Home > Uncategorized > In his final days in office, Trump is proving to be even more dangerous than Nixon was – posted 11/22/2020

In his final days in office, Trump is proving to be even more dangerous than Nixon was – posted 11/22/2020

Back in 2018, I wrote about the Watergate parallels that connect President Trump and President Nixon. Even in Trump’s final days in office, eerie parallels hold. I would argue though that Trump is proving to be more dangerous than Nixon ever was.

At his end as President, Nixon faced articles of impeachment (a fate Trump has already survived). Nixon was utterly incapacitated by the fear that he would be forced out of the presidency. As described by Woodward and Bernstein in their book, “The Final Days”, Nixon was isolated at the end. He drank heavily and he was unable to sleep.

Like Trump, he spent his final days as president brooding about his deteriorating circumstances. He famously wandered the halls of the White House at night, weeping and giving speeches to the portraits on the wall. Meanwhile, his chief of staff, General Alexander Haig, ran things. Haig worried that Nixon might commit suicide. Haig worked with Nixon’s doctors to limit his access to pills and tranquilizers. Nixon told Haig,

“You fellows, in your business, you have a way of handling problems like this. Somebody leaves a pistol in the drawer. I don’t have a pistol.”

His aides believed Nixon might order tanks and armored personnel carriers to surround the White House to block his removal if things reached that point and he was ordered removed from office by Congress or the Supreme Court. There were active discussions about invoking the 25th Amendment because the President was appearing incapacitated to White House staff.

There was also concern that Nixon might not be willing to leave the White House. Defense Secretary James Schlesinger worried that troops might be needed to physically remove Nixon. Sound familiar?

Before Nixon’s end, it is worth recalling his schemes. Most infamously, Nixon had an enemies’ list. The list initially had twenty names and it included people like the actor Paul Newman, Congressman John Conyers and the CBS broadcaster Daniel Schorr. The list expanded to about 200 prominent Democrats. It even included New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath.

Nixon henchman Charles Colson turned the list over to White House counsel John Dean on September 9, 1971. The document described “how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political opponents”.

Nixon’s goal was to discredit and silence his political adversaries. Like with Trump, revenge mattered to Nixon. He wanted payback on those who opposed him. Nixon wanted to use the IRS to audit and investigate the names on his list.

Nixon was not successful in this endeavor as he could not get the cooperation of the IRS Commissioner, Johnnie Walters. Walters refused to weaponize the IRS against Nixon’s enemies.

In a recorded conversation in the Oval Office, Nixon laid out his view of the job qualifications for the IRS Commissioner:

“I want to be sure he is a ruthless son of a bitch, that he will do what he’s told, that every income tax return I want to see I see, that he will go after our enemies and not go after our friends. Now it’s as simple as that. If he isn’t, he doesn’t get the job.”

After Walters rebuffed Nixon, on September 15, 1972 in another recorded White House conversation with John Dean, Nixon said, “Well, he’s going to be out. He’s finished.”

The mis-use of IRS tax audits made it into the articles of impeachment filed against Nixon. Trump has used his long-time lie that he is under a tax audit to avoid disclosure of his own taxes.

About Nixon’s enemies list, his successor as president Gerald Ford quipped, “Who can’t keep his enemies in his head has got too many enemies”.

There can be little doubt Trump has an enemies list and that list is long. It is not clear if that list has been written down. Someday, history will probably tell us. Trump has demanded absolute blind loyalty. There have been so many firings over the last four years, I would need pages to list all the names.

The list is not just the famous like James Comey, John Bolton, Andrew McCabe, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman or Christopher Krebs. It includes the names of many government officials who have been replaced or slated for replacement by pro-Trump loyalists. Part of Trump corruption is removing civil servants deemed disloyal and replacing them with hacks and political cronies.

One difference with Nixon, Trump has been far more successful in retaining the support of Republican leaders even after losing. Nixon faced significant defection on the House Judiciary Committee on the impeachment charges of obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

In August 1974, Senator Barry Goldwater and other GOP leaders met with Nixon and told him that if he did not resign, he would be impeached. Nixon had lost support in his party even though he still commanded the support of a hardcore of loyalists.

Today’s Republican Party, with few exceptions, has remained slavishly devoted to the Trump cult. This is true even in the aftermath of a decisively lost election. The Republican Party remains a study in amoral cowardice. Putting party above country, the party has passively collaborated with Trump’s attempt to overturn the popular vote and democracy.

While Nixon degenerated with alcohol abuse and self-pity, Trump has not gone that route. When not golfing, Trump has worked feverishly to figure out a way to hang onto power even in the face of a well-run election with no voter fraud.

Unlike Nixon, Trump has maintained a stronger hold on his party’s base. Many Republican politicians live in fear that whatever happens with the election, Trump will stay on as a kingmaker, purging those whom he feels were insufficiently loyal. Trump’s power over Republicans remains the fear he can have them primaried if they do not pass his flunkey test.

I do not see a gracious concession speech in Trump’s future. He is too committed to his narrative of winning even though he lost. The next six weeks before Joe Biden’s inauguration will be a good indicator of how low and demagogic Trump will be willing to get. Nixon at least in the end accepted his fate. So far that cannot be said about Trump.

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