It took Richard Nixon four years to piss off the American public. Donald Trump is only hours into his first presidential term and he’s already topped that record.
Donald J. Trump’s fledgling and fear-driven presidency has already drawn comparisons to one particular precedent-setting commander-in-chief from recent memory: Ronald Reagan. However, before Reagan deteriorated the moral fabric of our country by instituting trickle-down economics, there was another president who strolled into the oval office on extremely controversial terms. He is, of course, Richard Nixon.
However, not even Nixon, famously known for resigning from office following the Watergate scandal, was not as unpopular or despised as Donald Trump — at least not during his first term.
Nixon was sworn into office in 1969 after his predecessor, Lyndon B. Johnson, decided not to run for a second term amid the huge backlash against the major part played by the United States in the dramatic escalation of the Vietnam War. Although he was known for using the language of law and order to dog-whistle white supremacists and Dixiecrats in the same way that Donald Trump has done, Nixon’s 55 percent approval rating soared above that of Donald Trump’s, which has sat between 32 and 36 percent.
Nixon’s first term in office was a godsend for many Americans. He reestablished diplomatic relations with China. He signed an arms agreement with the Soviet Union. He created the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and SBA (Small Business Administration).
Heading into his second term, Nixon again managed to pull off a relatively high approval rating, but this time around, anxiety over his first-term performance did spark mass protest. He had not yet implemented his “Vietnamization” strategy, which would initiate the process of withdrawing American troops from the bloodbath of Vietnam. War activists and demonstrators were not convinced of Nixon’s anti-war bona fides. They demonstrated on the Washington Monument. They shouted “Killer, Killer, Killer” during the oath. They screamed “Nixon, You Liar, Sign the Cease-fire” at the sight of his motorcade.
It would take the compelling force of Watergate to force Nixon’s hand and, ultimately, sink his approval rating to 34 percent. The American public not only resisted the Nixon administration, but also, their instinct to oppose him turned out to be right. He would opt to resign a mere one year into his second term.
As one writer puts it here, we should not forget this lesson as more headlines about Trump team’s involvement in the Russian hacking scandal fester in the American consciousness, as more immigrants grow antsy about their living standards and as large-scale protests continue as the Trump era begins.
It took Nixon four years to summon the hatred and collective critique 0f the American public. Donald Trump is only a few hours into his first term and he’s triggered fiercely inflammatory commentary. That is worth noting. That is worth being mindful of. If that’s a sign of things to come, of how these next four years will play themselves out. We’re in for one helluva ride.