On this day in 1973 American President Richard Nixon reassured the public that “I am not a crook” – right after pressuring Solicitor General Robert Bork to fire the Special Prosecutor investigating Nixon for obstruction of justice. At the time, Nixon’s administration was under investigation for its role in the cover-up of the Watergate Scandal, in which five men were caught breaking into the Watergate Hotel – Democratic National Committee headquarters – with the intent of wiretapping the main offices and stealing campaign documents. As it turned out, the failed mission was linked financially to Nixon’s re-election campaign fund. Subsequent investigations and impeachment hearings revealed significant attempts at obstructing justice by the Nixon administration, and also revealed secret listening devices planted in the Oval Office of the White House for Nixon’s private use. After it became clear the Congressional support for Nixon had evaporated and the president faced certain conviction if impeached, Nixon resigned in 1974.
For many, Nixon’s statement on this day in 1973 has come to be seen as the rallying cry of dishonest politicians everywhere. Watergate, it could be argued, brought an end to a naive era where Americans fully trusted their president. In the following decades, public trust in elected officials has, anecdotally, dropped off; much of the political discourse today revolves around not whether a politician’s position is right or wrong, but rather if they are telling the truth at all. It’s hard to tell if political discourse was ever civil and truthful – perhaps Watergate merely removed the rose coloured glasses for everyone – but it could certainly be argued that Watergate forever damaged the trust that exists between politicians and the people they serve, not just in the United States but the world at large.