Why Trump will win: Remember Richard Nixon?

Okay, you’ve seen the headline above, and you’re reading this post to see if I’ve gone crazy. Well, no, I’m just accepting the inevitable.
Donald Trump is likely to win the presidency on November 8 because not enough Americans will realise how awful he will be and vote for him. They voted for Richard Nixon who claimed he was not a crook. But he was a crook and a liar and he ruined a generation of Americans. He had to resign on August 9, 1974 because of the Watergate scandal, and it was one of the happiest days of my life.
What does this have to do with Donald Trump? (A photo of him with fans above. Washington Post) Well, if you will allow me a certain amount of self-indulgence, I must return to 1971 when I was getting ready to go to Australia with my best mate, James McCausland, on an Israeli freighter. James was a financial journalist and we had met at United Press International in 1966 when I was a news editor, sending out three bulletins a day to ships at sea. He wrote the daily stock market report.
I had been teaching in Harlem for three years until I turned 26 and was no longer eligible for the draft. Teaching in a disadvantaged area made you exempt. A few of my mates who fought in Vietnam came to watch me teach, and said: “At least they gave us a gun.” (It wasn’t that bad!) When Richard Nixon bombed Cambodia in May of 1970, students around the US protested against what they saw was an incursion into another country; they had already been demonstrating against the war in Vietnam. The protests erupted into violence: Ohio National Guardsmen shot and killed four unarmed students at Kent State University. Such was the fear in New York of further violence that schools were closed down for a few days. Nixon thought it was the most successful military operation of the war. Many Americans of my generation believed it was a disaster and strengthened the Khmer Rouge cause which would eventually kill as many as three million Cambodians.
Given all this, Nixon was still able to convince Americans he would be a good president. As civil rights leaders marched around the country, fighting to desegregate schools, whites were battling to keep African Americans out of their suburbs. In 1971, Nixon pretended he was a statesman, not a politician trying to get re-elected. In his State of the Union address, he tried to sound like John F. Kennedy: “We have gone through a long, dark night of the American spirit. But now that night is ending. Now we must let our spirits soar again. Now we are ready for the lift of a driving dream.” I was telling any of my friends who would listen that Richard Nixon was a crook and a liar and they should not vote for him again.
Alas, many did, and Nixon won the election in a landslide against Senator George McGovern, whose campaign went pear-shaped after his running mate Tom Eagleton had to withdraw due to electric shock therapy for mental illness. Nixon had a 60 per cent approval rating. After my uncle died and left me enough money to get a flight back to the US and pay off my student loan in December 1972, I asked friends and neighbours what they thought about Tricky Dick. When they said I was right about Nixon, I asked why they voted for him. “We didn’t,” most of them said, to which I replied: “Well, how did he win by a landslide?” This was six months after the Watergate burglary and the Washington Post reported a scoop on October 10, 1972 from Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein: “FBI agents have established that the Watergate bugging incident stemmed from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage on behalf of President Nixon’s re-election and directed by officials of the White House and the Committee for the Re-Election of the President.” Despite all this, not just the burglary, but his love for the Silent Majority that alienated the liberals and his hatred for the Yippies and hippies, Richard Nixon was re-elected president. (Photo below of Nixon at Republican National Convention in Miami in 1968. AP file) Twenty months later he would resign, the only American president to do so.
Rick Perlstein, in his brilliant profile of the disgraced president, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (Scribner), points out that some people still believed McGovern would win, but not by a landslide. One of those was the legendary political columnist of the New York Times, Scotty Reston, who wrote on the Sunday before the election that he couldn’t believe the Gallup poll which showed 59-36 for the president. To believe the poll, said Reston, “you must also believe that the American people regret corruption but have accepted it as an unavoidable part of American life and really don’t care about all those millions of dollars given to the Republican party by a few rich men and women, all the secret funds, and the bugging and burglary of the Democratic party and the fake letters and political sabotage and the guerilla warfare used in this campaign …”
Scotty Reston was wrong, and I’m afraid that the nay-sayers in the media are making the same mistake with Donald Trump. The division that Nixon helped create is still with the American people, as Trump’s call to build a wall to keep Mexicans out, and make it more difficult for Muslims to get in, is reaching the majority who are no longer silent as they drink their Budweiser and watch Fox News. Hillary Clinton, if she wins the nomination, which is likely if she does as well on Super Tuesday as she did last weekend in South Carolina, will be the voice of reason and tolerance. It seems to me many Americans don’t want to listen to that. They’re angry, jobless and jaded and want to kick bums in Syria, particularly ISIS bums. Donald Trump is preaching to the converted. My preferred candidate, Bernie Sanders, said Trump was dividing America, and appealed to voters to unite against the likely Republican nominee (after Sanders’ big loss in South Carolina): “Let me be clear on one thing tonight. This campaign is just beginning. When we come together, and don’t let people like Donald Trump try to divide us, we can create an economy that works for all of us and not just the top 1 percent.”
Columnist David Brooks writing in the New York Times doesn’t mention Richard Nixon, but he believes Trump is “the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means. Trump represents the path the founders rejected. There is a hint of violence undergirding his campaign. There is always a whiff, and sometimes more than a whiff, of ‘I’d like to punch him in the face.’ I printed out a Times list of the insults Trump has hurled on Twitter. The list took up 33 pages. Trump’s style is bashing and pummeling. Everyone who opposes or disagrees with him is an idiot, a moron or a loser.” Nixon called people who opposed him idiots, morons or losers, and worse. Just listen to those tapes he recorded in the White House, if you can stand it.
Donald Trump excelled himself today in his ability to say outrageous things and get away with it – so far. When Jake Tapper of CNN asked Trump about white supremacist organisations like the Ku Klux Klan supporting him, specifically former KKK leader David Duke, he refused to disavow them:
Trump: “Well, I have to look at the group. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I would have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them. And, certainly, I would disavow them if I thought there was something wrong.”
Tapper: “The Ku Klux Klan?”
Trump: “But you may have groups in there that are totally fine, and it would be very unfair. So give me a list of the groups, and I will let you know.”
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote about the KKK comment and a Trump retweet of a Mussolini quote: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” Trump said on NBC’s Meet the Press: “What does it matter if it’s a quote by Mussolini or somebody else? It’s certainly a very interesting quote.” Cillizza claims neither of these comments will adversely affect Trump on Super Tuesday: “For his supporters — and, at this point, that’s a lot of people — his willingness to completely spurn the political-correctness police is the very thing that draws them to him. And, his unwillingness to apologize when scolded by the news media or other Republican politicians for some of his inflammatory remarks make his backers love him all the more: He’s edgy! He’s anti-establishment! He tells it like it is!”
I think Donald Trump is likely to win because Americans are divided, angry, tired of politicians and political correctness, hypocrisy, broken promises, Wall Street and banks. I could go on, but then I would sound like Donald Trump. I’m planning on going back later this year to the US for a university reunion, and I will be asking people if they’ll be voting for Trump. I think the majority will say yes. I hope I’m wrong.
It will be an interesting campaign if the two most likely candidates secure their parties’ nominations: Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton: The billionaire takes on Madame Secretary. Both have baggage, but the difference is that Trump doesn’t appear to care if he wins or loses.(I think Bernie Sanders would have a better chance of beating Trump, but Super Tuesday might kill his chances.)
But if Trump does become president of the United States, it’s unlikely to be the end of the world. After all, Richard Nixon was president for five years and eight months and America survived.
And this was what Hunter S. Thompson, the master of gonzo journalism and the man who could have written the best Trump biography if he were still alive, had to say about the ignominious president in his 1994 Rolling Stone obituary (reprinted in Atlantic magazine):
“Richard Nixon is gone now, and I am poorer for it. He was the real thing — a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. He lied to his friends and betrayed the trust of his family. Not even Gerald Ford, the unhappy ex-president who pardoned Nixon and kept him out of prison, was immune to the evil fallout. Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that ‘I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon’.”

8 thoughts on “Why Trump will win: Remember Richard Nixon?

  1. As always Tom, you nailed it
    Great piece. As you noted Nixon ruined America for a whole generation. Trump has the potential to ruin it for three generations!
    Arguably one of the most important Presidential elections in our life time. Thing is Trump’s legacy would extended past our time on this planet . Looking forward to your next blog as always. Flemo

    • Thanks, Flemo. Trump has the capacity to be worse than Nixon, but if he does win, I don’t think he will get a second chance at the presidency. This time, surely, American voters will see the error of their ways. Fingers crossed! Cheers, Tom

  2. Another good one, Tom. Roz and Imare in the “hold your nose and vote for Hillary” camp. My great hope is that the Trump lovers will stay on their couches with their Buds and Fox News and not make it to the polls. Jim

    Sent from my iPad Jim Morgan


    • Hi Jim, Thanks for that. Yes, I’m hoping Bernie can somehow win a few more states and at least keep Hillary left of centre. I don’t think the Trump lovers will stay on their couches. I think hate motivates them. Fingers crossed. Best to Roz. Cheers, Tom

  3. What a great read Tom. You have put it in a nutshell.
    I too can’t believe the rise and rise of Donald Trump. I really had more
    faith in the American people than to even consider him for the Presidency.
    Your Nixon comparison strikes a chord, but it seems it is completely lost on
    the American populace.
    It’s sure going to be a great campaign to watch unfold…..A shame it will be like watching a car crash happen.

    • Hi Moshe, Thanks your kind words. I used to have faith in the American people until they voted for Richard Nixon. That was certainly the point I was trying to make — don’t make the same mistake again. I still don’t believe they voted for him the second time in 1972 — after Watergate! Your analogy about a car crash is apt. I do have some friends in the US who still believe Bernie can win the nomination and then beat Trump, but it’s a long shot. Cheers, Tom

  4. I sure hope you are wrong my friend!

    I will get back to you soon about the various events, we just found out about the big ones. Registration is not until the very end of March . But for planning purposes there is an event for our class Thursday evening which is casual but should be nice, See you soon, B

    Elizabeth K Keech 610 291 4984 ________________________________

    • Hi Betty, Thanks for that. I hope I am wrong, too. It was a cry in the wilderness for those contemplating a vote for Donald Trump. I’ll keep Thursday open, and look forward to hearing from you. Best to Tom. Cheers, Tom

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