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, daily 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 their cover declaring the “Country Out of Order.”
Its ominous message captures the state of our nation today.
Is Don the Con Channeling Tricky Dick?
The allegations swirling around our current president about suborning perjury, obstruction of justice and hush money sound all too familiar. With talks of impeachment and arrests of all the presidents men , pundits have been playing the Nixon card mentioning R.N. in the same breath as Donald Trump. Nixon’s former cronies and former prosecutors are crawling out of the Watergate woodwork.
So it is natural to ask: is Don the Con channeling Tricky Dick?
Truth be told I wouldn’t buy a used car from either of these sleazy salesmen.
MAD During The Nixon Years
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.
By the early 1970s, my world had turned from one of 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 and riots, 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.
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.
TV audiences saw Nixon as a ruthless, dishonest, used car salesman in the Presidential election of 1960 and voted him out. The label of salesman dogged Nixon his whole career. “Would you buy a used car from this man,” was a common refrain.
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 a 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
In January 1973 during my senior year in High School Richard Nixon celebrated his second inauguration, surrounded by his merry band of perjurers.
By that spring as I rushed home from school every day, the Watergate hearings were blaring on the TV at home. Pre-empting 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
It is tempting to compare Donald trump to Richard Nixon who also believed himself above the law.
Having lived through the Richard Nixon era 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. He also maintained close allies in the Republican Party and in Congress. Nixon governed for 5 years winning re-election before his dark side brought him down.
Trump is No Nixon
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.
Nixon, a died in the wool cold warrior who was deeply suspicious of the Soviets, would be appalled at an American President playing footsie with a former KGB operative like Putin.
John Dean, the former Nixon White House counsel has told reporters that the level of corruption in the Nixon White administration pales compared “to the level of corruption we already know about Trump.”
After just over a month in office talk about Trump’s impeachment was bandied about, beating Nixon by 5 years.
While currently Nixon remains the most disgraced U.S. President in history, Don the Con seems likely to Trump Tricky Dick.
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2019. 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
Spot on Sally!
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Sally, you were my twin sister on the east coast, I grew up in CA with the same experience.
Twins separated at birth…I know my mother said she spent some time in CA. Know I know. I bet you would love my MAD Magazine collection that I’ve saved all these years. Among my prized possessions.
Hello Sally,I wanted to post this response but I don’t have a word press account. I miss Bill Gaines’ MAD magazine of the 70’s. I know they still publish the magazine but it doesn’t have the bite it once did. It’s too bad; I used to pore over every single page. There was so much to see and read and the art was just phenomenal. Those were the days! Great essay, Sally. I don’t what is going to happen to us (the USA). During the 70’s, the contrast between an ‘Archie Bunker’ and a Ralph Nader were so obvious and marked. Now, I am horrified when I hear someone say, “well, he’s doing all the things he promised he would do.” What about all the constant lying, cheating on his spouses, bagging on women, nepotism, racism, paranoia, complete lack of experience and general ignorance about how the world operates? Don’t confuse me with the facts….
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MAD Magazine was a formative influence in how I ended up viewing politics, media, and society in general, always with a slightly ironic, jaundiced eye. At the time there were few other places where one could get this sensibility, especially as a kid. Although I look at MAD from time to time it feels like it has lost a bit of its edge, probably because there is so much competition
I am so glad that you are enjoying the blog. As you may know, I have a very large archive of ephemera and so have huge source material in which to draw to use for this blog. All the MAD Magazines are mine and I have saved all of them from my childhood. I have tens of thousands of magazines dating back to the 1920s as well as books, comics, school books, newspapers, booklets etc. from which I draw my inspiration.