Sunday, November 30, 2014

Former President Richard M. Nixon: Documented Racist

Historians have examined the rise to power of Adolf Hitler in Germany and asked, “How did this happen?” We must now examine the rise to power of Richard M. Nixon, former President of the United States, and also ask, “How did this happen?”                               

Fortunately the U.S. Constitution, the balance of powers in the U.S. government, and Nixon’s demise for other reasons prevented Nixon from doing as much harm as Hitler. Otherwise Nixon might have fulfilled his stated desire to end the Vietnam war by bombing Southeast Asia into oblivion.
But why, after the success of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, was a racist elected President of the United States twice, in 1968 and 1972?
The racism of Nixon is now documented, using Nixon’s own words from his secret tapes, in this YouTube series produced by Harry Shearer, “Nixon’s the One.” Boston Globe staff writer Matthew Gilbert nicely summed up this series in his review, “Nixon,word for word” (Boston Globe, November 23, 2014, N16).
Nixon’s racist comments are shocking. His words are what we could expect from a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. He blames Jews for the nation’s ills, insults blacks and Latinos, and thinks homosexuality caused the decline of ancient empires.
Probably most people who voted for Nixon did not know of his racism. Why, and how, were Nixon’s racist views kept from the public? Surely he must have expressed them before his election to President. He had been Vice-President for eight years, and before that a senator from California.
Just as many Germans alive in the 1940s said that they did not know that Jews were being exterminated, now Americans who voted for Nixon may say that they did not know that Nixon was a racist.
Perhaps they are correct. But why didn’t the public know?
In response to Gilbert’s review, I wrote the following letter that was published in the Boston Globe, Sunday, November 30, 2014, N20 (“Feedback” in the SundayArts section)(not online):