Donald Trump was the first seditious president in US history, surpassing in his efforts to hang on to power beyond even the criminal imagination of Richard Nixon, according to the two political reporters who were instrumental in securing Nixon’s downfall.
In a new foreword to their celebrated 1974 book on the Watergate scandal, All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein accuse Trump of pursuing his “diabolical instincts” by zeroing in on the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory by Congress on January 6 last year. In the authors’ assessment, Trump’s unleashing of the mob that day, culminating in the violent attack on the US Capitol, amounted to “a deception that exceeded even Nixon’s imagination”.
They write in their foreword, published by The Washington Postthey write: “By legal definition this is clearly sedition … thus Trump became the first seditious president in our history.”
Woodward and Bernstein’s comparison of Trump and Nixon carries singular weight, given that as young Washington Post reporters they helped to uncover Nixon’s campaign of political spying and cover-up that led in 1974 to the only resignation of a president in American history. In separate capacities, the two journalists have also reported extensively on the Trump presidency, with Woodward doing so in a series of three books: Fear, Rage and Peril.
The timing of their analysis is also powerful. It comes just days before the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection stages the first of at least six televised hearings in which they will attempt to show the American people that Trump acted corruptly in his efforts to stop Biden’s certification.
Woodward and Bernstein suggest that the two presidents had much in common, despite the almost half a century that stands between them. Nixon’s belief that it was for the greater good that he stayed in power whatever the means was “embraced by Trump”, they write.
“A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits,” Nixon told himself in 1969. That informed Trump’s campaign to hold on to power through falsehoods even in the face of defeat.
Misinformation also unites the diabolical pair. “Both Nixon and Trump created a conspiratorial world in which the US constitution, laws and fragile democratic traditions were to be manipulated or ignored, political opponents and the media were ‘enemies,’ and there were few or no restraints on the powers entrusted to presidents ,” Woodward and Bernstein say in their new foreword.
The reporters also explore the differences between the two men, notably that Trump attempted his electoral subversion in public. Pulling no punches, they call the January 6 insurrection “a Trump operation” and predict that the House committee has an abundance of evidence to prove that point in the upcoming hearings.
Though Nixon’s criminal misdeeds tended to be remembered through the lens of the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel on 17 June 1972, and the cover-up that followed, the authors remind their readers that his core purpose was to subvert that year’s presidential election. They rehearse some of the extreme measures that Nixon’s team of operatives took to derail the presidential campaign of his main Democratic rival, Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine.
Those measures included writing fake letters on Muskie stationery alleging sexual misconduct by other Democratic candidates and stealing Muskie’s shoes from outside his hotel room where he had left them for polishing in order to spook him out.
Trump, the reporters argue, pursued equally ruthless tactics designed to undermine credibility in the 2020 presidential election. They reached a pitch on January 6 with the violent mob breaking into the Capitol chanting “Hang Mike Pence” against Trump’s vice-president who was proceeding with certification of the election results.
In the last analysis, Woodward and Bernstein ask themselves why two such powerful men would embark on parallel efforts to destroy democracy. They have one overriding answer.
“Fear of losing and being considered a loser was a common thread for Nixon and Trump,” they write.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism