Nixon Resignation Resonates Still Today
Hunter S. Thompson was called the Mark Twain of our age. While he may be remembered mostly for creating Gonzo Journalism and the trippy masterpiece Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson’s writing life was spent mostly in pursuit of Richard Nixon. His book Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 was his true masterpiece, covering the failed campaign of George McGovern to unseat President Nixon.
Two years later, and 40 years ago Friday, President Nixon resigned the Presidency in the wake of the Watergate and other scandals and his impending impeachment. Nixon’s legacy is vast. He was the first victim of politics-by-television in 1960. His actions coined the term “Imperial Presidency.” He visited China. He started the EPA and the War on Drugs.
Yet, Nixon is still the archetypal political villain, so much so that any political scandal (no matter how ridiculous it is) is now given the suffix “-gate.” He was pardoned by Gerald Ford, the only President we’ve had elected solely by Michigan’s 5th Congressional District. Even though President Ford said he did it to help the country move forward, the pardon played a significant role in his defeat.
The legacy left by Richard Nixon is one that has perhaps helped to sour modern politics. While perhaps it took some time to actually prove that Nixon was involved in Watergate (and other criminal abuses of power), it was one of those charges that immediately “felt right” to many Americans.
Had Nixon fought the impeachment charges and won, it could have legitimized the idea Nixon espoused in his 1977 interviews with David Frost that when the President does something “it’s not illegal.” Had Nixon fought the charges and lost, Americans would have seen the glory of Constitutional process and had faith that the government worked as it should.
Yet, by resigning, Nixon was able to slink off into history. Crooks have run for national office since, content in the knowledge that they will be taken care of if it all goes sideways. The people don’t even care anymore, left with only outrage and partisan vitriol at the miscarriage of justice. Even though the world had always been a scary place, the aftermath of Nixon (from the rise of the Christian right to post-9/11) is the first time that Americans really got scared.