Donald Trump as Tricky Dick Reincarnated
I’m not the first person to notice the many similarities between Trump and Nixon. And if events in Washington unfold as I think they will, I won’t be the last. Roger Stone, Trump’s friend and author of a book about the 2016 election, makes a strong comparison between the two presidents. There even exists a letter from Nixon urging Trump to run for office. The question is whether the similarities are superficial and coincidental or a predictor of another Presidential downfall.
Both men elicited strong reactions from their supporters and detractors and neither Trump nor Nixon were very popular with the Republican establishment. Insiders wanted someone else. In the case of Nixon, it was Romney, Rockefeller, or Reagan. In the case of Trump it was anybody else. Both were elected in a divided country, by appealing to fear, and by convincing the working classes and elderly that voting for a Democrat would destroy life as we know it.
In Nixon’s case, the fear was more justified. First, Civil Rights issues and then Vietnam had torn the country apart. Rioting and looting by the black residents in cities such as Detroit and LA frightened the average American. The armed militancy of the Black Panthers, the bombings carried out by the Weatherman, and the violent demonstrations in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention fanned the fears of the middle class (particularly in the South) into a victory for Nixon. Trump used the reality of the shrinking middle class and blamed it on immigrants (falsely) and the Washington establishment (correctly). It is interesting that both Nixon and Trump were each elected by 26% of the eligible voters in 1968 and 2016 respectively. Of course Nixon won the popular vote as well, while Trump claims to have done the same but did not.
That brings us to the most striking similarity between the two men, at least in my mind… their penchant for prevarication. Nixon ran as a law and order candidate (sound familiar?) and used a “war on drugs” as a cover for attacking black communities and pot-smoking anti-war protestors. This was recently confirmed by former Nixon aide, John Ehrlichman. Both Nixon and Trump accused the media of lying or distorting the truth (projection no doubt) and both conducted campaigns against the media. Trump lies so often and so casually, it’s hard to believe it is as purposeful as Nixon’s lies. Time after time videotape proves that Trump said something that he later denies saying. He lied about Iraq, Libya, abortion, and Clinton among others. More recently, his statements about health care are being proven to be incorrect. He even lies about insignificant things such as the size of his inauguration crowd or whether it was raining. But I could be wrong; maybe lying is part of Trump’s strategy. There are those who think he uses it to distract from his actions. But I’m not convinced; I think Trump often doesn’t know he’s lying. I think he says whatever he thinks/believes at any particular moment. His off-the-cuff utterances become true and if called on it, he won’t back down.
And that highlights another similarity. Nixon flat out said that if the president does something it is, by definition, legal. Trump and his spokesmen have alluded to the same belief, particularly in the case of the executive travel ban. Both Trump and Nixon trend toward being easily insulted and paranoid. In Nixon’s case, his paranoia, particularly about voter fraud, was understandable. Tens of thousands of dead people in Chicago and Houston swung a close election from Nixon to Kennedy in 1960. Trump’s claims of voter fraud have been disproven but his paranoia might be justified. A lot of people really hate him. Every president in my lifetime has had haters. But even the Obama haters have nothing on the anti-Trump crowd. It’s the worst I’ve seen since, that’s right, Richard Milhous Nixon, aka Tricky Dick.
The real question is not about all of the similarities between Nixon and Trump, but whether they will share a similar fate. At the risk of being wrong again about Trump (I predicted HRC would win), I think the answer is yes. Nixon was brought down by his own paranoia which expressed itself partly in the form of a secret recording system. These secret tapes proved to be his downfall.The media and government agencies went after him, first taking down his staff and then him. The irony for Trump’s future demise may lie in the misnamed “Deep State.” What Trump and his Fox flacks call deep state is merely a governmental bureaucracy that is scared out of its collective mind by Trump’s ignorance of government operations as well as his stated goal of getting rid of their jobs.
Bureaucrats are, by and large, nonpartisan and are pretty evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Upper management tends towards being politically driven since many of them are appointed by the current administration, but regular federal workers want to protect their paychecks and the best way of getting and keeping a federal job for 25-30 years is to not be overtly political. Since Trump is hostile to all of them, the intelligence community in particular, I expect that any damaging information about Trump will eventually surface, first in print and then in court.
The evidence that Trump and his campaign have closer ties to Russia than is appropriate or legal is mounting. Comey’s sworn testimony that the FBI is investigating the Trump administration is a lot more serious than Trumpists are willing to acknowledge. Exhibit A is my colleague’s refusal to admit that the Russians interfered with the 2016 election is spite of all of the evidence that they did. Whether they were successful in influencing the outcome or not is unprovable and subject to debate. That they tried, however, is a fact. The twenty or so percent of the country that supports “The Donald” will never abandon him no matter what evidence there is that he broke the law (assuming that he did break the law and that the evidence will surface).
The current situation reminds me of when Nixon had been reelected in 1972. Nixon’s aides started getting picked off and then squealed until enough evidence had come to light that Nixon’s impeachment became certain. The cover-up turned out to be worse than the crime. Which may end up being another similarity. As for Trump, I think there’s too much smoke for there not to be a fire. Trump and his son have bragged for years about their financial and personal ties to Russia in general and Putin in particular. I think it is only a question of time before hard evidence of serious misconduct surfaces. And, like Nixon, the cover-up may be worse than the actual misdeeds.
Since Ryan and McConnell hate Trump, as do many Republicans, they will impeach Trump with great glee. They would much rather see Mike Pence in office than Trump. If I had to bet, I’d bet they get their wish. As soon as Trump is no longer useful to them and they have enough evidence to support impeachment, they will strike. And then historians will generate a plethora of dissertations on the similarities between two of the most hated presidents in history. The final irony is that Trump will then be more famous than he has always thought he should be.