After Watergate: Political Scandals from Nixon to Trump by Peter Ling


Pen & Sword
30 March 2024

Scandals and high political office regularly coincide. Over the last five decades, with the world watching the American president as its preeminent international figure, scandals affecting the president have had both international origins and international consequences. Every president from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump has faced scandal but only a handful have faced a scandal so large that it threatened impeachment or even the political system itself. Hence, this is a study of five scandals or in the case of Clinton and Trump, scandalous presidencies that produced impeachments · Nixon and Watergate · Reagan and Iran-Contra · Clinton and Impeachment · Bush and the 2000 election/Trump and the 2016 election · Trump and Impeachments Along the way, several trends have shaped the course of presidential scandals. One set has been political. Scandal operates in tandem with partisanship. The intensity of party divisions was obviously a factor in creating the context for all the scandals discussed. Scandal also springs from personality. Few would disagree that the character of Nixon, Clinton and Trump was the seedbed for the scandals they faced. But more broadly, it seems the traits required of a successful presidential candidate have changed. What would once have damned a candidate is no longer an insurmountable obstacle. What blocked Gary Hart in 1988 could not stop Donald Trump in 2016. The second group of trends stem from the changing media landscape. Richard Nixon operated in a world dominated by major TV networks. Clinton in a time that saw the emergence of cable channels such as Fox News that tailored their coverage to the biases of their viewers; and Trump in a world of internet websites and social media, where securing attention takes precedence over accuracy. These trends have added fuel to gossip and therefore scandal. As the 2016 election demonstrated, they have also enabled a new form of cyber warfare that probes US weaknesses by fostering internal disunity. The question now is: Does scandal still carry a cost? In 2024, the jury is still deliberating.

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