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Tricky Dick

a reflection

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, April 20, 1994.

Tricky Dick Nixon is winking out before our eyes. Nobody my age can imagine that, the great nemesis of our generation, the incredibly starchy coup maker, whose politically correct vice president was still taking the bribes started as a governor while in the White House, and who expanded a war to end it.

He was the only President to resign, and he was probably the best ambassador we had to the Iron Curtain countries. He was bitter, sentimental, corrupt, puritanical, idealistic, crassly opportunistic, hypercritical, resolutely patriotic. He was as conflicted and confused in ideals as his entire generation and like them he overemphasized procedures and traditions to form social anchors. He was the perfect embodiment of most Americans, not the regal John Kennedy or Dwight Eisenhower, or even the sports star Gerald Ford, or the incredibly competent politico Lyndon Johnson, or the poor southern aristocrat James Carter. Nixon was white trash trailer park risen high, and he brought all that baggage with him. He was a social climber out of control, and when he talked about the silent majority, he knew of what he spoke. The white, procedure and tradition bound, lower middle class whose children routinely weighed the opportunities of ROTC and military careers or assistant management trainees at some new restaurant chain.

He has lived to be 81. He nearly usurped the Constitution and bequeathed a nation that was indistinguishable from the police run horrors he publicly excoriated. If asked what the Watergate Scandal was, most people could not get by a few buzzwords like break in and cover-up. It was something more. Nixon attempted to use the FBI and CIA for strictly political gain. He was, in fact, perfectly willing to do anything to protect his bone headed inner circle and their moronic antics to stay in office. He plotted to pay off criminals that had become so with his knowledge and at his behest. There is little doubt that he would cheerfully have sabotaged the Democrats by any means, justifying it with the sure knowledge that Joe Kennedy had bought Chicago for his son in 1960, and that everybody does it. Whether he would have stopped there, no one knows. He loved power.

He leaves a nation that has, for the most part, forgotten and forgiven: the Helen Gahagan Douglasses are vanished. The pumpkin where spies stored microfilm is erased. Alger Hiss and Checkers, good Republican cloth coats and Cambodian bomb craters, pretty vague in the neural tissue. But we speak to China because of Nixon, and he established a quality of relationship with the Soviet Union that lowered the risks of war by a factor of 10, perhaps 100. He has, like Sadat, been revered outside his own nation and hated in his own. He was brilliant, petty, awkward, ensorcelling. If he can be consigned to the ditch before death, perhaps the fitting epitaph came right after he resigned. A citizen, flustered that the evil in the man came unhindered with the good, blurted: "God damn you Richard Nixon for depriving the nation of Richard Nixon." Oversimplistic, as wrong as correct, frustrating because it demands a longer explanation and then a longer one. But it is the kernel, and I can come no closer. It is not too much to say that the tragedy of Nixon is the tragedy of his nation, which cynically elevates lies to myth to dogma and back.

Note: Nixon died two days after this.