Nixon, Trump and Shadows on the Wall of History

Photo by Jessica Fiess-Hill | CC BY 2.0

Recently, the news storm around Trump, Putin, and the electoral shenanigans by friends and supporters of both men has reached a fever pitch.  After Trump appeared with Putin in front of the media and said he believed Putin’s denial of electoral meddling over the growing list of rumors emanating from intelligence agencies in the United States, liberals, some anti-Trump right wingers and most of the US media have been calling for Trump’s head.  According to this crowd, his remarks were treasonous and his continued presence in the White House is also treason.  While listening to  Democratic hack Steny Hoyer lambaste Trump and the GOP in a speech in Congress, various Democrats began chanting “USA!!USA!!” as if they were drunk Homer Simpsons at a World Cup game.  The sheer foolishness of this action is beyond description.  At the same time, it is to be expected in a political world where the shadow is perceived to be that which casts the shadow.

In other words, the collusion with Putin to destroy the USA is a sideshow, based on an ignorance of the manipulations behind the screen. Whether that ignorance is intentional or the result of decades of what I like to call People magazine personality-focused politics depends on who one talks to.  Either way, it has created a situation where the political system in the United States that the public is presented is one where ruling class squabbles are not just the norm, but the predominant aspect of that system.  While politicians on both sides of the aisle conspire to destroy not only any remaining social programs, but the economy itself just so they can enrich themselves, the voting public takes sides in a third-rate match between an insecure blowhard and con man and self-righteous liberals.  The streets gain more residents everyday while multimillionaires and billionaires buy up property at rates so inflated they could support the economy of a small nation.  Food assistance is cut and those who continue to need it are forced to work for the crumbs they are granted.  Military veterans are watching their benefits shrink and the medical system designed to help them deal with their wounds of war get turned over to naturally crooked private enterprises designed to make a profit not heal soldiers. Cops around the country tout their military grade weapons when they arrest someone for failing to appear in court. More and more states allow concealed weapons to be owned by individuals, providing the trigger happy cops with an excuse to shoot those they don’t like—who usually happen to be African-American and Latino.

I’m one of those who believes that history provides insight into the present.  In my understanding, it is history that can help us understand the nature of imperial war and the reasons economies falter and fall.  Most US residents seem to not just ignore history, but to deny it even exists.  This arrogance, especially when considered along with the arrogance most recently displayed by those Democrats shouting “USA!!USA!” has helped to create the current situation.  Not only has the regular citizenry fail to learn from the past, they have fallen prey to those who, having read and considered this history, have drawn only self-serving conclusions.  Why? Because they believe wtheir interpretation will keep them and their successors in power.  This is why we have never-ending wars and occupation.  It is why there is growing police state repression and surveillance. It is also why our economy is dependent on war and the preparation for war.  It is also a primary reason why Donald Trump is in the White House.

Regarding history, let’s remember Richard Nixon. On August 9, 2018, it will have been forty-four years since he resigned from the Presidency.  It was his arrogance and egocentric certainty combined with paranoia that was his downfall.  Before he finally got caught when his aides started squealing, Nixon was doing much more than covering up campaign corruption.  He was running illegal surveillance that included break-ins and burglary.  He was waging an illegal war on Cambodia and Laos.  He ordered his Justice Department to set civil rights activists, radicals and progressives up on false charges in order to prosecute them and destroy the leadership of those movements.  In essence, he was an authoritarian and autocrat.  There were many times during his reign when many of us wondered if he was going to declare martial law.  Then came the Watergate break-in and the newspaper investigation of the crime and growing cover-up.  Nixon’s paranoia increased and those closest to him began to scheme so they could save their own careers and, in some cases, their very hides.  The Democrats, who were considerably more left-leaning then than they are now (or have been since then), saw their chance to jump.  They did.  Investigations began, including a special prosecutor’s task force and congressional hearings to consider impeachment charges.  The circus was on.

At its most fundamental,Watergate was a symptom of the empire in crisis. The faction of the ruling class that had almost always ruled the nation was fed up with the civil rights and Black liberation movements, the New Left and antiwar protesters, the counterculture, and social welfare programs.  This faction, which Nixon represented, had always been working and plotting to take back “their” nation from the New Dealers and their successors.  The other factions, of whom the pro-war Democrats were the largest segment, had enjoyed power for most of the previous forty years.  Their social welfare programs were redistributing enough of the wealth to keep most people satisfied, but not all.  Some of the nation’s most wealthy resented the fact that their profits were being taxed and that money was being used to help many working class folks gain a stable life.  As the Vietnam War continued and protests grew more popular, some Democratic politicians switched to an antiwar position.  Newcomers got elected on an antiwar program.  George McGovern even won the party’s nomination for president, only to see the Democratic leadership sabotage his candidacy.  When the news of a Watergate cover-up began to surface, all of Nixon’s enemies from right to left eventually joined in the chorus. When the Republicans whose allegiance was not to Nixon but to the Party and their idea of the nation realized Nixon was toast, they joined his enemies.  The resulting resignation was not a victory for the people or democracy. It was a victory for those who rule the plutocracy we call the United States of America.

The current circus around Trump and the 2016 electoral manipulation is also a symptom of a system in crisis. After years of war and ever-increasing income inequality, the Trumpists have drawn a line in the sand.  If Trump is taken down it will be for his financial crimes and obstruction, just like Nixon was taken down for financial corruption and obstruction. Remember, Deep Throat was a disgruntled FBI agent named Mark Felt who worked with others in the ruling class to get rid of Nixon because Watergate was screwing things up for them. Felt had been intimately involved in numerous illegal activities as an FBI agent spying on and disrupting the New Left.  He was no friend of progressive forces, yet his anger at not being promoted ended up serving the interests of those who opposed the police state he was a part of.  This fact does not mean that what was leaked by Felt was not true or useful to those opposed to Nixon’s rule. Nor does it mean the FBI and CIA are agencies worth supporting. These truths remain true today as surely as the CIA tortures people and the FBI spies on US residents.

As for Trump, chances are he will either get a majority of people in power on his side (most likely through firing current bureaucrats and hiring loyalists in their place), declare some version of martial law or get busted. If I were a betting man, I would put my money on the first option.  These choices were Nixon’s choices, too.  This is a battle between factions of the ruling class.  As the investigation continues, it is important to remember that the story in the media is not necessarily the actual story.  If Trump is able to get enough of his people into leadership roles at the Department of Justice and at least one of the intelligence agencies, he and his faction will most likely win. Otherwise, who knows what will happen?  Speculation is rampant, cheap and always changing.  Keep your eyes on that which casts the shadow, not the shadow itself.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: