Kevin Williamson‘s latest column for National Review Online notes changes in American political culture in the 40 years since Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

Richard Nixon was a snake who understood himself as such but had sufficient vestigial conscience to be ashamed of his snakery. When Tricky Dick wanted to spread a nasty rumor about a political rival, he insisted on a few degrees of separation between the deed and himself; when Harry Reid wants to spread lies about someone, he does so from the Senate floor and then laughs about it. In Nixon’s time, the political misuse of the IRS was considered a serious crime; today, it happens quite in the open without consequence. When Nixon insisted that his attorney general violate his official responsibilities for political reasons, Elliott Richardson understood what duty required, and resigned; Eric Holder, by way of comparison — suffice it to say that he understands his duty somewhat differently. …

… Nixon complained that he could not get a break from the liberal press, that the Washington Post and the New York Times would go after him no matter what, that journalism had been replaced by vendetta. In 2015, when mobs threatened to descend upon a nonconformist pizzeria and burn it to the ground, the so-called liberals in the media cheered for the arsonists and argued that a business being threatened with violence for the unpopular political opinions of its owners is only getting “exactly what it deserved.”

The Indiana hysteria is an excellent indicator. Ron Fournier of National Journal, who for some reason is generally esteemed, argued with a straight face that Indiana’s freedom-of-religion law is “not unlike Jim Crow laws at all,” which is true if you ignore the slavery and categorical subjugation and the use of state violence in the service of a program of general political and social repression and the first few centuries of American history and all. Moral panics have their uses: If you convince yourself that your opponent is evil — not wrong, not operating from a set of values at variance with your own, but evil — then there is no crime of which he might not be suspected — and, more important, no crime that one might not commit oneself in order to frustrate his wicked aims.