This week, America wraps up the fortieth anniversary of its most dangerous constitutional crises since the Civil War, with little celebration – and arguably no real insight into its lessons. Saturday will mark 40 years since the only presidential resignation in US history, when Richard Nixon stepped down rather than face impeachment for his role in Watergate and other abuses of power. Despite the decades of self-congratulation for the ability of the body politic to police itself, we still have not put aside our fascination and attraction to executive power.
For a country that loves nostalgia, the major anniversaries of Watergate events have attracted surprisingly little notice. The centenary of World War I may be getting more print these days, starting with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Photos and personal narratives have been included in the commemoration of a global conflagration whose resolution produced a horrible World War and many of the problems that plague the West to this day, especially in the Middle East.
Watergate does deserve some recognition, though, as an imperfect demonstration of the genius of the US Constitution. The founders opted to create a system that would provide checks and balances on the power of the federal government, both within it and between the states and the national government.