Socialist Worker

Trump, Obama and Watergate—how struggle from below can force crisis at the top

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2544

Donald Trump claims he was spied on by Barack Obama—in much the same way as president Richard Nixon (above) spied on his enemies

Donald Trump claims he was spied on by Barack Obama—in much the same way as president Richard Nixon (above) spied on his enemies (Pic: White House photographic office)


US president Donald Trump has accused former president Barack Obama of bugging his home in the penthouse of Trump Tower during the presidential election campaign.

In a flurry of tweets posted on Saturday he compared the alleged surveillance to “Nixon/Watergate” and accused Obama of being a “bad (or sick) guy”, offering no evidence.

A spokesperson for Obama denied he had ever ordered spying on Trump. But they left open the possibility that the FBI had indeed bugged him.

It’s worth considering whether there are any parallels with the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.

The scandal began as a seemingly isolated inquiry into a break in at the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate offices in Washington DC.

It turned out the burglars had been employed by the Republicans to find dirt on the Democrats.

The US establishment was already reeling from its catastrophic defeat in Vietnam and the huge movement against the war.

The crisis ended with the resignation of president Richard Nixon. And it opened a window into the corruption and infighting at the heart of the ruling class of the most powerful state in the world.

Perhaps the most shocking revelations came from former White House lawyer John Dean, described by the FBI as the "master manipulator of the cover up".

He told how Nixon was obsessed with protesters, at some points to the exclusion of anything else.

Nixon was convinced that the Democratic Party was bankrolling protests against him—in a similar manner to Trump today.

It was the heroic resistance of the Vietnamese people to the US—and the burgeoning anti-war movement—that caused Nixon’s downfall.

At one point a solitary protester stood on a lawn across from the White House. An order came from Dwight Chaplin, the president’s personal assistant, “get some thugs to remove that man.”

Dean’s other revelations included orders from the White House to place senator Ted Kennedy under 24-hour surveillance.

He also revealed that the Watergate break-in was to correct faulty bugging equipment placed at an earlier date.

"I have been hearing echoes of Watergate ever since this presidency started," said Dean of the current crisis, echoing the chorus of voices claiming that Trump can’t last.

But Trump has said and done shocking things before and since he took office. He has boasted of sexually assaulting women, he has called Mexicans rapists—and he has done it in public.

He isn’t going anywhere—not unless he is forced out.

Manoeuvres at the top may get rid of Trump, but that could result in Trump allies Mike Pence or Paul Ryan taking over.

The Democrats and Trump’s opponents in the state harp on about Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. They’re not so bothered about his attacks on Muslims or migrants.

Nor do they care much about low-paid workers in the US. Or the resistance to oil pipelines that threaten the environment and drinking water—such as at Standing Rock in Dakota.

It was the heroic resistance of the Vietnamese people to the US—and the burgeoning anti-war movement—that caused Nixon’s downfall.

They fragmented the US ruling class and set off the chain of events that led to the Watergate scandal.

Similar mass resistance could do the same to Trump today.


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