Alan Zendell, September 11, 2020
In 1974, the United States lived through what felt like its worst existential threat since the Civil War. We’d defeated the British twice early in our history, the Spanish in the 1890s, and been instrumental in achieving victory in both World Wars. But those were external threats. Americans always react well under attack, (today is nine-eleven,) but when the threat is internal, we work against ourselves.
The Civil War nearly destroyed the country because half of our great, great grandparents believed it was acceptable to base our economy on slavery. The 1974 crisis was preceded by a decade-long war that wasn’t supported by a majority of Americans and that might never have expanded beyond border skirmishes except for a falsified report of a naval battle in the Gulf of Tonkin that never happened. After 58,000 deaths and years of street demonstrations, Richard Nixon’s attempt to rig the 1972 election and the subsequent lies and cover-up of the felonies committed on his behalf were the breaking point.
We were told Vietnam was a critical domino in the Cold War, based on the wrongheaded notion that North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Min was a puppet of Communist China; if we didn’t hold the line there, all of Asia would fall to China and the Soviet Union. But Ho had no allegiance to China. After decades of fighting against French colonization, which the United States took over by proxy, Ho wanted a united Vietnam free of interference from outsiders.
The war and the Watergate scandal were based on lies, deception, and government cover-ups that cost Lyndon Johnson a near-certain second term. But after months of denials and constitutional crises, Nixon might have gotten away with his unlawful actions, leaving the country in even more disarray than it is today, if not for the White House Tapes on which we heard him incriminate himself.
Journalist Bob Woodward played a major role in uncovering both the Watergate scandal and the lies told to Americans about the war by three presidents, two of whom were Democrats and one a Republican. The state of country in 1974 wasn’t about political ideology as much as deception and lust for power. In addition to the loss of life and the maiming of tens of thousands of Americans, they forever tarnished our image in the rest of the world and nearly wrecked our economy.
The state of our nation in 2020 is eerily similar. As we approach the most important election in our lifetimes, Woodward is again a major player. Most Americans realize Trumpism is a synonym for demagoguery, lies, and lack of respect for laws and the Constitution. Yet, our election system, based on an Electoral College which shouldn’t have survived the nineteenth century could enable another Trump victory.
By appealing to the worst of our natures, Donald Trump convinced two in five Americans that making America great again means turning the country over to White Supremacists, ending immigration, and trusting the good will of unfettered billionaire capitalists to guard the interests of working people. A lie that outrageous can only be perpetrated on a society that has completely lost its way and forgotten how we got here. It’s called decadence, and it has destroyed every civilization that imagined it could dominate the world.
Trump destroyed the Republican Party because its former standard bearers, who understood what Trump was the day he walked down that escalator, lacked the integrity and will to defend their principles. He’s trying to derail the Democrats by claiming they will lead us into an era of socialism in which white people will cower in their bunkers to be safe from black, brown, and yellow people. If not for the coronavirus, he might have succeeded.
The pandemic was Trump’s chance to prove that he cared more about America than himself. Many of us believed he failed miserably from the start. He lied about the virus for almost nine months because he knew the truth could panic the financial markets and cost him re-election. Until now, his ability to twist truth into an alternate reality has kept his base together.
That’s why Bob Woodward’s interview tapes matter. Trump’s own words on tape provide indisputable evidence that he knew how deadly COVID was in January, and that he made a conscious decision to mislead the nation. He failed to take timely actions that could have prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of Americans. He knew and he didn’t care as long as he was tested and protected, and he remained in power.
A third of Americans still believe that’s all fake news, but Woodward’s tapes should finally make many of them see the light. The most reliable models predict between 250,000 and 300,000 COVID deaths by Election Day. All of those people have families, friends, and business associates to whom they matter. How can any American hear Trump’s voice on those tapes and not judge him responsible?
Lying to Americans in ways that will surely kill so many of them is a crime that rivals the Nazi concentration camps. It’s time Trump was held accountable.