The long national nightmare of Richard Nixon’s political career is over.
We won’t have Nixon to kick around any more. He produced his own last crisis. The danger had always been that he would take the rest of us down with him. I feared that, especially after the 1972 election, which left him bereft of further offices to run for. His world at an end, would he then demolish ours, yours and mine and the children’s, and the United States he loved so much (he said)? We have escaped by the skin of our teeth.
Watergate was no “tragedy,” no “agony.” After Nixon’s resignation Gerald Ford said, “Our long national nightmare is over.” It was no nightmare at all (I never cried out in the night) but a useful, salutary event which had led us by slow legalistic means to a psychological recognition. Education was a long time getting through, but astoundingly it did. Until the moment of his confession, Nixon remained hidden, especially from Republican Congressmen whom he had long held prisoner. Then even his party fell away, suddenly and as a whole and overnight, relieved at last to have a clear reason to break.
The problem is psychological, not legalistic. America needs to learn to recognize the type. The next Richard Nixon may go all the way; which this one was flukily prevented from doing. We need to learn to make better connections between the things a man purports to stand for, and the things be truly intends. Nixon made several things perfectly clear. Here are some characteristics of a man who will seize dictatorial power if he can:
•He asserts that poor people are dishonest (“welfare chiselers”), but he lines his own pockets.
•He prefers capital punishment, prisons and other forms of punishment to rehabilitation and education.
•He favors legislation assisting the rich, the powerful, the corporate and the military. (A comprehensive book on this subject is Jerry Voorhis’ The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon.)
•He is always discussing himself, even when he hopes you will think he is talking about, say, international relations. Example: “In the Middle East, 100 million people in the Arab countries, many of whom have considered us their enemy for nearly twenty years, now look on us as their friends.” Translation: “Did you notice the big reception I got in Egypt?”
•He thinks that ancient relationships among nations, involving deep traditions of language and custom, can be suddenly reformed by visits of heads of states.
•He suddenly reverses himself. A dozen emphatic denials may be followed by an abrupt admission.
•He eventually reverses himself. After one of our political assassinations he declared that he would meet the people face to face. But never was a President so well protected.
•He denies that he will reverse himself. When peace marchers passed the White House he was watching the football game (he said). Afterward he claimed peace in Vietnam as his achievement.