The Watergate Scandal

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How did the legacies of Watergate and the Vietnam War shape US politics?

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The Vietnam War and Watergate were polarizing events that took place during a very volatile period of US history.

While during most of the twentieth century, Americans had been able to pull together despite deep ideological and political differences to tackle crises such as the Great Depression and World War...

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II, this political consensus or center fell apart during the Vietnam War and Watergate period.

People didn't coalesce around the Vietnam war, for instance, as they had about World War II, which had extremely high support. Instead, the country split. Some supported the war as necessary to stop communism while some saw it as a mismanaged mistake and felt we had no reason to be so heavily involved in a tiny country halfway around the globe. As the debate over the war continued, there was no common ground. Emotions ran high and each side demonized the other.

This continued into the Watergate hearings. Those who opposed the war felt Nixon was a criminal who needed to be held accountable for continual lying and law breaking. To them, authorizing the break-in of the Democratic National committee headquarters at the Watergate hotel was of a piece with such acts as the secret bombing of Cambodia. This side of America felt Nixon should be punished. Those who supported Nixon thought the impeachment hearings were a witch hunt.

After things settled down, resentments lingering. They linger to this day. The worst legacy in terms of politics is the polarization. Government has been paralyzed, especially in recent years, because the two sides demonize each other. It is hard to work with people you disagree with if you think of them as evil incarnate. Arguably everyone still suffers because the wounds of fifty years ago have never properly healed.

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