Here Are 5 Ways Trump — And the Republicans Who Control Both Houses of Congress — Are Much Worse Than Nixon

Although Nixon was considered an arch-conservative in his day and was detested by many liberals and progressives of the 1960s and 1970s, his positions on universal health care, the environment and social spending would, ironically, make him way too liberal for today’s GOP.

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It was 44 years ago, on August 8, 1974, that Richard M. Nixon officially announced he was resigning from his position as president of the United States and that Vice President Gerald Ford would be sworn in as president the following day. Nixon, who had been reelected by a landslide in 1972 and crushed Democrat George McGovern in the electoral college, left the presidency in disgrace thanks to the Watergate scandal—which demonstrated that even presidents are not above the law. Yet Nixon—for all his corruption, reactionary ideas and authoritarian leanings—was much more nuanced and complex than the Trump administration and the far-right Republicans of 2018. Although Nixon was considered an arch-conservative in his day and was detested by many liberals and progressives of the 1960s and 1970s, his positions on universal health care, the environment and social spending would, ironically, make him way too liberal for today’s GOP. And even though some pundits have been comparing President Donald Trump to Nixon because of his xenophobic, paranoid outlook and irrational fear of people of color, the fact is that Trump’s administration is more dangerous on many levels.

Here are five ways in which Trump—along with the far-right Republicans who presently control both houses of Congress—are much worse than Nixon.

1. Health Care

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When Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan try to paint the Affordable Care Act of 2010, a.k.a. Obamacare, as a Marxist-Leninist hijacking of the U.S.’ health care system, their assertion is laughable in light of the fact that the elements of the ACA were greatly influenced by the Heritage Foundation, Republican Mitt Romney and the Nixon administration. In fact, Nixon was a strong proponent of universal health care via the private sector, and when the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress were putting together the ACA in 2009 and 2010, one of the people President Obama met with was none other than Stuart Altman—Nixon’s consultant on health care in the early 1970s. Nixoncare, had it passed, would have been comparable to Obamacare, but with much more generous provisions.

In contrast, the goal of Trumpcare is to deprive millions of Americans of health insurance. So far, Trump and his GOP allies in Congress have been unable to abolish the ACA, but they’ve gone out of their way to undermine it. And according to the Urban Institute, the result in 2019 will be 6.4 million fewer Americans with health insurance and premiums soaring by more than 18% in the individual market. Nixon was actually to the left of Obama on health care and wanted to expand coverage considerably; Trump, McConnell and Ryan have set out to deprive millions of coverage.

2. The Environment and Climate Change

By modern GOP standards, Nixon would be considered a major “tree hugger”; he realized that industrial pollution was a serious health threat and was quite willing to work with Democrats in a bipartisan way when it came to environmental legislation. So, in 1970, Nixon—with the blessing of many Democrats—signed an executive order that established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ironically, an organization that Tea Party wingnuts would love to abolish was one of Nixon’s most impressive achievements as president. And Trump has been a consistent EPA foe, aggressively promoting fossil fuels over green energy and appointing Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator. Pruitt was, hands down, the worst EPA administrator in its 48-year history and, like Trump, is a climate change denier despite overwhelming evidence that climate change is a painful reality.

3. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

Author/journalist Noam Chomsky, one of the great minds of the left, has described Nixon as “America’s last liberal president”—and when it came to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, Nixon clearly supported elements of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s sequel, the Great Society. In 1972, Nixon signed into law a bill that expanded Social Security and Medicare benefits, which was radically different from the Trump administration budget that, in February, called for dramatic cuts in those programs. Nixon had no interest in privatizing Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, whereas Ryan would love to privatize those programs—and as Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, pointed out earlier this year, “Privatization is not a plan to save Social Security; it is a plan to dismantle Social Security.”

4. The Minimum Wage

Nixon wasn’t as proactive on raising the national minimum wage as Sen. Ted Kennedy and other Democrats in Congress would have liked; in 1973, Nixon vetoed a Democrat-sponsored House of Representatives bill that would have raised the minimum wage more rapidly than the increase he ended up signing into law in 1974. Yet Nixon was clearly to the left of Trump, Ryan or McConnell when it came to the federal minimum wage, which hasn’t been raised since 2009. Trump has been inconsistent on the subject, sometimes indicating he was open to the possibility of a federal $10 per hour minimum wage but other times stressing that minimum wage increases should be left to individual states. And Ryan has repeatedly promoted the myth that minimum wage hikes harm the poor.

5. The U.S. Supreme Court

Nixon definitely pushed the U.S. Supreme Court to the right of where it had been under Chief Justice Earl Warren, appointing four conservatives: Harry Blackmun, Lewis F. Powell, William Rehnquist and Chief Justice Warren E. Burger (Earl Warren’s replacement). While Earl Warren, appointed by President Eisenhower, was the most liberal chief justice in the High Court’s history even though he was a Republican, Nixon was a vehement critic of Warren—especially on Culture War issues—and clearly wanted a more right-wing Court. Yet Blackmun was part of the majority that handed down the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, while Rehnquist was a dissenter—and the Burger Court upheld 1957’s Roth v. the United States (which made it more difficult to prosecute sexually explicit films, books or magazines for obscenity) by tweaking it with 1973’s Miller v. California. The Burger Court, overall, had more nuance than the Supreme Court that Trump is helping to shape by nominating far-right Antonin Scalia-ish ideologues like Neal Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Nixon was wary of unchecked corporate power, unlike Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. And when all is said and done, Trump may end up fashioning a Supreme Court that makes Nixon’s Burger Court seem liberal by comparison.

 

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Alex Henderson is a news writer at AlterNet and veteran political journalist. His work has also appeared in Salon, Raw Story, Truthdig, National Memo, Philadelphia Weekly, Democratic Underground, L.A. Weekly, MintPress News and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.