I will never forget how as a young lad going to law school the Watergate case was unraveling. Watching the hearings on television was mesmerizing. even when things started getting rough for Nixon, I thought he would survive the onslaught. There was evidence leading to deep suspicions that he had been involved in a cover-up, but there was never a smoking gun. Never that is until the tapes were discovered. President Nixon had amazingly tape-recorded for posterity all his discussions with his henchmen. When that was discovered the sharks starting circling. When people listened to the tapes there was a smoking gun. Nixon’s gig was up. He was done.
I got exactly the same feeling this week when I heard parts of the tapes released by Bob Woodward as a result of 18 taped interviews with President Trump. I thought this was the smoking gun. Trump was done.
Donald Trump admitted that he did not tell the truth to Americans as thousands were dying. They could have avoided thousands of deaths had they known the truth. Yet, since then has there been an uprising as there was for Richard Nixon? Not yet.
Why have more Americans not called this out? Frankly I am stunned. How could Americans countenance their president lying to them about the dangers of Covid-19 while people—particularly young people—were going out and taking chances they should not have taken and likely would not have taken had they known the truth that their president already knew, but had assiduously hidden from them for the sake of protecting his own political fortunes at the expense of American lives? Surely this would do it! The people would rise up in fury. Even his own supporters would abandon him. I really felt that last week. Yet it did not happen. Now I feel like a fool (again).
Why did that not happen? With some introspection I think I know. The critical difference between now and 1972 when Nixon was under examination consisted of two facts.
First, in 1972 the American political world was not as strictly divided into 2 polar opposite camps as it is today. In 1972 when Republicans looked at the damning evidence against Nixon, a couple of Republican Senators visited Nixon at the White House and said he had no alternative but to resign. Nixon’s support among Republicans had vanished. The game was over. That could never happen now. Today, most believe, “our side” can do not wrong.
Secondly, in 1972 Nixon was originally a popular president. He had won the election in a landslide. But—and here is the critical difference—Nixon was not worshipped. Nixon attracted no theological devotion. That is not the case with Trump. Trump was right when he said he could go to Times Square, commit a murder, and loose no support! This is not absurd; it is the truth. That is devotion that only beloved religious leaders receive. Trump attracts true believers!
Just like no free-thinker, no matter how wise, smart, or profound could ever hope to defeat the resolution of a religious followers of Christ, or Mohamed, no one could persuade a Trump follower to forsake him. His position is secure. Theological devotion is rock solid. Political support is far from that.
That is a pity. Truth does not matter any more. The world has changed. That means a leader like Trump can do almost anything and still count on the support of his devoted followers. That is a terrible thing for democracy and freedom. Truth should still matter.