We haven’t seen this much “movement politics” for a long time in America. And the dominant movement in America today seems to be some variation of “Stop Trump” or “Dump Trump” or even “Impeach Trump.” It’s no wonder. After all, President Trump is one of the most divisive public figures ever to occupy the White House. We won’t reiterate all of President Trump’s perplexing qualities. We’ve already done that in essay after essay. Suffice it to say, we’re not Trump fans, and so far, we’ve seen little evidence that he’s about to make America Great Again. We haven’t seen this much dissension and resentment directed at an American president for a long time—but we have seen it before.
Enter Richard Milhous Nixon.
The Trump/Nixon comparison is quite instructive. Many readers of our essays certainly remember the anti-Nixon protests during the ill-fated president’s first term, when the national mood was in a state of extremis over Viet Nam. Both presidents are (were) incredibly polarizing and both are (were) the target of massive, sometimes violent protests. Nixon came to power during the so-called Summer of Rage. If anything, the anti-Nixon protests were far more substantive than the anti-Trump protests. Most of the anti-Trump resentment stems from the fact that so many people consider him to be spectacularly unpresidential and unqualified for the job, and a bully, a chauvinist, a demagogue, and, well, a boor. And, yes, many people think he’s down-right dangerous, and there’s the well-deserved furor over his bungling of an ill-advised immigration executive order.
But Nixon hatred was different. After all, nearly 21,000 young Americans had died in Vietnam during Nixon’s first term in office. There was the bombing of Cambodia and the horror at Kent State right in the middle of his first term.
The Watergate caper also unfolded (although not completely) during Nixon’s first term, and senior members of his Administration were implicated in the break in. Think for a moment of the news during the months leading right up to the presidential election in 1972. There was a series of events that would have cratered anyone’s hope of being elected to anything. On June 17, 1972, four months before the election, five men, one of whom said he used to work for the CIA, were arrested at 2:30 a.m. trying to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel and office complex in Washington. On June 19th, a GOP security aide was found to be among the Watergate burglars. On August 1st a $25,000 cashier’s check, apparently earmarked for the Nixon campaign, wound up in the bank account of a Watergate burglar. On September 29th, John Mitchell, while serving as attorney general, was found to have controlled a secret Republican fund used to finance widespread intelligence-gathering operations against the Democrats, and on October 10th FBI agents established that the Watergate break-in stemmed from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon reelection campaign. In the same month, a federal jury indicted the five Watergate burglars along with G. Gordon Liddy, General Counsel to the Committee to Re-elect the President, and former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt for conspiracy, burglary, and a violation of federal wiretapping laws.
What skullduggery emanating from the Nixon White House!
And then, a month later, on November 7th, Richard M. Nixon was reelected in one of the largest landslides in American political history taking more than 60 percent of the vote. Huh?
Remember the so-called silent majority. On the heels of a major nationwide protest against the Vietnam War in October 1969, Nixon delivered a speech on November 3, laying out his plans for ending the war through diplomatic negotiations and asking for the support of the “great silent majority” of Americans.
There is, of course, a great silent majority. They certainly don’t seem to talk to pollsters, anyway. Ordinarily, we would bet the great silent majority would be getting very antsy about President Trump even though they voted for him in the States that mattered. But that silent majority doesn’t seem to like the roar of an angry crowd…any roar…any crowd. That’s why they’re the silent majority, and the roar and the hyperbole and the talk of impeachment (in the absence of any discernible impeachable offense) is apt to backfire on those who want Trump out. Remember, we’re not in the circus atmosphere of a presidential campaign anymore. We’re in the reality of a presidency.
Many of the anti-Trump proponents seem to think that a Trump impeachment is already a conclusion merely awaiting the right presidential misstep. Probably not likely. There have been many very unpopular presidents. James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Franklin D. Pierce, Warren G. Harding and Millard Fillmore come immediately to mind, but none were turned out of office. Johnson, however, did come pretty close.
Article II, Section 4, of the Constitution, the impeachment clause, says a President can only be impeached for “Treason, Bribery and other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” So being a jerk, or just being nasty, or insulting the press doesn’t seem to be impeachable. In fact, neither is incompetence. James Madison successfully argued against making “maladministration” a cause for impeachment. One could argue that section 4 of the 25th Amendment which provides for the removal of the President in the case of death, removal, resignation or incapacitation, is relevant. It isn’t!
We also do not think the much touted “Emoluments Clause” is going to undo President Trump. That’s the clause that states that “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the Unite States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.”
So let’s get back to reality. People are going to watch protests and the selective TV and newspaper shots of isolated violence, and they will see and hear the rhetorical excesses. Statements by talking heads and some editorial writers that the Flynn-Russian conversations are the biggest scandal since Watergate (quite possibly not scandalous at all other than Flynn’s lack of candor with the Vice President), or that the Flynn-Russian conversations are the political equivalent of 9/11 (ridiculous) are, quite possibly, assuring a Republican romp in 2018 and the re-election of President Trump in 2020. Many of the people who hate Trump revel in this type of hyperbole. Many more, we would bet, recoil at it.
There is one other thing we think the anti-Trump people should keep in mind. Americans have, traditionally, maintained a rather curious, but admirable, sense of fair play. That’s why the birther movement never resonated with the American mainstream. Similarly, a Quinnipiac University poll conducted last summer demonstrated that two-thirds of Americans believed the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson should have been allowed to participate in the Republican Primary debates even though the same two-thirds said they would never vote for him.
We Americans seem to like our politics to be rough and tumble. We also, from time to time, seem to be quite capable of drawing a line in the sand. That’s why President Obama had no problem winning in 2012. The birther issue probably won him more votes than it cost him. So, we would bet, did accusations that he was a closet Muslim or some kind of Manchurian candidate. This suggests to us that over-reaching and engaging in hyper-caffeinated rhetoric can, and probably will, backfire. We’ve seen it happen before. It is likely to happen again.
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