I have the immediate urge to praise Canada, set in motion by Justin Trudeau’s recent rebuke of Donald Trump at the G-7 summit. There, Trudeau made it plain that he and his country were not about to be bullied by the American President, not on a question of unilateral tariffs, not about anything. Trump responded with gangster-style threats and sneers, followed by more threats and sneers from his associates.
.. The question worth asking is what it is in the Canadian national character, if I may call it that, that makes Canadians so ready to take on bullies.
Canada has been doing this as long as there has been a Canada. The Mounties wear red coats, we were taught in school, to defy villains by their very presence.
.. Lester Pearson prompted Charles de Gaulle to cut short a visit to the country, in 1967, after he had insulted Canadian sovereignty.
.. When Pierre Trudeau learned that Richard Nixon, in 1971, had called him an “asshole,” he delivered an unforgettable Canadian retort: “I’ve been called worse things by better people.”
.. Famously obliging in attitude—how do you get twenty-five Canadians out of a swimming pool? You say, “Please get out of the swimming pool”—Canadians are also notoriously stubborn of spirit.
.. Canadian democracy is supported by some of the strongest social capital in the world, exceeded only, by most academic measures, by that of Scandinavia and New Zealand.
.. Trust in social institutions, in the honesty of government and the solidarity of citizens, remains strong in Canada, even when its results, as with the election of Doug Ford—the smarter brother of the late Rob Ford, the onetime mayor of Toronto—to the premiership of Ontario, is not what progressive-minded people might like.
.. the United States now ranks below Canada, it still scored high in recent registries. But it once led the world in social capital. Can it do so again?
.. The term seems to have originated, or at least become most closely associated, with the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam.
.. in northern Italy, where citizens participate actively in sports clubs, literary guilds, service groups, and choral societies, regional governments are “efficient in their internal operation, creative in their policy initiatives and effective in implementing those initiatives.” In southern Italy, by contrast, where patterns of civic engagement are far weaker, regional governments tend to be corrupt and inefficient.
.. If you have experience working outside your immediate clan or cohort, you’re likelier to be able to practice democratic politics.
.. Jürgen Habermas captured in the phrase “the public sphere,” when he showed how essential civic life was to the Enlightenment: a government is only as strong as its cafés.
.. for all the South’s cultural self-proclamation, it was a paralyzed, frozen society, while the North was full of activity. “Our young men are members and managers of reading rooms, public libraries, gymnasiums, game clubs, boat clubs, ball clubs, and all sorts of clubs, Bible classes, debating societies, military companies; they are planting road-side trees, or damming streams for skating ponds, or rigging diving-boards, or getting up fireworks displays, or private theatricals; they are always doing something,”
.. it was the strength of Canada’s commonplace civilization, the knowledge that a huge and hugely variegated country would find bullying unacceptable, that gave Trudeau the nerve to speak
.. his defense of the idea that there is more to politics than the rituals of domination and submission, which are the sum total of Donald Trump’s understanding of society.
.. The bankruptcy of America’s social capital becomes more evident when we see it flourish elsewhere. It’s no accident that Trudeau, in addition to receiving the support of his own Parliament, has received that of what used to be called the free world. The American President, meanwhile, has found himself more at home with the brutal leaders of gangster governments.
Histories of past presidential scandals reveal common threads and turning points — but also show how Trump stands alone.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.
.. 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.
.. This is not President Trump in 2017, but rather descriptions of Clinton and Nixon, respectively, at the height of the Lewinsky and Watergate sagas. Indeed, one of the most recurring images of a White House in turmoil is the isolated and vengeful commander in chief
.. Trump may spend lonely nights and mornings with the remote and the phone, but historically speaking, he has plenty of company.
.. Haig even repeatedly urged a top telecommunications policy official to not bring anything substantive to Nixon’s attention. “The President isn’t in any shape to deal with this,” he explained.
.. Clinton’s famous ability to compartmentalize, to carry on amid the ever-expanding inquiry by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, was largely for show, Baker reports. “In private, Clinton was consumed with the Starr investigation and its collateral damage, sometimes so preoccupied that he appeared lost during meetings.” Clinton told Cabinet members that he had woken up “profoundly angry” every day for 41/2 years. Imagine what his morning tweetstorms would have been like.
.. In the same way Trump says digging into his personal finances would be a red line Mueller should not cross, Nixon regarded Cox’s attempts to secure his tapes as “the ultimate defiance” meriting dismissal.
.. The effort by Trump and his supporters in the right-wing media to depict Mueller’s probe into Russian electoral interference as a partisan “witch hunt” — another common phrase across these scandals — is a time-honored tactic for any White House under siege. Haig and Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler agreed on the need to “place the impeachment issue in as partisan a light as possible,” and the Clinton team reached the same conclusion more than 20 years later. Baker describes the latter group’s strategy during the impeachment fight: “Attack the accusers, demonize the investigators, complain about partisanship while doing everything to foment it.”
.. Poindexter, who saw himself as “the head of an American version of a Roman praetorian guard around the president, loyal and responsible to him alone,”
.. Clinton aide Paul Begala “sank into a deep depression” during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Baker writes, and vowed never again to appear on television defending the president.
.. Their true challenge is less about surviving Trump’s eruptions than simply living with the choice they’ve made, convincing themselves that service to the nation — passing a tax cut, forestalling a war, reducing immigration — is worth it.
.. Trump’s refusal to accept the U.S. intelligence finding that the Kremlin sought to tilt the 2016 election in his favor mirrors the stubbornness of his predecessors. Reagan went along with the sale of arms to Iran in an effort to free American hostages, though “always telling himself that it was not an arms-for-hostages deal,”
.. Nixon lawyer J. Fred Buzhardt concluded that the 37th president lied not just to others but to himself. It was an easy tell, Woodward and Bernstein explain: “Almost invariably when [Nixon] lied, he would repeat himself, sometimes as often as three times — as if he were trying to convince himself.”
.. Mike McCurry, Clinton’s press secretary, decided to leave the White House before the impeachment proceedings got underway, in part to avoid “becoming the Ron Ziegler of his era,” Baker explains.
.. Trump appears
- Nixonian in his disregard for democratic norms,
- Clintonian in his personal recklessness and
- beyond Reaganesque in his distance from the details of policy.
.. But where the parallels and parables of past scandals fall apart is with Trump’s well-documented disregard for truth.
.. When Nixon speechwriter Patrick Buchanan, among the most devoted of the president’s men, explained to Nixon family members why a damning Oval Office recording meant that resignation was inevitable, he emphasized not law but dishonesty. “The problem is not Watergate or the cover-up,” he argued. “It’s that he hasn’t been telling the truth to the American people. The tape makes it evident that he hasn’t leveled with the country for probably eighteen months. And the President can’t lead a country he has deliberately misled.”
.. “She could not get over Clinton’s recklessness — it was as if he could not stop doing wrong, could not tell the truth,”
.. Ziegler was adamantly opposed to releasing transcripts, Woodward and Bernstein write, because “there was rough language on the tapes,” candid discussions that would “offend Middle America, destroy his mandate.” Once certain transcripts were made public, Nixon lawyer Leonard Garment worried that president had “allowed America into the ugliness of his mind
George Thomas Wilson, a retired magazine-marketing and P.R. professional now living in New York City, has never forgotten his first criminal-law class, at the University of Alabama School of Law, in 1974.
.. “Finally, at the end of the hour, McGee said to him, ‘Mr. Moore, I have been teaching in this school for thirty years, and in all of that time you’re the most mixed-up person I’ve ever taught. I’m going to call you Fruit Salad.”
.. Moore’s opponent in the race is Doug Jones, a Democrat and former U.S. Attorney best known for prosecuting two of the Ku Klux Klan members behind the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, which killed four African-American girls.)
.. He called him “your average law student passing through.” Others offered harsher assessments.
.. “Roy always sat in front of us, and he would turn around and flirt. He’s the one thing that brought humor to us, because he was, well, kind of a doofus,” she said. “He’d yak at us. We were both single, rolling our eyes.” She added, “And then Roy would ask all of these questions to put himself in the middle of debating with an intelligent professor, and he was always cut to shreds.”
.. “He’d go to class, but he was argumentative, very stubborn, and not very thoughtful in his analysis of the cases. He was not a very attentive student. For the most part, students didn’t respect him much.” She added, “Of all my classmates, he was the least likely I’d think would become a U.S. senator.”
.. Moore had recently returned from Vietnam, where he’d been a military-police officer. Some who served under Moore there had referred to him, with sarcasm, as “Captain America,” chafing at his egoist style of command. One such officer, Barrey Hall, told the Associated Press, in 2003, that Moore’s “policies damn near got him killed in Vietnam. He was a strutter.”
.. Veterans told him that Moore demanded that he be saluted on the ground in Vietnam, Martin said, which everyone knew was a foolish thing to do. “When you go to Vietnam as an officer, you don’t ask anybody to salute you, because the Viet Cong would shoot officers,” he explained. “You’ve heard this a million times in training.” If Moore indeed violated this rule, Martin went on, “There’s nothing more telling about a person’s capability and character and base intelligence. It’s crazy.”
.. Martin, a self-described moderate, wrote an editorial in a local paper warning voters about his former student. In it, he describes Moore as a pupil so immune to logic and reason that he forced his exasperated teacher to “abandon the Socratic method of class participation in favor of the lecture mode.”
.. “He was very, very opinionated. To the point of just being ridiculous,” Melton said. “He had ultraconservative values and opinions. I’m not saying he wasn’t liked, he was just different.” Wilson said, “He was Looney Tunes from the beginning. But I never really thought he was malicious. Some of the verbiage that’s come out of him more recently, it’s a much harsher, meaner man than I remember.”
.. Most of Moore’s classmates didn’t recall Christianity being a noticeable part of his public persona. “I had no sense that Roy was a really religious person
.. “I can’t get into his mind, or his heart, but I think it’s all political. He’s demagoguing on those issues.”
.. I don’t think this Doug Jones has a snowball’s chance in Hell,” he added. “He’s a Democrat and they gonna . . . ” Melton trailed off. “Hell, Moore will get sixty-five per cent of the vote.
.. Southern Baptists control the damn state. And they’ll vote for Roy. It’ll be a landslide.”