By Chet Yarbrough
King Richard: Nixon and Watergate-An American Tragedy
By: Michael Dobbs
Narrated by: Mark Bramhall
Michael Dobbs (Author, British member of the House of Lords, graduate of Oxford and Tufts University.)
Appropriately, it is a British citizen who writes a biography that focuses on Nixon’s years as President of the United States. An American is much less likely to be objective about Nixon’s Presidency.
Like yesterday’s Richard Nixon and today’s Donald Trump, Americans love or revile former Presidents.
The title of Dobbs’ book exemplifies a legitimate view of Richard Milhouse Nixon as an American tragedy. One doubts history will ever consider Trump’s fall from power as a tragedy. Both Nixon and Trump act like Kings but Nixon served America in ways that justify Dobb’s book title for Nixon as “…American Tragedy”.
Dobbs reminds Americans of Nixon’s prescient understanding of China by opening China to the west.
Nixon extricated America from Vietnam, a war that could not be justified or defeated by the delusional beliefs of past Presidents who believed in the domino theory of communist expansion.
Though Dobbs did not write about Nixon’s domestic policies, it was his presidency that formed the Environmental Protection Agency and instituted the war on cancer with a $100-million-dollar subsidy creating national cancer research centers. Nixon signed the Title IX civil rights law preventing gender bias at colleges and universities receiving federal funds. Nixon provided Native Americans the right of tribal self-determination. Nixon expanded social security benefits for working families.
Dobbs notes Nixon exhibits a kind of insecurity that clouds his judgement. That insecurity leads to the foolish decision to invade the Watergate Democratic headquarters; compounded by a cover-up that ends with Nixon’s resignation.
The prestige of office magnifies strengths and weaknesses of one who becomes a national leader. The potential for abuse of power by authoritarians has been demonstrated many times in world history. America is no exception. Dobbs details Nixon’s fall from the Presidency.
Dobb’s story of Nixon is an interesting contrast to Trump’s rise and fall. In no way is that to suggest there is any equivalence in intellect or contribution of these two Presidents because one is a tragedy while the other is a farce.
Dobb’s paints a picture of Nixon that is at times imperious and, at other times, endearing and vulnerable. Nixon seems a lonely man who loves his children but seems distant from his wife. Nixon has few friends.
A fundamental difference between Nixon and Trump is that Nixon rose to fame from nothing while Trump is born to wealth. Nixon earned his education. Trump bought his education.
To Nixon, Dobb’s shows money is a means to an end. To Trump, money seems all there is, and value is only measured by how much you have.
Nixon appears to have useful friends, not pleasant friends. The few pleasant friends are like Bebe Rebozo who never challenges his opinion and listens rather than asks questions. Useful friends are protected or abandoned based on personal loyalty. Any disagreement by useful friends with Nixon’s or Trump’s public pronouncements is perceived as disloyalty.
Both Nixon and Trump revile criticism, particularly from the press. Nixon is willing to sacrifice his closest subordinates if required to protect his position. Both ex-Presidents of the United States were willing to use the power of their office to pardon the guilty who have followed their orders.
All who become close to Nixon or Trump have been positively and negatively infected by their association. “King Richard” is a reminder of America today.