22.05.2018 Author: Caleb Maupin

The Geopolitics of Impeachment: Recalling Nixon in the Trump-era


Throughout Trump’s presidency, the memory of Nixon has been invoked by both opponents and supporters of “The Donald.” Richard Nixon stands out as the only President in U.S. history to have resigned, and not completed his term in office.

During Trump’s presidential campaign, Trump used Nixon’s famous catch-phrases, referring to the “silent majority” and calling himself a “law and order” candidate. Roger Stone, who worked for the Nixon administration’s Office of Economic Opportunity, was notably on board with the Trump campaign. Meanwhile, outspoken Trump opponent Meryl Streep starred in the recently released film “The Post” dramatizing the Washington Post’s legal battle against the Nixon administration. Rachel Maddow and other liberal voices have compared allegations against Trump to the revelations surrounding the infamous Watergate Scandal.

Calls to impeach Donald Trump are widespread among the Democratic Party’s representation in Congress. While most leftists echo the calls to impeach Trump, they seem to miss the real motivation and driving force behind them. Amid their confusion, they also continue to invoke a misinterpretation of the events surrounding Nixon’s resignation.

Mobilizing The “Hard Hats” and “Silent Majority”

Richard Nixon took office as the U.S. was losing the war in Vietnam, and Marxism-Leninism was spreading across the planet. This was a time when even some western countries appeared to be moving toward socialist revolution. In 1968, the year Nixon was elected, France was rocked by a massive communist led uprising. In April of 1968, following the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., almost every major city in the United States went up in flames of rebellion.

African-Americans were not alone. Among urban white intellectuals and college students, unrest grew and protests escalated. The Democratic National Convention in 1968 was surrounded by a bloodbath as leftist anti-war protesters were brutalized by the police. New York City’s Columbia University was shut down by a mass student strike.

Nixon, a long-time Republican congressman whose trademark was anti-communism and contempt for mainstream media, moved into the spotlight. Nixon’s rhetoric gradually evolved throughout the 1968 campaign. He adopted much of the rhetorical style of George Wallace, the racist southern Democrat who was running as a third-party candidate in the race. Nixon discovered that Wallace’s narrative about “the good people” and “the silent majority” while castigating hippies and anti-war activities, was a big crowd-pleaser.

Nixon presented himself as a strongman who would bring the United States back to order, ending the domestic turmoil. He promised “an honorable end” to the Vietnam War, and “law and order” i.e. an end to the mass protests and violence.

In Marxist terms, Bonapartism is defined as one section of the capitalist ruling class violently suppressing other sections in the hopes of resolving turmoil. Nixon was an American Bonapartist, if ever. Like Louis Bonaparte in 1851, Nixon took office representing a certain section of America’s rich and powerful. Like the French authoritarian Marx described in his famous pamphlet “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon” the faction supporting Nixon hoped he could restore order by suppressing a lot of very powerful and influential people.

Nixon had a base of supporters who were often described as “hard hats” i.e. unionized construction workers. Nixon had huge support from within the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of the largest labor unions in the country. On May 8th, 1970, New York City witnessed the “Hard Hat Riots” in which union construction workers who supported Nixon were mobilized to attack anti-war protesters in New York City.

While the Kennedy and Johnson administrations had tried to restrain and control the FBI’s COINTELPRO program used to suppress leftists and civil rights organizers, Nixon granted J. Edgar Hoover a free hand to suppress Black nationalism and leftist activism.

Swift Global Maneuvers and Domestic Reforms

With the hard-hats, the FBI, and the Pentagon brass, along with majority of public opinion  supporting him, Nixon made dramatic moves. He, first, escalated the Vietnam War, expanding into Cambodia and launching a massive bombing of northern Vietnam. When this failed, Nixon withdrew U.S. troops from the country.

Nixon followed the strategic plan of Henry Kissinger, and began to court China as an ally against the Soviet Union. He enabled the People’s Republic of China to join the United Nations as permanent member of the Security Council. Nixon enacted the “One China” policy, recognizing Taiwan as part of China, not an independent country.

These dramatic moves would have been impossible under any other President and were openly opposed by many within Nixon’s own Republican Party. The “China Lobby” and the John Birch Society rallied against him with billboards denouncing Mao Zedong and falsely claiming China was responsible for the global heroin trade.

Nixon’s olive branch was embraced by the Gang of Four, an ultra-leftist clique within the Chinese Communist Party that was influential in the final years of Mao’s life. With “The Theory of Three Worlds” China presented the United States as an ally against what they called “Soviet Social Imperialism.” In Angola, Ethiopia, Chile, Cambodia, and many other parts of the world, Communists who took direction from China aligned with the United States in the name of fighting the Soviet Union which they dubbed “the main danger to the people of the world.”

At home, Nixon’s administration passed a constitutional amendment lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, in the hopes of bringing alienated young people back into the political process. Nixon also created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed a number of anti-pollution laws.

The Occupation Safety Health Administration (OSHA) was created in order to enforce laws designed to protect employees on the job. Nixon also enacted the first affirmative action policies in federal hiring, enabling a higher level of representation for African-Americans and Latinos in government jobs.

The Nixon Shocks – “We’re All Keynesians Now!”

Milton Friedman, the neoliberal economist who called for mass deregulation and shrinking of the government’s role in the economy was an adviser to Nixon’s Presidential campaign. During the first years of Nixon’s Presidency, Friedman played a key role in crafting economic policies. The result was an economic downturn.

Nixon then boldly expelled Milton Friedman and the Chicago School Economists from the White House. Nixon famously said, “We are all Keynesians now!” in 1971, and enacted his famous “Nixon Shocks” removing the gold standard as backing for the US dollar, imposing a 90-day freeze on all prices and wages, and a 10% import surcharge.

The moves infuriated advocates of neoliberalism and were denounced widely in the pages of National Review magazine. Friedman, along with Ayn Rand and other widely promoted free right-wing intellectuals at the time, espoused an economic philosophy of “survival of the fittest.” They argued that the state should not intervene, but simply “let the economy take care of itself.” Many libertarians went as far saying that those without economic opportunity should be allowed to die off as inferior. The words of Friedman, Rand and Hayek often invoked memories of the Nazis, who utilized rhetoric about “useless eaters” to justify the extermination of disabled people.

The Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Family, while funding cultural leftist and anti-racist activism, also widely promoted libertarian economics during the 1970s. The Rockefellers financed and promoted various lectures and TV programs promoting Milton Friedman’s concept of “Free to Choose,” unregulated capitalism. Media mogul Ted Turner launched a billboard campaign promoting Ayn Rand’s philosophy. Famously, at the Ford Hall Forum, sponsored by the Ford Foundation in 1972, Ayn Rand proclaimed that the slaughter of the Native Americans was justified. At the same event she received massive applause for oppose the military draft.

Nixon’s purge of Friedman from his administration was not merely symbolic. Facing a serious economic downturn, Nixon utilized huge amounts of government spending, spending $25.2 billion to stimulate the economy in 1972. Nixon went as far to openly propose a plan to provide a universal basic income of $1,600 (the equivalent of $10,000 present day) to every American family of four. Congress blocked Nixon’s proposal for a Family Assistance Plan in 1969. He continued to push the idea even in his 1971 State of the Union Address saying “So let us place a floor under the income of every family with children in America-and without those demeaning, soul-stifling affronts to human dignity that so blight the lives of welfare children today.”

Nixon also made of point being blatantly supportive of organized labor. He was endorsed by many labor unions in his campaigns. He famously commuted the sentence of Jimmy Hoffa, the strongman leader of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and released him from Federal Prison.

Protecting “Archie Bunker” To Wield Political Power

At the time of Nixon’s Presidency, a TV comedy program called “All in the Family” became quite popular. The program portrayed an elderly, conservative, racist construction worker named Archie Bunker, who has ongoing political arguments with his liberal, college-educated son-in-law “Meathead.”

Nixon interpreted the TV program as an attack on him and his supporters, and discussed the program with his advisers. Nixon found the program’s support for LGBT rights to be particularly repugnant. Speaking with his spiritual adviser, Rev. Billy Graham, he used anti-Semitic language to describe what he viewed as a conspiracy against him in the media.

In March of 1974, roughly six months before Richard Nixon resigned, a nationally broadcast cartoon TV special “Free to Be You Me” urged children to reject traditional gender roles. Hollywood actors seemed unanimous in their denunciations of Nixon as a “fascist.” While Nixon spoke for average Americans in expressing fears about drug use and promiscuity, Hollywood and Broadway musicals presented LSD, Marijuana and premarital sex as “cool” and “hip” recreational activities.Though Nixon’s cultural conservatism represented solid majority opinion, the media was dominated by voices who saw him and the middle America he represented as “up tight” and “square.”The reason Nixon kicked Milton Friedman out of the White House is simple. In order to maintain his base of support among “Hard Hats” Nixon could not allow the US economy to be looted. In order for Nixon to carry out his dramatic Bonapartist program, it was necessary for a strata of white workers in the United States to have a comfortable life, and be economically satisfied. If Nixon’s “Silent Majority” were to become hungry and unemployed, they would no longer support him.
While Nixon was happy to unleash Milton Friedman against the people of Chile in 1973 following the military coup, Nixon would not unleash the nightmare of neoliberalism on America’s middle class.

Once the domestic political crisis of 1968-1972 had been resolved, and protests and rebellions were infrequent, the Rockefellers and Ford Foundation unleashed an all-out attack on Richard Nixon, the strongman who was increasingly working to control the economy and protect his working class base from Wall Street greed.

The Washington Post, the New York Times, and other publications with a history of cooperation with the CIA and the intelligence community, worked to paint Nixon as a dictator and tyrant. College students, middle class liberals, African-Americans, and many other liberal strata were mobilized in a call to bring down a “dictator.” Angela Davis and the Communist Party saw Nixon as dangerous because of his strategic use of China as an ally against the Soviet Union and his policies of domestic political repression policies. The Soviet aligned Communists worked with the Democratic Party in calls for Nixon’s ousting. Though China was friendly to the Nixon White House, the Revolutionary Union (now the Revolutionary Communist Party), a Maoist communist group with roots in Students for a Democratic Society, staged massive rallies in Washington DC calling to “Throw the Bum Out.”

While the widespread New Communist Movement of the 1970s often invoked the industrial working class and memories of 1930s populist struggles, it was effectively duped and manipulated by some of the richest and most powerful people. Nixon was not removed for his racism or his crimes against the people of Vietnam. The push to remove Nixon from office came from the Rockefeller Family, the intelligence community, the Ford Foundation, and the Chicago School of Economics. Nixon was right-wing, but his Bonapartism often stood in the way of Wall Street profits. With the domestic crisis of the late 1960s done and over with, there was no need for the billionaire elite to tolerate a “strongman” in the White House who could and did tell them “no.”

The crimes that led to Nixon’s resignation were wiretapping his political opponents to gain information during the 1972 election, keeping an “enemies list” of people disloyal to the administration, and other activities that amount to probably standard foul play in Washington’s ongoing power struggles.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that millions of Americans are currently being wiretapped by the US National Security Agency for reasons that are not available to the public. The FISA court, established in 1978 to oversee wiretaps is described as a “rubberstamp,” almost never declining a warrant. Official records show that from 1979 to 2014, 34,000 wiretaps were approved by the FISA court, with only 11, less than 0.03% being denied.

Opening the Door to Neoliberalism

Bringing down Nixon opened the door to Milton Friedman and neoliberal fanatics. The new President, Gerald Ford, the only President never elected as Vice President or President, appointed Alan Greenspan to his board of economic advisors. Greenspan brought his mentor, Ayn Rand to the White House to watch him be sworn in. Greenspan also directed the Council on Foreign Relations from 1982 to 1988, overseeing the expansion of international trade agreements. Greenspan became chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank from 1987 to 2006, and was probably the most influential figure in US economic policy.

The fall of Nixon was a pivotal moment in the process of transforming the once prosperous American heartland into the “rustbelt,” plagued by opioids, low wages, and suicide. The forces that brought down Nixon, while embracing social and cultural liberalism, had no need to protect the living standards of the “Archie Bunkers” and “Hard Hats.” Jobs were shipped overseas, lending was deregulated, and public budgets were gutted.

Following Nixon’s demise, both the Democratic and Republican parties gradually embraced the economic theories of Adam Smith, Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand. Pat Buchanan and other advocates of protectionism were driven from the Republican Party. Eventually, Bill Clinton’s Democratic Leadership Council emerged to purge the Democratic Party of all who advocated Rooseveltian policies.

The bitterness associated with Trump supporters in places like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin is rooted in decades of policies that Nixon refused to enact. The downfall of Nixon was a pivotal moment in opening the doors of neoliberalism and the destruction of the American middle class.

Donald Trump emerged within the Republican Party as a repudiation of its established leadership. During the debates, Trump accused George W. Bush of lying about weapons of mass destruction and called the Iraq War a disaster. Trump openly advocated for friendlier relations with Russia, and questioned U.S. support for arming terrorists to overthrow the Syrian government. Trump talked of economic protectionism and accused the Republican leadership of abandoning the working class. Trump talked of rebuilding the infrastructure of the United States, and reorienting the economic policies of the U.S. government in order to the put the interests of the population above those of multinational corporations and international bankers.

Things that could have been said by left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore in 2004 were said by right-wing populist candidate Donald Trump in 2016. It should be no surprise, that many of those who had supported the Bernie Sanders during the democratic primaries, voted for Trump in the final election.

Trump’s rhetoric broke with the neoliberal consensus, and challenged the idea that the government should “let the economy take care of itself.” Furthermore, Trump stated that the U.S. was done “toppling regimes.” He openly admitted that US military involvement in Iraq and Libya had resulted in strengthening terrorism and instability.

Many Americans object to Donald Trump’s scapegoating of immigrants and calling  for a crackdown on undocumented workers. Many Americans object to Donald Trump’s bigoted words against Islam. Many Americans object to Trump’s support of torture, and his backing of the police amid a wave of documented brutality. However, these progressive sentiments among many Americans are not the real driving force behind those calling for Trump’s impeachment. The opposition to Trump, which echoes from CNN, MSNBC, John McCain, and the Democratic National Committee has entirely different motives.

Attacking Trump From Above

The focus of Bob Meuller’s investigation is the allegation that Trump somehow “colluded” with Russia during the Presidential campaign. The allegation hurled in the media is that Trump is not enthusiastic enough about overthrowing the Syrian government and is too enthusiastic about the possibility of restoring friendship between Russia and the United States.

Furthermore, many “free trade” Republicans are unhappy that Donald Trump canceled the Trans-Pacific Partnership and is renegotiating aspects of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump, like Nixon, appealed to the grievances of many white working class people, who are far more economically destitute than they were during Nixon’s era. He promised to rebuild infrastructure, and end foreign wars and international trade deals.

Currently, Trump has enacted free-market policies, cutting social spending and regulations. However, Trump continues to hold big rallies around the country, rallying a base of working-class supporters. In a crisis situation, these forces could be pushed into motion in order to carry out a different agenda.

The same forces that maneuvered to bring down Richard Nixon, undoubtedly see Donald Trump as a threat and are actively discussing the idea of removing him. Trump has done a great deal to appease these forces, including de-regulating Wall Street and bombing Syria. However, the media campaign against Trump and the wave of fresh accusations has not ceased.

Trump, like Nixon, could potentially be a barrier in the way of those who want one, global, free-trade, low wage economy, and displays of power such as war to enforce it. For this reason, he faces a wave of opposition, not from those suffering due to the crisis of American capitalism or his problematic policies, but from some of the highest and most powerful forces within the existing power structure.

Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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