I am signed up to receive mailings from Hillsdale College, especially Larry Arnn, current college president. Hillsdale has a long tradition, but for the present day any distinction between the college and a right-wing boot camp is difficult to discern. Their newsletter Imprimis is a go-to page for defense of the Trump presidency.
Imprimis recaps talks by guest speakers, a recent being John Marini, described on the site as a “professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno. He earned his B.A. at San Jose State University and his Ph.D. in government at the Claremont Graduate School.” His talk, delivered at the college on 11 September 2018, exemplifies Hillsdale’s penchant for propagandizing. It is a thinly veiled defense of a corrupt administration—that is if by “thinly veiled” you mean “full frontal.” Here are some excerpts. But first the headline:
Truth be known, this is what caught my eye when it popped up in my email. For the past two years and more the combination of “politics” and “scandal” has equated to “Donald Trump.” You have to wait until the end before this becomes hammer obvious, but follow the link above and read the entire piece.
Nearly every political administration has potential scandal lying just below the surface. There are always those in government who seek to profit privately from public service, and there are always those who will abuse their power. All governments provide the occasion for scoundrels of both kinds. But the scandals they precipitate rarely erupt into full-blown crises of the political order. What differentiates the scandals that do?
Professor Marini is molding the mindset of the reader. There are scandals, and there are scandals, but watch out when scandal is wielded toward political ends. We are beginning to think there is a scandal that is like any other scandal, but this scandal is being amplified for political purposes.
Many great scandals arise not as a means of exposing corruption, but as a means of attacking political foes while obscuring the political differences that are at issue.
We suspect Professor Marini is going to show us an example.
The key to understanding how this works is to see that most political scandals, sooner or later, are transformed into legal dramas. As legal dramas, scandals become understood in non-partisan terms. The way in which they are resolved can have decisive political impacts, but those in charge of resolving them are the “neutral” prosecutors, judges, and bureaucrats who make up the permanent (and unelected) government, not the people’s elected representatives. To resort to scandal in this way is thus a tacit admission that the scandalmongers no longer believe they are able to win politically. To paraphrase Clausewitz, scandal provides the occasion for politics by other means.
We are being reminded that if you see somebody making issue of a scandal, it could be for political purpose and not for reasons of morality and good government.
He cannot go forward without touching on the scandals of Richard Nixon.
Richard Nixon won a landslide electoral victory in 1972 and was removed from office less than two years later. The Watergate scandal then became the model for subsequent political scandals, down to the current day. How and why did Watergate come about and what did it mean?
I was there. Richard Nixon won by a landslide. Even I voted for him, but for nefarious reasons. By summer of 1972 it was obvious to me that Nixon would not serve out his term, and I cast my vote as part of a devious scheme to embarrass the Republican Party. There’s more.
Professor Marini touches too heavily on Nixon’s 1972 landslide. The electoral vote was one of the most lopsided ever, 520 to 17 over George McGovern, but that is moderated (slightly) by the popular tally of 46,740,323 to 28,901,598. A trouncing, nonetheless. But that should have given Nixon a mandate. Professor Marini hints at that. Perhaps Nixon believed it, as well. Professor Marini digs down into the history leading up to this moment. He talks of the great shift driven by the election of 1964:
This dramatic centralization of power created a political reaction in the electorate that began pushing back against the Great Society policies of the time.
He talks of “centralization of power,” but the civil rights legislation passed under President Johnson was what stuck in the craw of American conservatives. Following the 1972 election it was, according to Marini, a political power play that brought down the president.
As we all know, Nixon’s intentions for his second term came to naught. American politics after Watergate were shaped by those who had engineered his downfall.
Political operatives engineered Nixon’s downfall. Really? I watched. It was Richard Nixon who engineered Richard Nixon’s downfall. I have the tapes. But for Marini, there is no end to defense of Richard Nixon:
It wasn’t until many years after Watergate that we learned the identity of the source of the leaks that led to Nixon’s removal. Deep Throat, the source for the reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein at The Washington Post, turned out to be Mark Felt, a high-level FBI official who had access to all of the classified information pertaining to the investigation. Felt leaked that information selectively over the course of a year or more, helping to shape public opinion in ways the prosecution could not. Although Woodward and Bernstein were lauded as investigative reporters, they merely served as a conduit by which the bureaucracy undermined the authority of the elected chief executive. Geoff Shepard, a young member of Nixon’s defense team who has continued investigating Watergate using the Freedom of Information Act, has recently established as well that the prosecutors and judges involved in Watergate violated the procedural requirements that ensure impartiality, acting instead as partisans opposed to Nixon.
“[P]artisans opposed to Nixon?” Insert “the rule of law opposed to Nixon.”
After a great deal more, we ultimately get to what Marini has in mind.
We see today, in the two-year Mueller investigation and its aftermath, yet another attempt to destroy an anti-establishment president using a legal rather than political process of adjudication. The most notable difference between this scandal and Watergate is that President Trump has so far succeeded—largely through his relentless characterization of most of those in the media as dishonest partisans rather than objective reporters—in preventing the scandals surrounding him from being defined, by his enemies, in legal rather than political terms.
The guardians of the status quo in the permanent government and the media have defined past political scandals so successfully that a full and proper understanding of Watergate, for instance, is likely impossible now. It remains to be seen whether, in the end, they will succeed again today—whether the legend will again become fact, and they will print the legend.
Believe it if you will, professor, but from all appearances what you are serving up is codswallop, version 201.