John Dean, the White House lawyer who famously helped blow the whistle on the Watergate scandal that drove President Richard Nixon from office, says the country has returned to an "imperial presidency" that is putting the United States and the world at risk.
In his new book, Conservatives Without Conscience, Dean looks at Republican-controlled Washington and sees a bullying, manipulative, prejudiced leadership edging the nation toward a dark era.
"Are we on the road to fascism?" he writes. "Clearly, we are not on that road yet. But it would not take much more misguided authoritarian leadership, or thoughtless following of such leaders, to find ourselves there.
"I am not sure which is more frightening," he adds, "another major terror attack or the response of authoritarian conservatives to that attack."
Dean, who served 127 days in prison for his part in the Nixon administration's Watergate cover-up, recently talked to The Associated Press about the ascendancy of the conservative right and the two-fisted style of political leadership he says was central to its rise.
"We have returned to the imperial presidency," he said. "We have an unchecked presidency."
More than three decades ago, the 67-year-old Dean was a young White House lawyer when he warned President Richard M. Nixon that the cover-up of a break-in at Democratic national headquarters in Washington's Watergate complex was "a cancer growing on the presidency."
Dean, who later pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, went on to become the star witness at the congressional Watergate hearings, implicating several high-ranking administration officials. His book is anchored to a discussion of authoritarianism, a school of thought that, in the simplest terms, tries to explain why some people lead and others follow. The classic authoritarian personality - mostly found in men - thirsts for power, is exploitive, cheats to win, opposes equality, intimidates and is mean-spirited.
This headstrong leadership style marks the current Republican right in varying degrees, he says, starting with President George W. Bush and moving on down through the leadership ranks. The Bush White House, Dean says, has "given authoritarianism a new legitimacy," the same legitimacy he says it enjoyed before Nixon's presidency unravelled.
Authoritarian thinking, Dean writes, "was the principal force behind almost everything that went wrong with Nixon's presidency." For anyone familiar with Dean's writing, the sharp stabs at the Bush administration will come as no surprise. His latest book is a sequel of sorts to his 2004 best seller, Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush.
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