Perhaps it is the human penchant for drama, or the basic ideal of our society that ill deeds be punished. That we are not a land of kings, but equals. It is a bright ideal to strive for, but one that we have never attained.
Since the original Watergate scandal, it is clear that America has exhausted all avenues for justice against the abuse of power in our government. The saga of Nixon’s hubris, his paranoia, and the deeds he did to fuel his lust for absolute authority, should have ended in a court of law. But the much needed moment of closure was robbed from the American people when President Gerald Ford publicly pardoned Richard Nixon to “end our national nightmare.”
While the Nixon precedent has allowed virtually all executives to avoid accountability for their actions, it has just as well birthed a constant state of persecution for whomever holds the office. The American people have never truly recovered from the slight of Ford’s pardon, their anger persisting through the generations like a specter haunting every administration. “If we could not taste the justice of Watergate,” the revenant whispers, “then this scandal will become the next Watergate.”
Obviously, no scandal has toppled a presidency after Watergate, or at least yet. Reagan and Clinton were close, only saved by a handy scapegoat and a firm control of Senate Democrats, respectively. With the anniversary of Mueller’s investigation upon us, it might be interesting to do some heavy, not completely baseless speculation on the future of Trump’s presidency.
From what we know of the Mueller investigation, the results could either be completely extraordinary or a colossal dud. While the special counsel has been incredibly secretive in planning his moves, his actions, such as charging key players of Trump’s presidential campaign like Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, does show that he either has his sights on the President, or at least his inner circle. An indictment for say, Trump’s idiotic son Donald Jr, or his equally scandalous son-in-law Jared, would not exactly be surprising at this point. Whether or not these roads lead to Trump himself is another story entirely.
After a year in, it is still unknown if Mueller will recommend prosecution for Trump. His termination of FBI Director James Comey has been a line of questioning, as well as whether President Trump was in contact with Russian officials during the campaign. The firing of Comey alone could be found as obstruction of justice, and we know the White House is already expecting the Democrats to try impeachment should they win back the House this year. Which would put Trump’s fate in the hands of a divided Senate. If the losses are hard enough in the midterms, a decision in the Senate could be closer than the President would like: Animosity towards Trump is an open secret, and if he’s seen as a threat to Republican hegemony, they just might throw him to the wolves despite his popularity with the base.
Of course, Trump could just as well signal the firing of Mueller in a rather Nixonian move similar to the Saturday Night Massacre (when Nixon demanded the Justice Department end the special investigation, firing both the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General who refused,) but that turned out to be the death knell of Nixon’s presidency. Advisers to the President have allegedly forced Trump to back down from firing Mueller numerous times, presumably to stop the same thing happening to him, too. So it seems Trump has been told to weather the storm, only given the solace of tweeting incessantly about his trials and tribulations.
If all things align, will we see Trump as the first true successor to Watergate, a sitting President impeached and removed from office? Would he resign, citing the slings and arrows of a constant “witch hunt” and finally face the accusations not in Twitter, but in court? Or will Pence play the role of the pardoner, and throw America into this damning cycle once more?
We cannot be certain of any outcome. The failed investigations of the past have shown us that there is no good in setting up a savior. Building up Mueller as this law-abiding gunslinger, riding into Washington to set things right, will only make the people’s disappointment worse should he fail.
But I suppose we’ll find out what happens soon enough.