John Dean — ‘memba him, Nixon’s White House counsel? — is worried. Extremely worried. From his interview with McKay Coppins:
“The American presidency has never been at the whims of an authoritarian personality like Donald Trump,” Dean, who is now 78, told me. “He is going to test our democracy as it has never been tested.”
With Trump preparing to take the oath of office this week, some of his more imaginative critics foresee a Nixonian demise on the horizon—the corrupt commander-in-chief felled by his own hubris, forced out of office. But if prophesies of impeachment seem a tad dramatic, Dean’s own forecast for the next four years is arguably much grimmer. He is not only convinced that Trump will be worse than Nixon in virtually every way—he thinks he’ll probably get away with it.
Why? Read the whole thing to see, but it comes down to a couple of points: 1) Trump lacks Nixon’s sense of limits, which set limits on what even he allowed himself to do; and 2) the public lacks the sense of outrage that it used to have, such that it will let Trump get away with things that would have doomed Nixon. (This, by the way, is one serious effect of the loss of a common culture, and a belief in civic standards.)
Dean’s diagnosis strikes me as accurate. It’s important to remember, though, that Trump is not so much a cause but a symptom. He did not come from nowhere.
Nearly one year ago, when it began dawning on the GOP establishment that omigod, Donald Trump is for real, Tucker Carlson wrote a Politico piece explaining why Trump had become a thing. It has never been improved on, not in my reading. It was aimed at establishment Republicans, but its insights could be expanded to American politics as a whole. “He exists because you failed,” Carlson said to Washington Republican establishment readers. True. But he also exists because Democrats failed.
And he also exists because we are in a historical period, one of dissolution, fragmentation, and institutional decay, whose habits make it hard for any politician to succeed. But that’s another story.
One more thing: like Nixon, Trump is blessed by having the enemies that he does.