How to Tame Donald Trump

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tags: Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Nixon, Trump



John A. Farrell is the author of Richard Nixon: The Life, which will be published by Doubleday in March.

In the spring of 1973, as the Watergate scandals shattered the Nixon presidency, Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a long, brooding letter to a former colleague on the Harvard faculty. Moynihan, a Democrat, had joined the Nixon administration as a domestic policy adviser, hoping to nudge the Republican president toward a more liberal agenda. “Have I been a fool, a whore, or both?” he now asked his friend, Nathan Glazer.

There was another possibility. “Something, perhaps, to be forgiven,” as Moynihan put it.

For it takes two sides to rumble. And if Nixon gave no quarter, neither did his liberal foes. Even as Moynihan helped the 37th president launch an array of progressive initiatives to protect the environment, battle disease, expand health care coverage and integrate Southern schools, the left remained bitterly opposed to Nixon, denigrating him at every turn. Moynihan begged his old allies to give the president some credit. Nixon craved intellectual respectability, Moynihan told historian Arthur Schlesinger in 1971 but “has come to feel that nothing he will ever do can win intellectual support and therefore hates intellectuals more than ever.” Without some kind of affirming feedback to reward the ever-insecure president, Moynihan warned, Nixon’s dark side would prevail. 

Nixon and his staff certainly “betrayed us,” Moynihan wrote Glazer, absolving the disgraced president for little that happened in Watergate. “But there is a sense in which they were also betrayed. Nothing they did could win … approval.” There was “no give either way.” 

It’s a lesson to remember, perhaps, as Donald Trump, another truculent, applause-craving president, meets unrelenting political opposition. One week into his administration, and social media is chock with furious, left-leaning partisans: denying Trump legitimacy, and demanding that congressional Democrats resist! and throw sand in every gear. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is said to be stealing a march on rivals for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination by casting more votes than others against Trump’s Cabinet appointees. 

Neither Moynihan nor I would suggest that today’s Democrats, independents or moderate Republicans forfeit their core principles. If Trump endeavors to round up the parents of American-born children, and send them to detention camps for deportation, Americans must march in protest. If he seeks to deprive American citizens of the right to vote, under the guise of “election reform,” then men and women of principle must respond, in the courts and at the polls. Senate Democrats and Democratic governors must serve, as the Founders intended, as checks on the potential abuse of power posed by one-party rule in Washington. And if Trump lies and dissembles to justify his actions on voting fraud, immigration, torture, relations with Russia and China or climate policy, the press and the public must insist on truth. ...




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