Sometime early last fall, John Dean says he began having nightmares about a Trump presidency. He would wake in the middle of the night, agitated and alarmed, struggling to calm his nerves. “I’m not somebody who remembers the details of dreams,” he told me in a recent phone call from his home in Los Angeles. “I just know that they were so bad that I’d force myself awake and out of bed just to get away from them.”
Few people are more intimately acquainted than Dean with the consequences of an American presidency gone awry. As White House counsel under President Richard Nixon from 1970 to 1973, he was a key figure in the Watergate saga—participating in, and then helping to expose, the most iconic political scandal in modern U.S. history. In the decades since then, Dean has parlayed that resume line into something of a franchise, penning several books and countless columns on the theme of presidential abuses of power.
These days, he’s finding his subject matter more distressing than usual.
“The American presidency has never been at the whims of an authoritarian personality like Donald Trump,” Dean, who is now 78, told me. “He is going to test our democracy as it has never been tested.”
With Trump preparing to take the oath of office this week, some of his more imaginative critics foresee a Nixonian demise on the horizon—the corrupt commander-in-chief felled by his own hubris, forced out of office. But if prophesies of impeachment seem a tad dramatic, Dean’s own forecast for the next four years is arguably much grimmer. He is not only convinced that Trump will be worse than Nixon in virtually every way—he thinks he’ll probably get away with it.