A Simple Analogy
JFK:Nixon = Obama:Trump
We know “everything old is new again” is an old adage and it’s one that particularly applies to our current “President” as he tries to un-do the legacy of his predecessor. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a President obsessed with a former inhabitant of the White House. Richard Nixon clearly had “difficulty” dealing with the legacy of Jack Kennedy back in the late ‘60’s/early ‘70’s. While that’s the most obvious parallel between Nixon and Trump, we should also remember Trump’s Tweet back in February: “in an extraordinary rebuke of the nation’s press organizations, wrote on Twitter on Friday that the nation’s news media ‘is the enemy of the American people.’” (NY Times, February 17, 2017) As reported in The Guardian in December of 2008:
"Never forget," he (Nixon) tells national security advisers Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig in a conversation on December 14 1972, "the press is the enemy, the press is the enemy. The establishment is the enemy, the professors are the enemy, the professors are the enemy. Write that on a blackboard 100 times."
Sounds just like Steve Bannon’s playbook for Donald Trump, doesn’t it? The press, the “establishment?” While that's a blatant connection on this issue the larger, overriding connection between Nixon and Trump is their obsession with a former president.
In Nixon’s case, of course, the charismatic, charming Irish-Catholic (the only one we’ve ever elected) was the target and, for Trump, it’s the charismatic, charming African-American (the only one we’ve ever elected). According to an online essay by Rio Bauce of Pitzer College:
Nixon believed that JFK had stolen the election with the help of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Through stuffing ballot boxes, Daley and JFK supposedly rigged the Illinois vote. Daley even did not allow certain wards to vote as the race seemed that it would be close. Although this is possible, it is unlikely that it would have reversed the outcome. The official results were that Kennedy had 303 electoral votes against Nixon’s 219 votes. Had Nixon won Illinois, JFK would still have had 276 votes against Nixon with 246 votes. Also, Nixon thought that Kennedy harassed him and his family in the early 1960s, using the IRS and the Justice Department. This belief stuck with Nixon into his White House years. In a conversation with John Ehrlichman, he suggested that it would be rough justice to audit Democrats.
The Guardian’s December, 2008 edition also noted:
But Nixon was also obsessed with his predecessor, instructing his chief of staff Bob Haldeman in July 1971 to organize a covert raid of a Washington thinktank to uncover information it might have about John F Kennedy.
An office belonging to a junior civil servant in which he had seen two photographs of Kennedy, one bearing a personal inscription, particularly offended Nixon. "On January 14," wrote White House staffer Alexander Butterfield in a 1970 memo, "the project was completed and all 35 offices displayed only your photograph."
Literally, obliterating any trace of JFK was a focus of Nixon throughout his years in office. In a 1996 NY Times (scathing) review of Christopher Matthews's (yes, that Chris Matthews of MSNBC) book Kennedy & Nixon Michico Kakutani notes:
Once in the White House, Mr. Matthews writes, Nixon began exhorting his aides to get him "the goods on John F. Kennedy himself, on how he had botched and betrayed the Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs." Apparently, Nixon also began looking for dirt on Edward M. Kennedy (and Chappaquiddick) that might undermine him as a credible rival in the 1972 elections. One result was an expanding department of "dirty tricks" that would eventually lead to the Watergate break-in.
As Mr. Matthews tells it, the Kennedy ghost would continue to play a pivotal role in the Watergate fallout. Nixon's fatal decision to initiate a cover-up involved telling the F.B.I. that the break-in was a C.I.A.-related operation. "A firm believer that the C.I.A. was hiding facts about the Bay of Pigs," Mr. Matthews writes, "Nixon decided to hide Watergate behind the same protective shell that had been guarding the legacy of President Kennedy from taint."
Nixon’s obsession with Kennedy, then, was always lurking in the background of his Administration.
As we know, Barack Obama looms large in Donald Trump’s consciousness. Just last month, Harriet Sinclair reported in Newsweek (Oct. 14, 2017):
Political analyst David Gergen told (CNN’s Don) Lemon he believed the recent announcement on the Iran deal, as well as Trump killing Obamacare subsidies, was “more about blowing up the former president’s legacy than anybody wants to admit.”
“Anything which has the name Obama on it automatically becomes a target for Donald Trump and he’s trying to reverse as much of that as possible,” he added, warning that the tendency of presidents to reverse domestic policy set by their predecessors was now rolling into foreign policy.
Indeed, back in August, a European diplomat reportedly told BuzzFeed anonymously that in his dealings with President Trump, he had noticed the Republican was driven more by a desire to scrap Obama’s policies than to enact his own.
“It’s his only real position,” the diplomat told BuzzFeed. “He will ask: ‘Did Obama approve this?’ And if the answer is affirmative, he will say: ‘We don’t.’ He won’t even want to listen to the arguments or have a debate. He is obsessed with Obama.”
And now the Trump administration, like Nixon’s, is immersed in a Special Prosecutor’s investigation and we could well be watching the unfurling of a vast cover-up (note the recent Jared Kushner news), not unlike Watergate. Whether the Russia investigation will morph into “RussiaGate” remains to be seen, of course, but it’s hard not to see the simple analogy:
JFK:Nixon as Obama: Trump.
What goes around, comes around.