It's been quite a last 24 hours, huh? President Trump's top national security aide, Michael Flynn, called it quits just 25 days into the administration -- and hours before the New York Times revealed that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI in an apparent probe of his Russian-unorthodox dealings. Meanwhile, the president's counselor Kellyanne Conway was slammed by the Government Ethics Office for plugging Trump's daughter's clothing line -- but Conway didn't respond as she was too busy insisting it was a hacker who'd sent out a post from a white nationalist on her Twitter account. And GOP senators seem to be rebelling against Trump's nominee for Labor Secretary, fast-food billionaire Andy Puzder, who's accused of mistreating thousands of workers and one ex-wife.
Oh yeah, and there's a Russian spy ship off Delaware.
It was a day which will live in infamy. Or, as it's called in Trump World...Tuesday.
Ever since Trump ripped off Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" to launch his campaign in June 2015, writers have struggled to find the historical reference that would somehow explain the most ahistorical figure to ever reach the Oval Office. The Donald was Silvio Berlusconi on his good days, Benito Mussolini on the bad ones, and maybe Mussolini's more famous pal in the darkest moments when he was banning Muslims or mocking the handicapped.
Yet maybe because there's too many of us who lived through a certain once-in-a-lifetime horror once already in our lifetime, no one wanted to admit the truth right in front of our eyes, that we've just inaugurated the third non-consecutive term of Richard Nixon -- albeit way too tan, not nearly rested enough, and clearly unready.
OK, so this is Richard Nixon on Barry Bonds-sized doses of steroids -- with one poll showing that 40 percent of Americans support Trump's impeachment after less than four weeks, a lack-of-support level that it took Nixon five long years of moral underachivement to reach.
But for those of us with long memories, it's hard not to watch Sean Spicer's daily rock opera and think back to Nixon flack Ron Ziegler railing against a "third-rate burglary" and declaring yesterday's statements to be "inoperative," to think that Flynn's ouster is some sort of "modified limited hangout" -- and to wonder if Trump has begun talking to the portraits in the West Wing.
The historical comparison isn't a trival one, though. Both Nixon and Trump won improbable election victories in times of great national division, both by channeling the deep resentments of Middle Americans, called "the silent majority" or "the forgotten man." They were so damn good at that, because they themselves harbored the same bitter resentments and inner rage, masking their roaring insecurities. But the mad paranoia of Richard Nixon killed a lot of people, from Kent, Ohio, all the way to Saigon, when it wasn't busy shredding the U.S. Constitution. What will Trump's psychodrama bring to the wider world before he can be stopped?
The similarities have been hiding in plain sight. Sometimes it was almost too obvious, like when Trump plagiarized Nixon to declare himself "the law and order candidate" who would stand up for the cop on the beat -- even if Trump had to manufacture phony crime stats to make his point. Nixon and his No. 2 Spiro Agnew had the eloquent William Safire to keep average voters furious at "the nattering nabobs of negativism" in the news media; under Trump that's been reduced to the more pedestrian "very, very dishonest press." But the goal of firing up the base while silencing dissent remains exactly the same.
How low would Nixon -- or Trump -- go to win an election? It took nearly a half century for the facts to emerge that Nixon and his minions were actively working to deep-six the Vietnam peace talks, in a move that ensured both Nixon's victory and the deaths of an additional 22,000 U.S. servicemen over the ensuing four years. It was an unprecedented act of treason -- at least, perhaps, until investors sift through Trump's convoluted ties to Vladimir Putin and his 2016 election shenanigans.
But what's really worrisome is paranoia, the destroyer. Then and now.
Richard Nixon managed to wreck himself and his presidency at a moment of epic popularity, right as he was crushing liberal icon George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election. It was Nixon's obsession with "the resistance" -- in his case, the anti-war movement -- and his uncontrollable belief that Ivy League eggheads in the government and the "effete corps of impudent snobs" in the media were out to get him that finally drove the 37th presidency over the brink of madness.
The Nixon administration ordered illegal wiretaps to find the source of critical news leaks and backed an unconstitutional program of government spying and break-ins called the Huston Plan aimed at crushing dissent on Vietnam. When that wasn't doing enough for him, Nixon created a secret team of ex-spooks called "the Plumbers" (get it?) to plug news leaks, a task they pursued with a series of illegal acts that culminated in the Watergate break-in.
Nearly a half century later, President Trump is a runaway train on the same perilous track as Nixon. Confronted with revelations that his national security advisor was not only making secret and potentially illegal deals with Putin's Russia but that he'd been lying about what he did, Trump's response was not to blame Mike Flynn but to call for an all-too Nixonian probe of news leaks.
"The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?" the president tweeted Tuesday, after a rare period of radio silence. "Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N.Korea etc?" Politico reported that Trump had ordered a sweeping probe into news leaks coming from the National Security Council even before Flynn was ousted as the NSC's leader. At the same time, Trump aide Omarosa Manigault is accused of threatening a journalist and claiming the White House has secret dossiers on certain reporters -- shades of Nixon's famed "enemies list." After less than a month, the Trump White House is already drowning in fear and accusation.
But paranoia kills. Two generations ago, Nixon's efforts to prove he wouldn't be pushed around on Vietnam claimed tens of thousands of lives, and his resentments and thirst to crush his enemies launched the greatest scandal in American history...so far.
Trump's delusions and double-dealings could be even more harmful to world peace, and thus more lethal. Tonight, some anti-Trumpers are finding it hard to contain their glee over over Flynn's resignation and the Watergate-style investigations that might follow.
Personally, I'm containing my glee.
The damage caused by Russian meddling in an American presidential election and by the bizarre dealings between the Trump and Putin regimes has already been done. Vladimir Putin, a ruthless dictator who thinks nothing of murdering journalists and other opponents, has already been emboldened by this debacle. And so his rogue government -- after killing Syrian citizens with impunity -- is now testing nuclear cruise missiles in violation of treaties, sending its spy ships up the U.S. East Coast, and scaring the bejeezus out of the Baltic states, America's allies through NATO.
One more overly aggressive move by Putin and the Trump adminstration can a) appease him and do nothing while our democratic allies are trampled, affirming the worst whispers about our 45th president or c) become engaged in the start of World War III.
That's a hell of a choice.
Launching World War III was a line that even Nixon didn't cross, although he did (seriously) encourgage speculation that he might be crazy enough to drop nukes on Vietnam or somewhere else, an idea they called "the madman theory." Now it's 2017 and the madman theory suddenly doesn't seem very theoretical anymore.