A well-informed newsman said to me recently that “In my opinion, Nixon was more dangerous than Trump. Do you agree?”

No.

And I disagree because although President Nixon during the Watergate investigation unquestionably obstructed justice (he was impeached for that and for other “high crimes”), he never tried to undermine our constitutional system of checks and balances.

Nixon never expressed admiration for enemies of democracy. Trump has: for Vladimir Putin, Recep Erdogan of Turkey, Victor Orban of Hungary, and most famously North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Not only does he admire dictators who wield unchecked power. He has often disdained genuine democrats like Germany’s Angela Merkel, Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull, and Canada’s Justin Trudeau.

Does not that send an ominous message to all of us?

President Nixon vilified reporters who broke the Watergate story. Nevertheless, Nixon did not express hatred of a free press and undermine the protection that the Constitution affords that press.

Trump, we all know, has repeatedly called the press “the enemy of the people.” One of the first goals of authoritarian leaders is to muzzle a free press. There is only one fountain of news in totalitarian countries, and it is the will of the dear leader.

Nixon resented criticism. Like Trump, he had a thin skin. Unlike Trump, however, he never called for changes in libel laws that would allow him to prosecute reporters or others who criticized him, nor did he demand that we lock up his presidential opponent.

Nixon wasn’t known for truth-telling, but he did not lie or make misleading statements over 10,000 times in just over two years as has our current president. Is this important? Yes, indeed, for no democracy — from ancient Greece to the USA in 2019 — can survive if the public (the “demos”) cannot hear the truth.

Never forget that truth is to democracy what oxygen is to fire.

Nixon tried to use the CIA and the FBI to shore up his grip on the presidency (more grounds for his impeachment). President Trump attacks these organizations because they refuse to end investigations into not only his own misdeeds, but the efforts of foreign powers to undermine our democracy.

Proof? Just read the Mueller Report: its key conclusion is that the Russians not only tried to influence the 2016 election in favor of Mr. Trump but succeeded in doing so.

To quash such investigations is another step toward making the president unaccountable, the goal of every dictator.

And then there is the future of our health and welfare.

President Nixon signed legislation to clean up our air and water, and to establish the EPA.

President Trump wants to repeal this legislation. Global warming? A “hoax.”

Nothing, and I mean nothing, represents more of a threat to the well-being of our children than climate change and environmental degradation. Maybe the president really believes that climate change is a hoax. Or maybe he simply wants to curry favor with the fossil fuel industry and its employees (who vote) in states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Whatever his reasons, this assault on our environment represents a threat to our planet that dwarfs the crimes of Watergate.

 

Historian Dr. Gary B. Ostrower lives in Alfred.