The headlines opined: “Trump v. Nixon- No Comparison.” Of course, everyone has been making the comparison, with the Russia scandal so front and center in the headlines and the growing fear that our entire Constitutional system is under attack. I remember the day Nixon resigned. I was watching TV with some friends of a friend in Paris. Reading the subtitles as President Nixon made his much-heralded announcement, one of them asked me, “Why would Americans force Nixon to step down? He was a respected diplomat. He ended the Vietnam war and opened China. He founded the E.P.A. and enforced the desegregation of schools. He was a good president.”
“But he was a liar and a cheat,” I responded.
The French speaker looked at me incredulously. “You Americans are so naive. Do you really expect politicians to be honest?”
The answer back then was yes. It still is.
As much as I am opposed to Trump’s politics and the rise of red state conservatism in America, I am far more troubled by the loss of our Enlightenment ideals- those powerful (and often conflicting) beliefs that have been the hallmark of American political rhetoric for almost two hundred fifty years: freedom, equality, democracy, individualism, hard work and the optimism that comes from a belief in progress and perfectability. Perhaps these were never actually the basis for American politics. My daughter’s Turkish boyfriend certainly scoffed at that claim. Perhaps they’ve always just been rationalizations for brute aggression and capitalist greed, and Trump is just claiming our true national birthright.
But how I hope that’s not the case. How I pray that there is still a place for a constitutional government based on these ideals and that our congressional leaders will find the courage to stand up to this President and reclaim the moral leadership that has.