On August 8, 1974, as I walked into the house following a grueling two hours of driver’s ed training in a non air-conditioned car, President Richard Millhouse Nixon resigned from the presidency. My mother had diligently watched every minute of Watergate on TV and talked about it non-stop over dinner and evening, much to the chagrin of my dad, who only wanted to eat dinner and listen to Tiger baseball later. My mom wasn’t alone. Over 70 percent of America polled by Gallup admitted to watching the Watergate hearings live on TV.
As a high school student who had little interest in politics at the time, I had no idea what an infamous part of American history I was living through. We had a Republican president who had won in a landslide in 1972, and had very high approval ratings at the start of his second term, (68 percent). However, in spite of his popularity, he was the butt of numerous jokes and many were embarrassed by his grumpy personality and hunchbacked appearance. He earned the moniker, “Tricky Dick” because of his involvement in the Watergate cover-up.
Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, one of the most popular comedy shows of all time, and a predecessor to Saturday Night Live, often had skits about “Tricky Dick”. Nixon himself once appeared on the show, an unheard of event for a sitting president at the time.
Even without social media or cable TV, over 83 percent of the nation was aware of the Watergate scandal by April of 1973, only four months into Nixon’s second term. As his approval ratings plummeted under 50%, Nixon had to accept the resignations of his top advisors, John Erlichman and H.R. Haldeman. Distrust of the government began to spread like wildfire.
Interestingly, as soon as the investigation was broadcast in live hearings on TV, public sentiment shifted dramatically away from giving Nixon the benefit of the doubt, to believing that he was somehow involved in the cover-up, knowingly or not:
A 53% majority came to the view that Watergate was a serious matter, not just politics, up from 31% who believed that before the hearings. Indeed, an overwhelming percentage of the public (71%) had come to see Nixon as culpable in the wrongdoing, at least to some extent. About four-in-ten (37%) thought he found out about the bugging and tried to cover it up; 29% went further in saying that he knew about the bugging beforehand, but did not plan it; and 8% went all the way, saying he planned it from beginning to end. Only 15% of Americans thought that the president had no prior knowledge and spoke up as soon as he learned of it,
Today, nearly 43 years later, whispers of impeachment fall from the lips of Republican congressmen on Capital Hill; and not so quiet voices call out from the Democrats over lunches, in hallways, in meetings, and tweets. But only one has mentioned the forbidden “I” word on the House floor, and not without repercussions – Rep. Al Green from Houston. He has received threats via voicemail. However, compared to Nixon’s 48 percent approval rating when the televised hearings began in a second term, Trump’s sit at a record low 37 percent only four months into his first, with no televised hearings – because Congress isn’t holding any.
Nixon’s process in retrospect seems to have flown by quickly, but the Watergate investigation took over two years, and he resigned in disgrace before impeachment could be finalized. Bill Clinton was impeached, (with hearings over a five year period), but never had to leave office.
The rules are not hard and fast.
In the case of President Trump, he has hired his own private legal counsel. There is a continuing investigation by intelligence, headed by former FBI Director, Robert Mueller, who was assigned to replace James Comey. Comey was fired by Trump in the middle of his investigation into possible collusion of Trump with the Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign. Congress however, has decided not to hold its own investigation at this time, but instead maintain a wait and see position regarding Mueller’s investigation. That could change at any time, particularly if the GOP loses either the House or the Senate majority, or both, at the midterms.
The more the President fights against the probe into Russian ties, the worse it looks for him. A party who is not guilty would go about his business and assist in any way he could, or simply ignore the investigation. Instead, he is fighting back with tweets and name calling. He is insisting, just as Nixon did early on, just as Clinton did early on, that he is not guilty of what he is being accused of. He has posed what appears at face value to be a threat aimed at former director Comey, alluding to “tapes” of private conversations with him, should Comey speak to the press.
The question becomes, when, if ever, will Trump’s most zealous supporters desert his camp? Will they truly never believe he is guilty of collusion, even if it is eventually proven by the investigation that he was? Will they blame the media? Will they blame the Democrats? Will they blame the Never Trump people? There comes a time when a decision must be made for truth.
Like Republican Senators Ted Cruz, Richard Burr, John Warner, and Marco Rubio among others who have been outspoken on getting to the bottom of the situation, I believe that the key is to let it take its course so that the truth will be revealed. The public deserves to know what is buried under the sand, even if its nothing. Instead, all that appears to be happening is that the credible media keeps shoveling sand out of the pit, and the avid Trump supporters keep shoveling it back in.
Janice Barlow is a True Crime author. Her latest book, “He Should Be Dead“, is available on Amazon both in soft cover and Kindle.