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The Parallels of Trump and Nixon

by Kristina Vakhman

In 1987, former President Richard Nixon sent President Donald Trump a letter, urging him to run for office and foreseeing that he would win should he do so.

“I did not see the program, but Mrs. Pat Nixon told me that you were great on the Donahue Show,” Nixon wrote, referring to Trump’s appearance on “The Phil Donahue Show,” where he insisted the United States should receive compensation from countries it protects militarily. “As you can imagine, she is an expert on politics and she predicts whenever you decide to run for office, you will be a winner!”

That would not be the last time Nixon entered the current commander in chief’s life. Remnants of the 37th’s presidency, like “the silent majority” slogan and his rash unpredictability, thus far echo in the 45th’s.

However, where Nixon lives in Trump the most is in the sitting president’s detestation for the mainstream media.

Dr. Paul Petterson, an associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University who experienced the Nixon era firsthand, sees the congruence in the two presidents’ relationships with the press and the damaging severity of Trump’s.

“If [Trump’s relationship] is similar to anyone’s, it would be similar to Richard Nixon’s,” said Petterson. “But I think it’s even worse than Nixon’s because, I think, Nixon’s, at least — when the media caught him, ultimately he would come around to admitting certain things, whereas President Trump seems to be intent on repeating his own position even if it’s been proven inaccurate or false.”

Petterson later went on to say that Trump has had the worst relationship with the American media thus far. Petterson also noted that, much like Trump denouncing the legitimacy of any news not aligning with his rhetoric, Nixon and his administration did not appreciate and fight journalism that contradicted his views or sought flaws in his actions.

“He [Nixon] and his first vice-president, Spiro Agnew, had a very conflicted relationship with the media,” said Petterson. “Agnew called them ‘nattering nabobs of negativism,’ and was very intent on talking down the media because he felt the media never gave them a fair hearing — a fair shake. They were quite deliberately trying to control the message of the media and simply turned to hostility and trying to talk down the media because the media wasn’t just parading their positions. They wanted the media to be compliant, it wasn’t, and so they became hostile.”

Possibly the most vocal resemblance in Trump’s and Nixon’s views on the press is blacklisting them to their enemy list. Back in February, Trump tweeted that adversarial media outlets like The New York Times and CBS were not his enemy, but “the enemy of the American people.”

A declassified 1971 conversation between Nixon and his then-Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Thomas H. Moorer, revealed the 37th president’s replicated sentiments.

“The press is your enemy,” Nixon told Moorer. “Enemies. Understand that? Now, never act that way… give them a drink, you know, treat them nice, you just love it, you’re trying to be helpful. But don’t help the bastards. Ever. Because they’re trying to stick the knife right in our groin.”

As reporters honed in on incriminating details of the Watergate scandal — details that would eventually force Nixon to resign as they exposed the president of having participated in a cover-up after the break-in at the Democratic National Convention — Nixon’s disdain grew, leading him to tap journalists’ phones and try to destroy the careers of the most outspoken ones. In a similar fashion, Trump’s crusade against the media exploded disproportionately since the publication of the dossier alleging his campaign’s treasonous relations with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

In spite of these claims and their repercussions, Petterson explained that, at this point, there is nothing that can link Trump to treason or to push his impeachment. There is nothing truly damaging. The real issue is Trump’s paranoia, which Petterson views as worse than Nixon’s, as it prevents him from taking responsibility and acknowledging the legitimacy of a free press. Additionally, Petterson said that those comparing the Trump’s administration current state to Nixon’s during the Watergate scandal, and those wishing for Trump’s downfall, have no leverage.

“You’d have to find things that were being investigated and where questions were asked and answers were given and it turns out that those answers were lies, but the simple fact that those things may have occurred, in and of themselves, aren’t necessarily the same thing as Watergate,” said Petterson. “It feels the same. People would like it to be the same. You know, there are some people hoping that, okay, they can find some sort of smoking gun that forces Trump to resign, but you can’t simply equate it to Watergate.”

However, if this was around the time of Nixon’s election, Petterson said just these allegations would have been enough to send Trump to “political death.”

“They’d be chanting ‘Lock Him Up!’” said Petterson.