Lies and Deceit -A Country Out of Order
Has it begun to feel the country has gone completely Mad? Or is it deja vu all over again.
The ceaseless onslaught of breaking news, scandals and denials making our heads spin. Covert ops and deep cover ups, damning leaks and sly subterfuge. Lies and litigation.
A nation deeply divided with daily demonstrations on the street. And occupying the White House, a President morbidly sensitive to slights, his obsession with his enemies verging on paranoia. A President prone to abuses of power. Vindictive. A score settler squirreling away grudges, whose contempt for the press is legendary and extreme.
That was life in these United States in 1971 when Mad Magazine ran this cover, its ominous message just as apt about the state of our nation today.
Lately pundits have been playing the Nixon card mentioning RN in the same breath as Donald Trump. Nixon’s former cronies are crawling out of the Watergate woodwork. (When in fact was the last time John Dean was featured regularly in the news.)
So it is natural to ask: is Dangerous Donald channeling Tricky Dick?
Having spent the entirety of my tumultuous teens in the even more tumultuous times of Richard Nixon’s presidency the sordid story playing out today feels painfully familiar…but only up to a point.
By the early 1970s my world had turned from promise to shock. It was colored by lies and deceit. I had already been unnerved by a decade of distractions in elementary school and Junior high. I had witnessed some of the saddest and most disillusioning events in American history – the Vietnam War, the multiple assinations, the protests, Kent State, the burning cities, and finally the spectacle of Watergate.
My generation had been thrown off our stride. Society seemed to be shredding itself all around me and the country indeed seemed out of order.
Making some sense of it all came by way of Mad Magazine.
In times of crisis, not unlike today, satirists challenged the culture and for me my anxieties were relieved by the brilliance of MAD.
Mad Magazine had already given my generation its first lessons in the dishonesties of adult life. Not only did the satirical monthly attack the huskerism of Madison Avenue, the chicanery of politicians, the pretensions of those in authority and the hypocrisy of everyday life, it was a fun-house mirror reflection of what was culturally popular …. all in one densely illustrated magazine- all for a measly 25 cents (cheap).
No one pointed a sharper pen at the deceit and corruption of Richard Nixon than that gang of usual idiots at Mad Magazine. No president was exempt from their sledgehammer, no movement or institution safe from their jabbing a finger at its excess and inconsistencies.
Tricky Dick with his copious lies and cover ups was red meat for them.
The New and Improved Nixon
Richard Nixon was the original comeback kid.
After his defeat in the 1960 presidential election, followed by his his losing run for Governor in California, the public and the press thought they wouldn’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.
However, by 1968, Richard Nixon was taken out of political mothballs, repackaged and re-purposed like a box of breakfast cereal and sold to the public as the new and improved Nixon. Gone was the stiff, sleazy image of a used car salesman- now we were told, Nixon’s the One.
Intent on creating the image of a “New Nixon” the often stilted, former Vice President spent much of the election year telling Americans he wasn’t the buttoned down “square” he was made out to be.
Hoping to appeal to the all important youth demographic this new and improved Nixon appeared one September evening on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, the hippest of TV shows. Even I had to give it to Nixon for his self-effacing rendition of the shows signature line “Sock It To Me” delivered in perfect Nixonian awkward fashion.
Playing on people’s fears in 1968, Nixon emphasized law and order positioning himself as the voice of the silent majority
In a campaign speech Nixon cited the fears and resentments of “forgotten Americans, and vowed to return “ order” to the streets and the country.
The disenfranchised, angry middle Americans of 1968’s, the so-called silent majority bear a strong resemblance to Trump’s frustrated, fear based followers. Their familiar “America Way” had shattered into a bewildering array of lifestyles and felt their white patriarchal ways were under attack.
In 1972 MAD Magazine perfectly summed up Nixon’s appeal to the silent majority, in a mock re-election poster.
No one represented the silent majority of fading white male patriarchy than that other sexist, racist, xenophobic from Queens, N.Y.
All in The Family’s Archie Bunker, that 1970’s flag waving, John Wayne-loving, loveable blue-collar bigot became a powerful spokesman for those President Richard Nixon had termed the Silent Majority.
Resentful, Archie was fed up with intellectuals, women libbers, bleeding heart liberals, out-sourced jobs, and other elites intent on messing up a way of life that was working pretty well.
This blue color worker from Queens grappled with the big issues of the day- affirmative action, gay pride, women’s rights, the sexual revolution and his railing at elites has become the leitmotif of American politics ever since.
“I’m white, I’m male, I’m protestant,” Archie Bunker once declared. “Where’s there a law to protect me?”
Not only did Archie Bunker’s show have a longer run than Nixon’s presidency, his railing at elites has become a leitmotif of American politics ever since
That November the nation’s voters rewarded Nixon with an electoral landslide, re-electing him for a second term.
I am Not a Crook
But Tricky Dick was never far from the surface.
Like Trump and his nonexistent tax returns, Nixon had fudged his own tax returns, and after examining investigations into Nixon’s financial affairs of the time of back taxes owed, he responded with a memorable statement: “I have never profited…from public service…I have never obstructed justice…I am not a crook.”
Watergate – The Big Con
By my senior year in High School Richard Nixon celebrated his second inauguration, surrounded by happy perjurers.
By the spring of 1973 as I rushed home from school every day, the Watergate hearings were blaring on the TV at home. Preempting afternoon programming, all three TV stations covered the Watergate hearings gavel to gavel from May until August.
Only a few years earlier it would have been close to unimaginable that the leading figures of the most powerful country on Earth were engaged in the kind of spying, crimes and skullduggery revealed by Watergate.
In fact most news organizations were slow to give credence to the information that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were revealing bit by bit in the Washington Post in 1972. Throughout 1973 as ever more incriminating news emerged about the conduct of Nixon and his staff particularly his secret taping system, Nixon’s position was weakened.
Nixon would resign in the wake of a bungled burglary and a cover up that revealed a personality even more diabolical and self destructively insecure than even his many enemies imagined. For nearly two years Americans had seen the intellectually bright, sometimes even visionary president they had elected in a landslide ever so slowly revealed as a foul-mouthed conspirator condemned by his own words on his own secret tapes.
Trump is No Richard Nixon
Having lived through Richard Nixon I can state with certainty, Donald Trump is no Richard Nixon.
Despite his deep character flaws, Nixon was whip smart. He was experienced.
Having served as a Congressman, Senator and Vice President he had command of domestic and foreign issues and the working of government, with close allies in Republican Party and in Congress. Nixon governed for 5 years winning reelection before his dark side brought him down.
Trump takes Nixon to new levels seeing conspiracies where there are none, and is a score keeper to the point of boastful vindictiveness.
With a severely limited attention span, Trump is impulsive and cannot restrain himself from self-damaging behavior. He has trouble distinguishing fact from fiction which leads him to spew falsehoods and to contradict himself with abandon.
Beyond these personal deficiencies, Trump has no experience in government, no knowledge of government and no particular curiosity about government. With no sense of the Constitutional limitations of Presidential power, the Constitution is not a document he appears to have read.
John Dean, the former Nixon White House counsel has told reporters that the level of corruption in the Nixon White administration does pale compared “to the level of corruption we already know about Trump.”
After just over a month in office talk about Trump’s impeachment has been bandied about, beating Nixon by 5 years.
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.