The GOP Appointees Who Defied the PresidentRoundup
tags: political history, Watergate, presidential history, Nixon
MICHAEL KONCEWICZ, a Cold War collections specialist at the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University, is the author of They Said No to Nixon.
“America hired @realDonaldTrump to fire people like the first three witnesses we’ve seen,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted Friday. “Career government bureaucrats and nothing more.” It was the second day of the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings, and Marie Yovanovitch, a career diplomat who had served as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, had been called to testify about how the president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, had undercut her in pursuit of Trump’s political interest. Within hours, the phrase “I hired Donald Trump to fire people like Marie Yovanovitch” was retweeted by thousands of pro-Trump accounts. This wasn’t the first time that defenders of an embattled Republican president declared war on skilled professionals working for the federal government. Sitting inside the Oval Office with then–Treasury Secretary John Connally in 1972, Richard Nixon echoed similar sentiments as Don Jr. “I don’t believe that civil service is a good thing for the country,” Nixon complained.
Nixon and Connally became acquaintances of Trump the elder in the late 1980s, but in 1972 they were privately griping about what they felt was the liberal establishment’s influence over the federal bureaucracy. Shortly after vowing to cut down on the number of Ivy Leaguers in his administration, Nixon made sure to repeat his stance on civil service to Connally. “I don’t think it’s a good thing for the country,” the president said in an exchange captured on the White House tapes.
While the current administration has provided a surplus of comparisons to Nixon, the two presidents are specifically connected through their persistent campaigns against civil servants and other dedicated professionals within the government who resisted abuses of power by the White House. The Trump family’s public campaign against the federal bureaucracy is a brasher, more public version of Nixon’s efforts to instill loyalty across his administration. Crucially, Nixon’s abuses of power were reined in not only by the public Watergate investigations, but also by high-level Republican appointees who stood up to unethical orders behind the scenes. The moral urgency of protecting government institutions over party is no less great today.
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