Editorial: The distance between Trump, Nixon

  • Richard M. Nixon shows the victory sign with both hands after being nominated by his party at the Republican National Convention in Miami, Fla., on Aug. 9, 1968. AP file

Published: 7/24/2016 12:10:11 AM

Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president on Thursday night. For well over an hour from the convention stage in Cleveland, the candidate painted a dystopian picture of the nation he hopes to lead.

The tone wasn’t a surprise. Fear is a big part of the Republican brand these days, and in that sense the speech was a home run. Voters who see a crumbling landscape where criminals, illegal immigrants and terrorists threaten their very existence found validation for their irrational fears in Trump’s words.

While observers such as Douglas Schoen of Fox News claim Trump pointed the way forward on Thursday night, the truth is he did nothing of the sort. Trump told America to close its eyes as he described nightmares rather than dreams. Instead of a call to action, he shouted a lullaby. And not once in his 75 minutes did he say how he would accomplish any of what he promises. He never does.

Earlier in the week, the campaign said the speech would echo one delivered during a previous convention in an even more turbulent time.

“The Nixon 1968 speech – if you go back and read that speech – is pretty much on line with a lot of issues that are going on today,” Trump aide Paul Manafort said. “And it was an instructive speech.”

Manafort is right. It is an instructive speech, especially for people who want to understand just how much the Republican Party, and the tone of politics in general, has declined in the last half-century. While 1968 and 2016 share similarities in terms of domestic crises, Nixon had a much greater understanding of the scope of the problems and what it would take to solve them than the party’s current nominee. That truth becomes remarkably clear upon comparing the two speeches.

“The time when one man or a few leaders could save America is gone,” Nixon said. “We need tonight nothing less than the total commitment and the total mobilization of the American people if we are to succeed. Government can pass laws but respect for law can come only from people who take the law into their hearts and minds and not into their hands.”

Trump’s faith, however, is invested not in the American people but in his own ego: “I have a message to every last person threatening the peace on our streets and the safety of our police. When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country. Believe me. Believe me.”

Blind faith is the foundation of Trump’s candidacy. There will be no more illegal immigration. No more officers will be shot. He will stop the reel of American progress and rewind it, and that is how he will “make America great again.” Don’t ask him how – believe him.

All the grand pronouncements and empty promises serve as a reminder that Trump has always been about one thing: Trump.

Here is how he rallied the crowd at the close of his speech on Thursday night: “Remember, all of the people telling you you can’t have the country you want are the same people that wouldn’t stand, I mean they said Trump doesn’t have a chance of being here tonight. Not a chance. The same people. Oh, we love defeating those people, don’t we? Don’t we love defeating those people? Love it. Love it.”

Here is how Nixon closed his: “My fellow Americans, the long, dark night for America is about to end. The time has come for us to leave the valley of despair, and climb the mountain so that we may see the glory of the dawn – a new day for America and a new dawn for peace and freedom in the world.”

Maybe Donald Trump’s greatest feat on Thursday night was that he made us nostalgic for Richard Nixon.

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