- - Monday, November 1, 2021

Is there anything new to learn about Watergate?

When it comes to the facts of what happened, the answer may be no — unless someone can solve the mystery of the 18.5-minute gap in the White House audio tapes that were recorded three days after the Watergate break-in on June 17, 1972. Otherwise, the well-documented story of President Richard Nixon’s epic fall from power is unlikely to change.

But beyond the facts, Watergate may still have fresh lessons to impart about the dangers of a rogue executive and the accumulation of excessive power by the executive branch.

In this episode of History As It Happens, journalist and historian Michael Dobbs explains why Nixon, one of the most complicated men to ever win the presidency, remains relevant.

“Here was a man who struggled all his life to get to the top. He was born in dirt-poor circumstances, and he made it to the top largely through his own efforts. And then he proceeds to throw it away. That is a very dramatic story,” said Mr. Dobbs, the author of “King Richard: Nixon and Watergate — An American Tragedy.”

Mr. Dobbs began studying Nixon’s downfall during Donald Trump’s norm-shattering presidency, which would end with Mr. Trump’s second impeachment in the House and acquittal in the Senate following the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

While Nixon was discredited across the political spectrum for abusing his power to cover up the Watergate scandal (he resigned in disgrace to avoid being impeached in 1974), Mr. Trump remains the most influential Republican politician in the country despite his failed efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his role in the Jan. 6 riot.

“History never repeats itself exactly. I think it was Mark Twain who said history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. And I think Karl Marx said history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce. I felt a little of that with Nixon and Trump,” Mr. Dobbs said.

“There are parallels between the two. But Nixon has the makings of a tragic figure, whereas I don’t see that in Donald Trump.”

For more of Mr. Dobbs’ remarks about Richard Nixon and Watergate, listen to this episode of History As It Happens.

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