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The Journal Gazette

  • Walton

Wednesday, September 12, 2018 1:00 am

Parallel lines draw closer

Nixon, Trump similarities become more clear

Jennifer Walton

Jennifer Walton, a Starke County native, is chair of communication and media studies at Ohio Northern University.

Donald Trump's expertise may be in business, but he could soon get a crash course in history.

With the release of Bob Woodward's book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” the similarities between Richard Nixon's demise and the current White House are unmistakable.

It seems ironic that Woodward, who made his name chronicling the Watergate scandal, is again a player in a presidential saga.

Woodward and fellow journalist Carl Bernstein chronicled the Watergate break-in and ensuing events in “All The President's Men” in June 1974; Nixon resigned later that summer.

The end of Nixon's presidency was hastened when his advisers began to fall. Once again, we see all of the president's men in a similar situation.

The recent and almost-simultaneous conviction of Paul Manafort, Trump's ex-campaign chairman, and the guilty plea of Michael Cohen, the president's former personal lawyer, continued an unraveling of Trump's inner circle.

They join a growing list of former White House and campaign officials who have departed of their own volition or otherwise, such as Michael T. Flynn, Stephen Bannon, Rex Tillerson and Omarosa Manigault Newman.

While Trump's foes were too quick to compare his administration's situation to Watergate, the comparisons are now becoming clearer. In fact, there seem to be several similarities between the Trump White House and Nixon's.

• Nixon had a known enemies list that was written down. We can fairly safely assume Trump has a similar compilation, whether mentally or on paper.

• Both presidents accomplished much, but their achievements were overshadowed by controversy.

• Nixon scored a major foreign relations success in Asia, opening relations with a nation we formerly shunned with his historic visit to China. Trump has taken a similar tack by warming up to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

• The 37th president was solidly anti-press, and the 45th commander in chief seems intent on battling the media.

• Nixon and Trump both have a negative air about them.

• Both presidencies saw their inner circles crumble.

Also, Nixon was a victim of a changing journalistic landscape, and Trump may realize the same fate. For Nixon, the press previously had largely ignored issues that were more personal issues and less involved with policy.

Reporters discounted John F. Kennedy's extramarital dalliances, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's polio and Dwight D. Eisenhower's mistress.

That all changed in the late 1960s, when Nixon came into office, with the Vietnam War changing the way Americans, reporters included, viewed our leaders.

Largely because of bad timing, Nixon bore the brunt of this new approach.

In many ways, Trump is also a product (I would hesitate to call him a victim) of a new style of media.

Ironically, the celebrity style he fostered on “The Apprentice,” which made Trump an oversized public figure, is also his weakness.

The flamboyant, rude style that played well in a weekly episode geared toward shock entertainment wears thin in the nation's highest office.

If the Democrats seize control of the House in November's midterm elections, it is almost certain impeachment proceedings will begin.

Anticipating that possibility, Trump has already gone on the offensive, tweeting that the economy will tank if his policies are altered or if he is impeached.

While that dire warning is exaggerated, the president does have a fan in industry, and these have been good days in terms of economic growth and unemployment.

There is where Trump will wage his battle, even if it is a last stand. He has steadily relied on his red-meat issues, such as the economy and security, that resonate with average Americans.

The president must hope to rally his fans and stave off a Democratic wave in November.

Otherwise, the business tycoon could get a cruel lesson in presidential history, Nixon-style.