The long and winding (and crooked) road from Nixon to Trump

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In 1968 Lyndon Johnson had decided not to seek a full second term. He’d been beaten down by the Vietnam war which most people blamed on the Democrats (of which he was one) and he left the candidacy to Hubert Humphrey, an affable and savvy populist from Minnesota. Humphrey ran against Richard Nixon whose only appeal was to the so-called silent majority, the good honest hard-working, blue-collar Americans whom (he claimed) the Democrats had eschewed in favor of the hippies and the draft-dodgers. And there was that war. For any Republican remotely likeable, winning would have been a slam dunk. Richard Nixon was not remotely likeable, and so coming up on the election, he saw his lead over Humphrey diminishing. Even worse, the current president was close to negotiating a cease-fire in Vietnam, and with that war being the hot-button issue of the campaign, Nixon feared that such an act would queer his chances.

So he sabotaged the cease-fire—he and his staff and some accomplices and confederates in Vietnam. For years he denied the fact, even more stridently than he denied his wrongdoing in Watergate; but documents discovered in 2014 offered written proof of Nixon’s involvement in all kinds of machinations designed to keep the war going. Almost 60,000 Americans were killed in that war, nearly 20,000 of whom died after the 1968 election, which Nixon won. He once said in reference to Watergate When the president does it, that means it is not illegal. But the reason he fought so hard to deny his efforts to prolong the war is, quite simply, before the election he acted as a private citizen to consort with a foreign power to effect actions counter to American interest. To condense that mouthful—he committed treason. Forget impeachment—he should have been in federal prison before his inauguration.

Fast-forward forty-eight years. On this second day of the new year, let’s remember that Donald Trump is not the president of anything and won’t be until January 20. He is still a private citizen. We can overlook his overtures to Taiwan and Israel, maybe even China as the ramblings of an ignoramus. But his dealings with Russia before the election—his encouragement of the Russians to help him win the presidency—is treason. Donald Trump should have spent November 8, 2016, sitting with lawyers preparing his defense. That cowardly refusal by authorities to prosecute has given him carte blanche, and he has used it to gather around him an oligarchy whose every move will have to be scrutinized—scrutinized by an even lazier government than the one unwilling to accuse him of treason, even after he implicated himself during a July news conference.

Listen, we don’t expect Abraham Lincoln or George Washington or FDR or Eisenhower every four years, but we should be able to find someone—even someone ignorant of the basic principles of our democracy—who understands that America is more an idea than a country and that the defense of those ideas is paramount.

Trump appears to think that wearing a flag on one’s lapel is enough. It’s not.

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