James Fallows reminisces about being a young man covering the unfolding of Watergate 45 years ago right here at the Washington Monthly. That is the experience he draws on to suggest five reasons why the Comey affair is worse than Watergate.
- The underlying offense: “attacks by an authoritarian foreign government on the fundamentals of American democracy.”
- The blatancy of the interference: “nothing Donald Trump has done, on the campaign trail or in office, has expressed awareness of, or respect for, established rules.”
- The nature of the president: “[Donald Trump] is impulsive, and ignorant, and apparently beyond the reach of any control, even his own.”
- The resiliency of the fabric of American institutions: Much of the burden falls on Rod Rosenstein. “If he wanted to be remembered as another Richardson, Ruckelshaus, or Cox, he would already have called for appointment of a special prosecutor, or would do so today.”
- The cravenness of party leaders: “So far [Senators] have fallen in line with their party’s leader, Mitch McConnell, who will be known in history for favoring party above all else. “
Fallows ends his piece by once again reminiscing about the fact that, as a 24 year old, he watched as Republicans like like Howard Baker, Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus stood up for something bigger than party loyalty.
Somewhere a 24-year-old is watching and preparing to remember the choices our leaders are making now. Because of the current lineup of legislative and executive power, the leaders whose choices matter are all Republicans.
I hope some of their choices, soon, allow them to be remembered as positively as are the GOP’s defenders of constitutional process from the Watergate days. But as of this moment, the challenge to the American system seems more extreme than in that era, and the protective resources weaker.
This is why it is so excruciating for Democrats to watch what is unfolding. As Martin just suggested, the immediate course correction that we need as a country will have to come from Republicans—primarily their leadership.
I would simply remind them that, as I’ve been saying all along, the severity of Donald Trump’s mental health issues tells us that this situation will not get better on its own and shows every sign of getting worse. Many Republican leaders were hesitant to sign on the Trump’s candidacy until he was elected, so they are not completely ignorant of his liabilities.
Jonathan Swan reports that “there is widespread concern among congressional leadership about Trump’s frame of mind in the wake of the Comey firing.” Is there a Baker, Richardson or Ruckelshaus out there? It’s not enough to share those concerns behind closed doors or anonymously to reporters. What we need are a few Republicans who are willing to show some courage.
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