean was before the committee was way back in the early ’70s days of the Watergate scandal, and we well remember what a very big deal it was.
Although we were mere junior high school students at the time we already had a precocious interest in politics, and closely followed the Watergate story from the first day a couple of Washington Post reporters relegated to the late night crime beat reported that some burglars had broken into the Democratic party’s national headquarters in the fancy Watergate complex and attempted to place a wire-tape on the phones. That initial short story buried in the inside pages of the paper included the intriguing detail that all of the burglars and would-be wiretappers were closely associated with the Committee to Reelect President Richard Nixon, already better known as CREEP, and eventually led to Nixon’s resignation after impeachment charges had been brought by the House of Representatives.
There was an interminable two years or so before it all played out, which included Nixon winning reelection with a popular and electoral landslide, but it was a fascinating and unforgettable spectacle for an impressionable young political geek to watch. We read everything about it that ran in the local morning and afternoon newspapers — Wichita had both back then, and both were well worth the dime-a-day subscription rates our parents happily paid — and during summer vacation we’d take time out from bicycle-riding and basketball-playing and other normal boyhood pastimes to watch the congressional hearings that preempted the soap operas and game shows and old movies on the city’s three television stations.
One of the most compelling episodes of that reality show was Dean’s televised testimony to the House judiciary committee. The youthful lawyer who had already risen to the job of White House counsel freely confessed to various crimes he had committed at the behest of President Nixon to cover up the campaign’s clear connection to the break-in, spoke of various other requested crimes he had declined to carry out in service of the cover-up, and had a quotable line about a “cancer at the heart of the presidency.” After that the Watergate scandal inevitably hurtled toward Nixon’s resignation, with significant help from some conversations that Nixon had ill-advisedly recorded on audio tape, which the courts ordered released to the public and corroborated pretty much everything Dean said, including the self-incriminating parts of his testimony/
Dean wound up being disbarred and serving a short time behind bars for his confessed crimes, along with Nixon’s Attorney General and a few other high-ranking administration officials, but so far history has treated Dean more kindly. He did admit to the crimes he committed at Nixon’s behest, was provably innocent of other crimes he’d been requested by Nixon to commit, and ultimately told the verifiable truth and accept its consequences, which is more than you can say for any of the people who have been caught up in any subsequent political scandals.
Dean’s latest testimony to the House judiciary committee is far less consequential. At this point he’s an 80-year-old and graying and balding ex-lawyer and ex-felon, appearing on some very low-rated hearings televised on a few of the thousands or so television channels, and he has no more personal knowledge of President Donald Trump’s alleged scandals than we do. The Democratic majority running the committee inquiry called him to testify again for the clear purpose of getting some stories in the newspapers that mention both Watergate and Trump, which obviously have nothing to do with one another, but there are enough similarities that we can’t blame the Democrats for asking Dean’s opinions.
One of the many currently litigated spats in the current presidential scandals is whether former White House counsel Dan McGahn will testify to the various congressional committees looking into the matter. A 400-plus-page report by the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” included several pages about McGahn testifying to the investigation about diligently declining presidential orders to obstruct the investigation, so the Democratic majorities in Congress have ordered him to testify about that, while McGahn’s ex-boss is ordering him not to testify, and we’ll have to await the courts’ rulings about that. Our guess is that McGahn eventually testifies, and will reiterate the exculpatory-to-himself but damning-to-Trump testimony he gave to the special counsel investigation, but it probably won’t have the same effect as when Dean spoke out way back in the ’70s.
For one thing there are now a few hundred other reality shows to watch on television during summer vacation, and far fewer junior high political geeks tuning into the congressional hearings. For another thing, many of the new media that Nixon didn’t enjoy back in the day will be providing coverage that portrays McGahn or anyone else casting aspersions against Trump as an enemy of the people, and these days the people seem to believe whoever’s telling them what they want to hear. Back in the Watergate days the Republicans had relatively liberal members in the northeast, and the Democrats had some very conservative members in the the south and west, and politics was more a matter of facts than party affiliation, but that doesn’t seem to be the case these days.
Trump would have been well advised to ignore Dean’s inconsequential testimony on Monday, but he couldn’t help “tweeting” that Dean is a disbarred lawyer and ex-felon and yet another loser who dares criticize our dear leader, and once betrayed the Republican party’s deal leader Nixon. That’s all true enough, we suppose, but Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen is also disbarred and in prison, and his former campaign manager is also in prison on charges that involve his dealings with hostile foreign governments, and his past national security advisor is awaiting sentencing on charges that arguably rise to the level of betraying his country, and his former White House counsel is clearly ready to testify to Congress about all the obstruction of justice order he disregarded. By comparison, Dean doesn’t look so bad.
Nixon still has his die-hard defenders, but Trump doesn’t seem to be one of them. Trump couldn’t help “tweeting” that the cowardly Nixon had resigned, something Trump boasted he would never do in the currently more favorable media and partisan political landscape, even as he blamed Dean’s betrayal for the resignation. At this point your average die-hard Trump supporter is too young to know or care about any of it, and the oldsters hanging on for the next election won’t mind that Trump’s discreetly dissing Nixon, while the young Democrats who know nothing of history seem intent on nominating the same sort of too-far-left candidate who lost by a popular and electoral landslide to the already obviously corrupt Nixon back in ’72.
Politics remains a compelling show, even to our jaded eyes, and despite our advanced age and all the tempting diversions of those hundreds of other channels we’ll remain tuned in.

— Bud Norman

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The Daily Doses of Donald J. Trump

Try as we might to wallow in all the other bad news, we are somehow unable to avert our gloomy gaze away from the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.
Those daring sting videos of Planned Parenthood officials chomping on salad and sipping wine as they negotiate the sale of aborted baby parts has at long last resulted in indictments against the video makers, and we vaguely recall that former Texas Governor and failed Republican nominee Rick Perry is still under indictment for exercising his veto power over some drunk Democrat’s funding, and there’s a tantalizing possibility that even the presumptive Democratic nominee will be indicted on more serious charges, and of course there’s still the economy and the international situation and all the other sorts of substantive bad news to consider, but these days all we hear about from even the most reliably right wing sources is Trump. The man so dominates the news that at each corner we turned on the internet and airwaves and printed press we couldn’t avoid the two latest juicy developments.
One was Trump’s endorsement from Jerry Falwell Jr., who of course is the son of Jerry Falwell Sr., whom our older readers will vaguely remember as the founder of the of the former Moral Majority, which was once regarded by the more respectable media as the very embodiment of the Religious Right bogeyman that was ¬†reportedly threatening to impose puritanism on the hipper disco-going America, so of course the more liberal press is still eager to trumpet the endorsement. The impeccably liberal reporters over at Politico.com are rubbing their hands as they gleefully write that Trump is winning over the Republican party’s still-troublesome would-be theocrats, and we fear they might be at least partly right. These days the Religious Right is reduced to fighting for its right to not participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony without being sent to re-education camp, and its putative leadership is reduced to the likes of Jerry Falwell Jr., and in such troubled times even the ancient Israelites craved a king of their own.
Still, we’re disappointed that so much of what’s left of a truly religious right would settle for a boastful billionaire gambling mogul who trades his wives in every decade or so for a newer model and has bragged in print about all the other men’s wives he has slept with and contributes a fraction of his much-touted fortune to charity and has in old-fashioned melodrama style tried to run an old lady out of her home, and who jokingly describes the Holy Communion as the only forgiveness he needs to seek for blameless and poll-tested life. At Falwell’s own Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, Trump recently quoted from “Two Corinthians” rather than “Second Corinthians,” which revealed the same awkward ignorance of Christianity that President Barack Obama’s pronunciation of “Corpse-man” did about his understanding of the military, and once upon a time in our church camp youth that would have been enough to disqualify him in evangelical circles, but these days the bar is set lower.
One of Trump’s more adventuresome apologists noted the sins of certain Old Testament Leaders to excuse his hero’s character, as if adultery and connivery were Biblically required qualifications for office, and even likened Trump’s critics to the Pharisees who called for the crucifixion of Jesus. This seems a bit much to our admittedly sinful sensibilities, as we’re certainly not asking for crucifixions, and we even wish Trump a happy life and at least a moment of spiritual introspection well outside the sphere of public influence, but despite our more freely admitted sins we will express some doubts about Trump’s character, and we’re certainly not buying the Trump-as-Jesus argument. None of this came up during an interview with Falwell Jr. that we heard one of the conservative talk radio shows, hosted by a host who prides himself on his scary Religious Right bona fides, and while there was also no mention of bankruptcies or beleaguered old widows being evicted from their homes Falwell did get a chance to enthuse a bit about what a successful businessman Trump has been.
The other big Trump story was his indignant refusal to appear on the next scheduled televised Republican presidential debate because it’s being televised by Fox News and will thus feature its competent and comely star anchor Megyn Kelly. The cable news network is an even bigger right-wing bogeyman than the Moral Majority ever was, and many of its on-air personalities rushed to Trump’s defense after those snooty old print people at the more venerable but less-known National Review declared their opposition to Trump’s candidacy, but in a previous debate Kelly had asked Trump about his countless outrageously sexist comments against numerous women, and Trump wound up saying that she had “blood coming out of her eyes” and “blood coming out of her wherever,” and called her a “bimbo” and such, and despite the rise in his poll numbers that resulted from this seeming proof of her insinuation he’s decided he doesn’t want to go another round with her. His boycott will likely have the same effect on the debate’s ratings that the absence of J.R. Ewing would have on an airing of “Dallas,” which makes it a bigger story even in conservative media than the folks being charged with exposing Planned Parenthood’s baby-parts-selling scheme, which does by gum seem a successful business model, if that’s all that matters.
We don’t have cable and thus can’t vouch for Kelly’s objectivity toward Trump, although we thought her question about his history of sexist comments entirely fair and his vulgar responses sufficient¬†proof of whatever she might have meant to imply by it, and we would dare any of his fans to talk about how ugly she is, and for crying out loud it’s not the far-left MSNBC network, where Trump was most recently seen boasting about how well he gets along with such liberal Democrats as Rep. Nancy Pelosi, but we’re sure that Trump and his loyal-even-if-he-shoots-someone followers will still find some nasty name to call Kelly. That should be enough to ensure another few days of non-stop coverage on all the cable news channels, but hopefully we’ll find some other bad news to wallow in. The Democrats seem to be providing plenty of it, and we’d always rather talk about that.

— Bud Norman

Murder, Live on Television, and Its Complications

The murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward on Wednesday morning were broadcast on live television and posted on the internet by the murderer, which of course makes them impossible to ignore. Otherwise the media happily ignore it.
Both of the victims were white and heterosexual, their murderer was black and homosexual, and except for the inevitable arguments about the need for new gun laws there’s nothing about the case that advances the preferred media narrative. The heartbreaking tales of the victims’ promising lives make the Democratic Party’s sudden embarrassment to state that all lives matter seem callous, the murderer’s firing from the television news organization he attacked now seems well justified no matter or his race or sexual orientation, and his declared intention to start a race war with the shootings of his former colleagues doesn’t suggest that the post-racial era promised by the current president has come about. Except for the fact that there was a gun involved, nothing about these brutal murders is of much use to the press.
The more conservative portions of the press will properly note that the preferred narrative of the media is sympathetic to the grievances of blacks and homosexuals and especially black homosexuals, and that this might have led some obviously crazed black homosexual who kept getting local television news jobs despite his obvious mental and emotional deficiencies to commit such a horrible crime, but we will resist this temptation. We don’t like it when people who take a principled stand against late-term abortions are implicated in the murder of a doctor who performs late-term abortions, or when a rather insignificant political figure is blamed for a bizarre shooting of another obscure political figure because of a rifle-sight figure on a political blog, and for all our contempt for the Only Black Lives Matter movement we’re not going to blame them for some random lunatic’s amoral actions. We can’t say they helped, but we can’t say they’re to blame.
All we can say is that we’ll pray for the victims and their families and loved ones, and that the government doesn’t do anything crazy to undermine the right of self-defense as a result, and that the next news cycle somehow brings better news.

— Bud Norman