Saturday, October 8, 2016

Trump and the Downfall of Nixon

What is happening to Trump right now reminds me of a story I would like to relate about Richard Nixon.

I was a research student at Cambridge University in the early eighties.  Obviously, my fellow students were intelligent and well informed people.  On a number of occasions they asked me if, as an American, why, with all of the abominable things Nixon had done in his political career, this seemingly insignificant episode was the one that destroyed him.  After thinking about it, here is my explanation:

There were always two narratives about Nixon.  One, the Republican party line, involved Nixon, the brilliant politician and statesman who could be counted on to deal with any crisis, domestic or foreign. In the other narrative, Nixon was, not to beat around the bush, a crook.  The evidence on the Watergate tapes, much of it coming directly from Nixon and spoken in his own voice, was simply irreconcilable with the first view of Nixon, and left the vast majority of Americans with no understanding of him except the second.

Sad to say, things on the right side of the aisle have deteriorated since those days, and today the Republicans are willing to tolerate leaders who are far beneath Nixon, but still we end up dealing with a similar situation.  There are again two narratives about Trump.  In the Republican party line, he is a plain spoken man of the people, free of entanglements with the elite (despite how ludicrous that is, given his life of wealth) who can be counted on to think of his fellow Americans first, and only act in their best interest. In the other narrative, he is a crude, violence loving, sociopathic bully.  Well, again, a tape has emerged, featuring Trump speaking for himself, that makes it impossible for any rational person to really buy into the Republican party-line view.  That only leaves the other explanation for his behavior.

Of course, today a large part of the Republican base has been so systematically desensitized to even the most basic human decency, that they just don't care.  For them, it's all about whoever will promise them the biggest tax cuts and the best chance to beat up on the coloreds, and they would vote for Heinrich Himmler if he would tell them what they want to hear. Still, it is not just the sickening nature of Trump's comments that is important here- he has said plenty that is more disgusting in the last few months.  It is that, as with Nixon, he has done something that just can't be reconciled with any positive interpretation of his character. And that is why this incident is going to be eternally associated with him, whether or not it causes him to be forced out of the Presidential race.

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