The presidency survived the Watergate, Iran-contra and Clinton scandals. Trump will exact a higher toll.Breaking News
tags: Watergate, scandals, Nixon, Clinton, Trump, Iran Contra
American presidents get the scandals they deserve.
Richard Nixon’s paranoia produced Watergate. Ronald Reagan’s indifference contributed to Iran-contra. Bill Clinton’s appetites led to impeachment. And Donald Trump’s delusions — about his singular abilities and the impunity of his office — are propelling the crisis of legitimacy threatening his presidency.
No matter how distinct presidential scandals appear in their origins, however, there is also a weary sameness to how presidents react to them, how Washington mobilizes for them, how history looms over them. Each crisis feels unprecedented at the time, yet some of the most detailed journalistic accounts of presidential disgrace in recent decades — “The Final Days,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s narrative of Nixon’s end; “A Very Thin Line,” Theodore Draper’s comprehensive look at Iran-contra; and “The Breach,” Peter Baker’s dissection of Clinton’s impeachment trial — reveal how uniformly White House crises can unfold, explicitly drawing from one another, reliving dramas and pivots, and affecting how future scandals are judged.
Investigations and revelations. Fury and denial. Indictments and firings. Today, the White House is in crisis mode once again, and all in Washington are playing their parts. What distinguishes the Trump scandal is how its central character appears to combine the worst qualities of his troubled predecessors. How, rather than evolving into scandal, this presidency was born into it. And above all, how perceptions of the president’s integrity and honor — which proved critical in the outcomes of past political and constitutional crises — are barely an issue for a man without moral high ground left to lose.
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