All the President’s Suckers

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Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are back together in the pages of the Washington Post. This time, in an op-ed marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Watergate break-in, they compare Nixon’s criminality with Trump’s. It should come as no surprise to anyone that they found Nixon’s criminality less in evidence.

If Nixon was anything he was more cunning than Trump. Where Trump was hamfisted and obvious, Nixon was nuanced and sneaky. Trump tried to undermine the 2020 election by loud boastful proclamations of a rigged system. Nixon secretly and cunningly undermined the one political opponent who could beat him, Edmund Muskie. Nixon sicced his “dirty tricks” people on Muskie and it killed Muskie’s campaign. It was a death by a thousand cuts.

Nixon engineered it so that he would face the weakest political candidate the Democrats had, George McGovern. Nixon knew he could easily defeat him. Trump, on the other hand, lacked Nixon’s political subtlety. Trump wanted to face Bernie Sanders in the election, the one candidate he thought he had the best chance of defeating. But he lacked Nixon’s finesse and was unable to pull it off.

We can’t know what Nixon would have done had he lost the 1972 election. But I think he would have behaved himself. He would have taken his lumps and transitioned out peacefully. He would never have tried what Trump tried. But then, those were different times. It is doubtful that any collection of Americans, no matter how fanatically right wing, could have been provoked into storming the Capitol in the name of Richard Nixon.

I suppose the most obvious difference between Nixon and Trump is the difference between a liar and a pathological liar, or the difference between a politician who relies on corrupt means to achieve his goals and a thoroughly corrupt politician.

I think on balance Nixon wanted to leave behind a legacy that was ultimately good for America, he simply didn’t foresee that his corrupt methods would defeat those goals. Trump, on the other hand, couldn’t care less whether he was good for America or not, just so long as it looked like he was. Trump was, first and foremost, in it for himself and no one else.

Another startling difference between Trump and Nixon is the baffling loyalty Trump has inspired. In the end Nixon couldn’t even get Barry Goldwater on his side. Trump maintains a strong base and many in Congress are still loyal to him. By 1976, two years after his ouster from office, Richard Nixon was a political has-been seldom mentioned by the press. In 2022, two years after his ouster, Donald Trump still makes daily headlines.

   

Perhaps it’s because there are more fools and suckers today than there were in Nixon’s time. It’s hard to compare one era with another. For one thing, today we have social media. It’s a place where the mainstream media is routinely labelled “fake news” by ignorant fools, and bafflingly bad ideas are embraced by those same ignorant fools because they came across those bad ideas in a meme. Maybe that’s the whole problem right there. Who knows? And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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