With all the dissension and protests over the last several weeks, I’ve been thinking about Richard Nixon, who was perhaps the most controversial man in the White House before Donald Trump.
Nixon was not the typical politician of any era. He was no glad-handing vote seeker; he was very secretive and awkward with people. He distanced himself from everyone and was very formal, usually wearing a coat and tie even when alone. He had few friends. The one friend he had was Bebe Rebozo, and even he would not call Nixon by his first name.
The public’s perception of Nixon was formed by editorial cartoonists and comedians who exaggerated his appearance and mannerisms. He was often portrayed with unshaven jowls, slumped shoulders, and a furrowed, sweaty brow.
Yet, he accomplished much. He pulled us out of the bloody morass of Viet Nam and ended the military draft. He made the first steps toward diplomatic relations with China, and he gained the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union. He enforced desegregation of Southern schools, established OSHA and the EPA, and began the War on Cancer. He was re-elected in one of the largest landslides in American history in 1972 when he defeated George McGovern.
For all that, no one knew him. One biographer, Elizabeth Drew, said he was a strange man who was most happy when left alone with his thoughts. He assumed the worst in people and he brought out the worst in them. His aloofness meant that he stood alone as the Watergate scandal destroyed his presidency.
Another biographer said Nixon thought that he was doomed to be double-crossed, misunderstood, and under-appreciated, but that by his will, tenacity, and diligence, he would ultimately prevail.
Like Nixon, Donald Trump accomplished much, even though most of it kept him embroiled in controversy. Like Nixon, people reacted strongly to Trump; you either love or hate the guy. There’s no middle ground. Some people will never hear a good word about Trump.
And maybe, just like Nixon, we won’t appreciate or understand Trump’s Presidency until time passes, the passions cool, the hate fades, and we can see with clear eyes.