Here's How Trump's 2018 Midterms Strategy Echoes the Dangerous Impulses of Richard Nixon

Here's How Trump's 2018 Midterms Strategy Echoes the Dangerous Impulses of Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon image by Mark Reinstein, Shutterstock

Discussing the growing concern about President Donald Trump's explosive and irresponsible rhetoric, New York Times reporter Nick Confessore made a revealing comparison Thursday on MSNBC's "Deadline: White House" to one of the United States' most sinister presidents in recent history.

"I was thinking about a phrase from Pat Buchanan back from his days working for Richard Nixon," Confessore told host Nicolle Wallace. "He said, 'Our strategy is to divide the country in half and hope that our half is the larger half.'"

He continued: "And that is Trump's strategy. He casts his opponents as part of an alien force: People who do not share your values, or your country, or your patriotism."

"They represent a 'threat,'" observed Wallace.

"A threat. A threat to your lives and your culture. That is what he revels in. It is the entire arc of his politics — from day one. His words matter, they have consequences. He has a huge soapbox, and he uses it. And he constantly uses it to stoke hatred and fear. That is his style as president," Confessore concluded.

Confessore's characterization of Nixon's politics closely echoes a report from 2016 in which Dan Baum of Harper's Magazine reported a comment from John Ehrlichman, one of Nixon's top aides, that he made in 1994. Discussing the administration's launch of the war on drugs, Ehrlichman reportedly said:

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

This criminalization and targeting of Nixon's political enemies allowed him to frighten Americans into believing that they were under threat from their co-citizens, even as he oversaw out one of the most duplicitous administrations in American history.

As Confessore argues, Trump's decision to use his platform and administration to demonize immigrants and his opponents reveals troubling parallels to that type of thinking and that pattern of behavior.

Watch the MSNBC clip below:

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.