On August 9, 1974, I was in Germany. Giant headlines read, “Nixon: Ich Gehe.” I am going.
I recall profound embarrassment at President Nixon’s resignation, which I presumed tarnished America’s image abroad. A German stranger set me straight: “You don’t understand. Your country deposed a corrupt leader without a coups or a drop of blood. The system worked.”
That aha moment instilled in me a deep appreciation for the brilliance of the Constitution’s framers. Similar to the way that Apollo 13’s near disaster elicited one of NASA’s finest hours, Watergate elicited American democracy’s finest hour. The Constitution worked as intended. But only because congressional leaders, including those of the president’s own party, put allegiance to country above partisanship.
For those who don’t remember, here’s how Watergate played out. As the depth of Nixon’s cover-up came to light, legislators worked behind the scenes and across the aisle to orchestrate a smooth transition of power. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew–under scrutiny for bribery, extortion, and tax fraud–resigned from office, allowing Gerald Ford’s appointment as VP. Highly regarded on both sides of the aisle, Ford was confirmed by overwhelming majority. Then, days before the three articles of impeachment would come to a vote in the House, a congressional delegation, including conservative icon Senator Barry Goldwater, visited the Oval Office to inform Nixon he had lost House support. Furthermore, he would have only fifteen supporters in the Senate. Conviction certain, Nixon resigned, and Ford became president.
Fast forward to the impeachment of Donald Trump. The difference between then and now is that during Watergate, congressional legislators of integrity populated both sides of the aisle.
In contrast, today’s GOP functions as cult of personality, putting allegiance to a divisive and corrupt president above country and Constitution. Most of those of conscience have jumped ship. Those remaining have sold their souls, abandoning every value once professed.
The “party of deficit hawks” has ballooned the deficit. The “party of family values” puts refugee children in cages. The “party of God” genuflects to a man who embodies all seven deadly sins and has told 15,000 lies since taking office. The “party of the Constitution” systematically undermines constitutional checks and balances by stacking the courts, indulging fake news, and casting journalists as “enemies of the people.” The “party of anti-communism and strong defense” hamstrings investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election; knee-caps an ally, Ukraine, by spreading Putin’s false narrative; and disparages loyal State Department officials and military officers who have faithfully served our country for decades under Republican and Democratic Administrations.
Elected representatives swear to “support and defend the Constitution . . . against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Donald Trump is the greatest threat to those founding principles in my lifetime. By sowing division and unrelenting dishonesty, he poses domestic threat. By prioritizing his own survival over the nation’s, he invites foreign interference in our elections.
History will not judge today’s GOP kindly. The hour is late, but not too late for redemption: put country before party.
Harrisonburg, VA 22801