Nixon: A Look Back at the Presidency

Summer of ‘69

Nixon with map of Cambodia, April 30, 1970
Courtesy of National Archives, Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

In August of 1969, Richard Nixon had only been president for eight months. He was newly elected and firmly dedicated to two things: improving relations with China, and ending the Vietnam war “with honor” (although not Peace With Honor, that promise wouldn’t come until January of 1973). 

In August of 2019, Donald Trump has been president for 2 years and 8 months. Relations with China are degrading and the U.S. is trapped in another war that has no end in sight in Afghanistan. 

Early August in the first year of the Nixon presidency was defined by diplomacy in Asia, specifically with the goal in mind of arranging a meeting with China. A meeting with Mao Zedong would be a huge step in the Cold War, and possibly open up trade avenues for U.S. goods, all of which we needed.

From August 1st through 3rd of 1969, Nixon was invited by the then-Cambodian Head of State, Norodom Sihanouk, to pay an official visit to Cambodia on his next trip. The Secretary of State William P. Rogers stated that they would be taking steps to improve relations with China, one of which would be a press conference in Hong Kong. This would be the first of many steps Nixon would take to build a relationship with China.

As of now, the relationship that was carefully built between China and the United States is being torn down. On July 12 NHK reported that China would be placing more sanctions on U.S. goods due to the selling of arms to Taiwan. A U.S.- China summit has been announced after numerous delays, but most companies seem to believe that these talks will not put an end to the trade war.

Nixon’s administration in the second week of August was largely concerned with domestic policy, specifically welfare reform. Nixon did this by expanding welfare and Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty”. This perceived increase in power of central government caused internal conflict in the mostly conservative Nixon Administration,  according to the then executive secretary of the Council of Urban Affairs (later the Urban Affairs Council) Daniel Moynihan. This was mostly a continuation of Johnson’s War on Poverty, which included the expansion of food stamps, combating job discrimination, and a “Manpower Training Proposal”.

In April of 2018, Donald Trump issued an executive order ordering programs such as Food Stamps and Medicaid be reduced and restricted (although no policy was put in place or advised). The expressed goal of this was that there was to be a work-based requirement for the programs based on Bill Clinton’s 1996 reforms to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF). The problem is that experts now say due to the evolution of the economy, those reforms no longer work. On July 26 of this year, Trump laid out a policy that would cut roughly 3 million people from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps.

As far as Civil Rights records go, the current administration’s record is distressing, to say the least. With what is now commonly referred to as concentration camps placed all around the country it’s not hard to find abuses rampant throughout the country. But that’s not to say Nixon was so innocent either. Just because he openly opposed job discrimination doesn’t make him a saint. In a recorded phone call with Ronald Reagan, he expressed support when Reagan called the African members of the UN “Monkeys” who were “still uncomfortable wearing shoes!”. In a later recorded conversation with Secretary of State William Rogers Nixon referred to these same delegates as “Cannibals”. In several recorded conversations with White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Nixon expressed repeated homophobic beliefs. The main belief being that homosexuality is what destroyed the Greeks and Romans and that it destroys societies.

August 18-31: The majority of the rest of the month was taken up by Hurricane Camille, which is the second most violent tropical cyclone to strike the United States. It killed nearly 260 people and caused about $10 billion in damage in today’s money. Major Disaster areas were declared in both Mississippi and Louisiana.

Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. colony of Puerto Rico in September of 2017, and caused nearly 10 times the amount of damage and resulted in nearly 3,000 people dead. It is widely believed that much of this damage could have been mitigated if the government had responded appropriately and promptly, but because it didn’t the situation quickly got out of hand. 

Nixon’s policies in much of August of 1969 were simply the beginnings of things to come. His anti-job discrimination policy would eventually grow to become Affirmative Action. He would eventually complete his goal of becoming the first U.S. President to visit Communist China. When compared to today’s standards, he stands out in these even today. That being said, when we continue to hold him to today’s standards we see a racist, homophobic, power-hungry man. Perhaps the aptest comparison available is one made by journalist Robert Evans. Evans referred to Trump as a less capable Nixon in his coverage of the release of the Mueller Report. The comparison seems to stand up as time goes on, with the small difference the Trump “says the quiet part loud”

Written by JJ Mazzucotelli

JJ uses They/Them pronouns and is pursuing a Bachelors in journalism and history at The University of Nevada, Reno. They are a freelance photojournalist and frequently works with various antifascist causes along the West Coast. JJ is heavily involved with their local Queer Student Union and Food Not Bombs. They can be found on twitter at @jj_mazzucotelli, on Instagram at @faerie_gothfather and on their website

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