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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Nixon and Trump

Q.  How much, really, does Donald Trump resemble Richard Nixon?
A.  A lot.

Q.  What has changed in the last 45 years?
A.   The world around them.

In October 1971--long before Watergate, but subsequent to the Pentagon Papers release and the formation of the Plumbers unit--Richard Nixon saw something on the evening news that he did not like.  An INS California regional director named George Rosenberg had ordered a raid on a company owned by Romana Banuelos, whom Nixon had nominated to be Treasurer of the United States, and arrested dozens of illiegal immigrants.  Nixon called Attorney General John Mitchell the next day with specific instructions.

 "The fellow out there in the Immigration Service..is a kike by the name of Rosenberg. He is to be out. He is to be out. Transfer him to some other place out of Los Angeles. I don't give a goddamn what the story is.

There's one thing that I want done and I don't want any argument about it. I want you to direct the most trusted person you have in the Immigration Service that they are to look over all of the activities of the Los Angeles Times — all, underlined. And they are to send their teams in to see whether they are violating the wetback thing.

"Now let me explain, 'cause as a Californian, I know. Everybody in California hires them. There's no law against it, because they are there, because — for menial things and so forth. Otis Chandler — I want him checked with regard to his gardener. I understand he's a wetback. Is that clear?"

Nixon had come to Washington in 1947 (the same year that I did, via a different route), when the Republican Party had been railing for 15 years against the bureaucracies created by FDR's New Deal, and had joined the hue and cry about socialists and Communists within the government.  His view of the bureaucracy was the same as Trump's and Fox News's view of the "Deep State": that it teemed with hostile forces determined to do him in.  He centralized power over foreign policy under Henry Kissinger in the White House, and after his re-election, he planned a significant purge of the bureaucracy--a plan that had to be abandoned because of Watergate.    In this instance, he combined his prejudice against bureaucrats with his prejudice against Jews.  (The whole exchange can be heard in the HBO documentary, Nixon in His Own Words, which reproduced many choice excerpts from the Nixon tapes.)  The media was an even more common target of such outbursts, both in writing and in print, and was every bit as convinced as Trump that the New York Times and the Washington Post were purveyors of "fake news" and deserved retaliation for it.  In retrospect it is not surprising that the Pentagon Papers set him off the way they did, since it involved those two newspapers and a Harvard-educated intellectual bureaucrat of Jewish ancestry named Daniel Ellsberg,.

Nixon was worried that Ellsberg and unknown co-conspirators might release more secrets about his own Administration that might torpedo his Vietnam policy, and that is why the Pentagon Papers led to the formation of the Plumbers Unit (to do things the FBI would not do) and eventually to Watergate.  But the case of George Rosenberg was more typical of what happened after Nixon's outbursts.  Nothing happened to him, as far as is known, because Nixon's subordinates knew better than to take that particular order seriously.  Nor did the public learn anything about Nixon's vendetta towards Rosenberg for many decades.

Like Trump, Nixon was a narcissist who could not accept any opposition to himself personally or to his his policies.  He too felt the need to vent his hatred on almost a daily basis.  But Nixon had grown up in an era in which bright young men understood that they had to make a good impression on their elders, and keep their nastiest feelings to themselves.  In public he almost always maintained an iron self-control, and his aides collaborated in keeping his inner self away from the public.  That is why the American people were so shocked by the language in the tapes that were released in 1973-4, even though they had to wait much longer to hear the most revealing ones.

Trump, on the other hand, grew up while his contemporaries were joyfully tearing down traditional emotional restraints, as well as restrictions on language, clothing styles, and what could be seen and heard in movies and on television.  He built his persona on unrestrained excess, and when he entered politics, he built his appeal around unrestrained hatred, free of any code words.  And Trump, unlike Nixon, communicates directly with the public.  So it was that, at about 1:00 AM last night, Trump broadcast the following tweet, which represents a new low in Presidential conduct.

Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!"

McCabe, a 21-year veteran of the FBI, had risen to the position of deputy director of the Bureau under James Comey, and had played key roles in investigations, or projected investigations, into Hillary Clinton's emails, the Clinton foundation, and the Trump campaign's connection to Russia. What seems to have turned him into a prime target of Trump and his administration is that his wife Jill had run for Virginia State Senator (before 2016) as a Democrat and had received six-figure contributions from long-time Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe. (President Trump, with customary fidelity to the facts, claimed in a tweet last July, "Problem is that the acting head of the FBI & the person in charge of the Hillary investigation, Andrew McCabe, got $700,000 from H for wife!" After pressure from the White House, McCabe agreed to retire from the bureau early this year and took a leave of absence. That was not good enough for Trump and Jeff Sessions, and an internal FBI investigation has found him guilty of a lack of candor regarding an investigation of a Wall Street Journal article in October 2016 about the FBI and the Clinton probes. The specific accusations remain secret, and there is no hope that the current Congress will look into this episode. McCabe's firing, which could possibly cost him his pension, is a new building block in the false narrative that Trump needs to fire Robert Mueller and end the investigation of his links with Russia.
Nixon came into office when the prestige of the US government was still
very great, both at home and abroad, and when Presidents were still in some sense answerable to both their own party and to the media and the public at large. That kept him in check, in many ways, for much of his presidency, and eventually brought him down after he had stepped outside the bounds of normal behavior. There are no similar cultural of political checks on Trump, who is now the unchallenged leader of the Republican Party, who is terrorizing his leading subordinates into obedience, and who speaks with the American people directly through Twitter and in other ways. I am pretty certain that we have never--literally never--had a President who publicly talks about political opponents and bureaucrats the way he does, because every previous President recognized that he and his office stood for something bigger and had a dignity that he had to try to preserve. Trump comes from my generation which believed that it was not bound by any previous standards. Little did we know half a century ago, when Mark Rudd was orchestrating the collapse of Columbia University, that another Mark Rudd would some day occupy the White House.


Bozon said...


Very interesting and thought provoking article.

Regarding Nixon's anti Semitism, which came out later, I would just note that he apparently was, and remained, in close contact with the relatively new neocon movement, a movement as you yourself have noted, was started by Orthodox Jews re Israel's plight.

Nixon created the Israel US Alliance, singlehandedly, actually; this has been huge in American international relations..... that continuing millstone around our necks.

See the book Jewish Power, Index, Nixon.

All the best

Ed Boyle said...

Nice article from 2010 on Nixon's relatively moderate opinions on various ethnic groups. Trump seems to be insensitive, abrasive. Nixon's comments, opinions about his fellow Americans of various ethnic origin seem based on experienced obsrvation of how the situation was then. Maybe things have changed. Is one allowed to speak about 'the Irish', 'Italians', 'Jews', or'Blacks'in a group sense without an accusation of racism being made. Often I compare my parents, poor Irish catholic father, middle class English mother to discern how I came to my present emotional makeup. My wife's russian/german makeup with its emotional vs. very exacting temperament is similarly disparate. People are not just individuals any more than robins, crows or parakeets are. Of course I enjoy astrology and can analyze anyone to death over their horoscope and ignore sex/race completely. Many friendships/marriages succeed due to personal issues. My parents were virgo/capricorn, my wife's parents, cancer/scorpion and me and my wife have very close astrological connection. In muslim countries many marry cousins, earlier was very typical, Einstein for example. This makes for less social stress. However, as you professor, with your mixed background can attest to, this would be less stressful, less interesting personally. Unfortunately for society as a whole when all of us are constantly looking for contacts the situation can be more difficult when we are all mixed ethnic/ mixed racially and self segregating in times of economic stress in almost paranoid ideological groupings based on precisely the discussion of whether or not our personal ethnic background is discussable or not. Once we get to know people personally background can be overcome, at least partially, thougb never fully. One must take everything into account. As a politician policeman, teacher stereotypes form over time. This helps for quick decision making, basic survival. A group of young white women well dressed, approach me on the street. I feel attraction perhaps. A group of young black men in leather jackets, or young white tattooed muscular types then I could be afraid.

I think the current atmosphere is one of crisis mode where everyone is reacting instinctively, atavisticallly, purely out of fear, childhood programming. In generational theory we are at our end. Trump is like a NYC cab driver, born for such times. He can take the stress without batting an eyelid and cuss with the best of them. Nixon was average middle class neurotic conservative white male. Both had probably identical racial stereotypes ingrained and observed personally. Both had strong ties to jews, Israel, despite probable massive mistrust. One overcomes ones fears of any other group one lives with closely but as Lenin said 'trust but check'. A mixed society can be chaotic. The risk of civil war is clear as in yugoslavia or shia/sunni areas. The old majority Northern European 'Whites' are losing predominance in USA and a backlash against leftwing minority oriented politics, southern European, African base ethnics is result. Dems vs. Repubs is north/south divide ethnically.

Bruce Wilder said...

. . . every previous President recognized that he and his office stood for something bigger and had a dignity that he had to try to preserve.
Yeah, sure. That is why George W Bush lied the country into the invasion of Iraq and the botched occupation that followed. Why Obama presided over a huge financial crisis brought on by rampant fraud and could find almost no one to prosecute. Why Clinton turned his post-Presidency into a perpetual shakedown to finance his Foundation. Dignity. Hah.
We did not fall off a cliff from some high plateau of normal; we slid down a long, slimy slope to get to Trump.

The nation's modern foreign policy establishment -- founded in effect by Woodrow Wilson -- has become a deranged Blob (are you familiar with this reference?). Trump, as personally unprepared as he is, could not be worse than Hillary Clinton, who learned the lesson of Iraq and applied it in Libya and wanted to do so as well in Syria, and who thought Saudi funding of America's enemies a PR problem.

As bizarre as the spectacle of Larry Kudlow may be as an economic advisor, the Democratic Party establishment is owned by the financial sector and that is just a fact.
There are many precedents in history for earnest liberals failing to behave responsibly or with even minimal integrity and what followed was authoritarian reaction. We may be experiencing something similar in this generation's incapacity responsible public action or even bare sanity. The fecklessness with which Dems "oppose" Trump scares me as much as Trump himself.