Opinion | What Watergate can teach us today

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Fifty years ago on Friday, burglars broke into the Watergate complex, and the rest is just history. The scandal that ended with the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon helped shape our modern politics, reforming government, reinvigorating the press, and redefining parties. Now, the country faces another crisis that defines a generation, and the events of half a century ago feel as relevant as if they happened yesterday.

The Nixon White House’s illegal sabotage of its opponents and the cover-up that followed were examples of how the government went wrong. What happened after these crimes showed that the government was doing almost exactly right: Congress investigated, the media reported, people read, watched, listened, and talked, and finally, enough members of the Republican elite put country above party to lead to the departure of a corrupt and dangerous president.

Today, Congress is investigating again: A House select committee is examining what happened on January 6, 2021, when an armed mob stormed the US Capitol to overturn the results of a legal election. , in part because a president, Donald Trump, urged them to do so. Yet most GOP members seem afraid to say a word against the former president, who continues to hold his party in his clutches. Worse yet, most refuse to engage in this truth-seeking effort at all, or even to attach much importance to the concept of truth itself. Not only do the two sides today share little when it comes to politics or philosophy. In many cases, they do not even share a reality.

Donald Graham: Watergate resonated because The Post reported the truth

So in 2022, as Congress tries to get to the facts when the facts have gone out of style, is there anything to be learned from 1972? The scandals occurred in the decades before, from the Red Terror to the Bay of Pigs invasion and the wrong decisions that plunged the nation into the Vietnam War; Scandals followed in the years since, from the Iran-Contra affair to claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to the mental and physical torment of prisoners during the war on terror. All surely contributed to the erosion of trust in the government to its current dismal low of 20 percent.

Yet Watergate shook the nation like few things before it and changed it, in some ways for the better, by encouraging the press to hold government accountable and the public to pay attention, as well as introducing laws that served the same goals. in areas like campaign finance and intelligence, and in some ways for the worse, planting the seed of anti-government sentiment that has since grown like a strangling weed.

January 6 has also shaken the nation. The environment for the necessary change, whether it be updates to the Electoral Count Law and guarantees for voting rights, or a broader attempt by both parties to reconcile on common causes like democracy and the rule of law, certainly seems , hostile. But enough people, from the chambers of Congress to those across the country near a television set or newsroom, cared 50 years ago about getting government back on track when it seemed broken. The worst mistake anyone can make today is to give it up because it’s broken again.

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