Trump and Nixon

By Ravenne Reid on May 16, 2017

On July 21, 2016, candidate Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president with a speech that strayed far away from painting a hopeful and promising picture of our country in order to instigate fear into voters.

He stated the following.

“Our Convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life … Americans watching this address tonight have seen the recent images of violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities. Many have witnessed this violence personally, some have even been its victims.”

It’s pretty dark, right?

It’s also Nixonian in nature. Inciting fear in the electorate is actually a Republican tactic that was used by none other than President Nixon himself. In 1968, he introduced the Southern Strategy, which prompted Republican efforts to exclude minorities from their base and appeal to white Southerners.

According to Ken Mehlman, the former Republican National Committee Chairman, “[As] the Democratic Party solidified its gains in the African-American community, Republicans … gave up on winning that vote by looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization.”

If the Strategy were simply a byproduct of Republicans’ ineffective outreach to black Americans, then, more than likely, the result would not have been as successful. Because the tactic instilled anger, ethnocentric values, and mostly fear in white Americans, the Southern Strategy was successful in getting President Nixon into the White House.

In his Republican National Convention speech in 1968, former President Nixon said:

“As we look at America, we see cities enveloped in smoke and flame. We hear sirens in the night. We see Americans dying on distant battlefields abroad. We see Americans hating each other; fighting each other; killing each other at home. And as we see and hear these things, millions of Americans cry out in anguish.”

It’s pretty dark, right?

It was this speech that gave political pundits the leeway that they needed to start drawing comparisons between the impeached president and the Republican candidate. Was it too early for political commentators to do so? Yes, especially considering the fact that Trump was conceived to be the underdog on the upcoming Election Night.

But were they wrong for doing so? No, because it is evident that Trump’s most negative attributes thus far — specifically, his rhetoric and actions — have mirrored President Nixon’s in two ways: their shared disdain for the press and their decision to fire FBI directors who are obliged to investigate potential crimes that pertain to political sabotage.

In regards to the press, former President Nixon, like all presidents at some point, was not pleased with the way that members of the media chose to cover his campaign and administration. To be criticized every step of the way while doing the most important job in the world is not easy, which is why some presidents would prevent their staff from doing interviews with journalists or obstruct certain news networks from attending press briefings.

Although these efforts may be a commonality now, back then, it was unheard of. And, Nixon did not merely think that the press got in his way, he actually thought that they were out to get him. He stated the following in a private phone call between national security advisers Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig: “Never forget, the press is the enemy.” Please make note of the fact that I italicized “private” in the previous sentence because the importance of this word will be discussed further.

To be fair, Nixon’s paranoia mixed with his determination to keep his secrets secret turned every person and every institution into the so-called “enemy,” not just the press. That does not make it right, but in a way, the collective antipathy made it fair. Everyone had the capacity to be an adversary. But because members of the press were the only people who had the capacity, the resources, AND the integrity to reveal the secrets behind the Watergate scandal, they became enemy number one.

On June 17, 1972, four Cuban exiles associated with the CIA and James McCord, who was Nixon’s security director at the time, were caught trying to wiretap phones and steal documents from the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington’s Watergate office. In an attempt to cover this up, President Nixon secretly raised money for the five men and also tried to stop the FBI from gaining more information on the crime by indirectly firing him.

Initially, Nixon directed Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor who was responsible for looking into the robbery at Watergate. However, Richardson refused to do so because he knew that such a move would put his career on the line. In addition to that, Richardson promised the Congressional Oversight Committee that he would not interfere with the investigation, so he resigned from his position.

Desperate, Nixon then assigned Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus the task of firing Cox. But he had also promised Congress not to interfere, so he refused and resigned accordingly. Finally, Nixon turned to Solicitor General Robert Bork, who had not made any prior promises to Congress, to do the job immediately after being sworn in as Acting Attorney General. Eventually, in light of these controversial events, Nixon himself resigned before impeachment.

Remember when I italicized “private”? Well, please make note of the word “indirectly” above. Although the comparisons between Nixon and Trump are not entirely similar, it is important that some, if any, distinctions are clearly made between the two.

Let’s review: former President Nixon privately criticized the press and indirectly fired the prosecutor in charge of handling a political sabotage scandal. Even though Nixon was never prosecuted for the crime, the Watergate scandal “changed American politics forever, leading many Americans to question their leadership and think more critically about the presidency.”

And, this increased willingness to scrutinize the president has not been lost on the survivors of the 2016 election. However, it is becoming quite clear that the lessons that we have learned from the Watergate scandal did not prepare us for President Trump, a man who has criticized the press publicly (and repeatedly) and fired FBI director James Comey directly.

Trump is vocal about his hatred for the press and expresses this aversion by labeling multiple news organizations as disgusting, dishonest, failing, and for the most part, fake. The “fake news” phenomena spread among his supporters, who grew tired of seeing their choice for president become the victim of bad publicity. So his opinions about the press were not brushed off; instead, they become threats, costing media outlets their viewers, readers, and profits.

And Trump did not stop there. He even said something strikingly similar to Nixon when discussing how he views the press: “I think that the media is the opposition party in many ways.”

Unlike Nixon, this opinion was stated publicly, in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. Trump let his supporters know that the press cannot be trusted because they are out to get him.

Of course, this is what Nixon believed too, but his animosity towards critics was not blatant or detrimental. In Nixonian fashion, he does not let his guard down around the press and does not allow them to do their jobs as watchdogs without the fear of condemnation. But what he does do is exacerbate Nixon’s tactics to their journalists — and people who wish to hold him accountable for their actions — into the enemy.

Speaking of holding him accountable, last Wednesday, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was presiding over the investigation of the Trump/Russia scandal, which looks into whether or not the president was an accomplice to the Russian hackers who interfered in our election to help him win. But before he saw Comey as a threat, Trump praised him.

Back in October, the then Republican presidential candidate Trump applauded him for having “a lot of guts” to re-open the criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. In other words, instead of using the appropriate State Department email, Clinton used a private email address on servers located in her New York home.

This act was constituted as potential “criminal activity” because the State Department was not capable of reviewing her emails when the House Select Committee on Benghazi asked to see them after four Americans died under Clinton’s authority. But rather than showing all of the emails, she deleted over 30,000, stating that they pertained to her personal matters.

Even though that was never proven to be true or not, she was not prosecuted for her mishandling of classified emails. Although Comey had called Clinton’s efforts “extremely careless,” he did not find enough evidence to accuse her of being treacherous. And, after re-opening a dead-end investigation a month before the election, Comey came to the same conclusion yet again. Why?  Because, according to the LA Times, most of the emails were “either duplicates of messages the FBI already had reviewed or were personal in nature.”

Comey wrote the following after closing the previously closed investigation into Clinton’s emails: “During that process, we have reviewed all of the communications that were to or from Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State. Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July with respect to Secretary Clinton.”

Of course, this monumental mistake was grounds for his dismissal way before last Wednesday, but Trump took pride in the fact that he could publicly express his admiration for someone who helped him win the election (who was not Russian). On his second day as president, he hugged Mr. Comey and remarked, “He’s become more famous than me.”

Fast forward to the present, the decision to fire him came as a surprise to both sides of the aisle. Although Democrats practically loathed Comey for potentially changing the minds of early voters in October, they were even more irritated with the fact that Trump fired him just days after he asked for more resources to complete the investigation (i.e., the president’s tax returns). No matter what party you identify with or whether or not you are a fan of the president, that is extremely suspicious.

After the firing, in an interview with Lester Holt, Trump stated:

“As far as I’m concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly. Maybe I’ll expand that, you know, lengthen the time (of the Russia probe) because it should be over with, in my opinion, should have been over with a long time ago. Because all it is, is an excuse but I said to myself, I might even lengthen out the investigation, but I have to do the right thing for the American people.”

Correct me if I am wrong, but if the president was so willing to hasten the investigation, wouldn’t he have been eager to hand over the extra resources that Mr. Comey needed to do just that? If there is absolutely nothing to hide, then why fire the head of the Russian probe? Why subject yourself to any more scrutiny than you already undergo?

It is times like this that make me not only question authority but also look at my representatives in government shamefully. There are so many questions, but not enough answers with this administration. And, there are so many people in his Cabinet who are willing to point blame, but not take it, including the president.

While Trump and Nixon do differ in some aspects, their rhetoric and actions are so allied that we have to ask ourselves if the president has been telling the truth all along. Did he help Russian hackers interfere with our election? Did he pay them off to do so? Maybe we will never know at this point.

In addition to the fact that he shuts out journalists whenever he has the opportunity, he will be hiring a new FBI director who will more than likely remain loyal to the president, despite his or her oath to stay devoted to the American people. Because, in the age of Trump, loyalty not only binds us, but it also blinds us.

We learned that from the age of Nixon, too. History has, undoubtedly, repeated itself. Trump is a Nixonian president, and we cannot let his cronies try to prove otherwise.

By Oliver F. Atkins (1916-1977) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ravenne is a sophomore at CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, and she currently majors in political science. In addition to that, she also minors in journalism and film studies.

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