Before you gnash your teeth in despair or pop the cork on a bottle of champagne in celebration, please note that I’m not writing about the current occupant of the White House. It was on this date, Aug. 8, 1974, that Richard Nixon gave a nationwide television address on which he announced that he was resigning from the office of President of the United States effective at noon the following day.
The 20th century
Recently, a friend sent me a video about putting our current lives in perspective. It’s a brief compendium of major events that occurred between 1900 and 2000. I suppose the message is that, although we’re all frazzled by months of dealing with the coronavirus, things have been as bad or worse for our parents and grandparents, but they muddled through.
For the most part, the video directs our attention to wars and disease. The First World War (22 million deaths) started in 1914; World War II (1939-1945) caused 75 million deaths; the Korean War occurred during the 1950s and brought about another 5 million deaths. Then there was Vietnam. Iraq. Granada. Nicaragua. Afghanistan. Et cetera.
The video discusses the ravages of the Spanish Flu, polio, and small pox. The stock market crash of 1929 and the economic depression of the 1930’s. The Cold War. But, it overlooks great achievements: the first flight of a heavier-than-air craft, the construction of skyscrapers, the building of the first electronic computer, and the invention of the bikini.
In the political realm, it does not discuss the success of the women’s suffrage movement; the election of a four-term president (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1932-1945), the end of official school segregation (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954), the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or the extension of voting rights to 18-year-old citizens (26th Amendment to the Constitution).
In the middle of that mix, we find Richard Milhous Nixon, a sometimes heroic, but mostly tragic figure in American politics. Nixon was elected to the House of Representatives in 1946, and the Senate in 1950. He became Dwight D. Eisenhower’s running mate for the 1952 election and served eight years as Ike’s Veep.
In 1960, he ran against John F. Kennedy for president and was caught sweating on TV while he and JFK debated whether American forces should be deployed to defend the islands of Quemoy and Matsu. (Don’t know what that was all about? Hint: It had to do with the perceived threat of the spread of communism.)
After Nixon’s defeat, he returned to his home in California where he ran for governor against “Pat” Brown in 1962. That was his second loss. But, he was not deterred. In 1968, he ran for President of the United States against Hubert Horatio Humphrey (Democrat) and George Wallace (American Independent Party). He pledged to end the war in Vietnam, and this time he won.
Nixon’s running mate in both the 1968 and 1972 campaigns was Spiro T. Agnew, the only vice president since John C. Calhoun in 1832 to resign his position. In 1973, Agnew was investigated on suspicion of criminal conspiracy, bribery, extortion, and tax fraud. The following year, as a result of the Watergate Scandal, Nixon resigned the presidency, the only president to do so in the history of our country.
In the early 1970s, I was a still-young college professor and not a fan of then-President Nixon. However, I believe in giving credit where credit is due. During his presidency, Nixon accomplished a major campaign goal. Although it took more time than many pundits believed necessary, he ended U.S. involvement in the Vietnamese War.
Then, in 1972, he and his wife Pat visited China, and opened the doors for further negotiation, eventually producing détente between the two countries. Also, as a result of his meetings with Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Communist Party in the then-Soviet Union, he negotiated SALT I, (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
In our own country, he announced the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) in 1970. But, two years later, he vetoed the Clean Water Act. Congress, however, overrode his veto.
Our nation absorbed the good and coped with the bad of that era, even disco and Nehru jackets as well as the resignation of our Commander-in-Chief. If we can unite as a people, we can weather the COVID-19 storm and deal with whatever happens in the 2020 elections.
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Jim Glynn is a retired professor of sociology. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. However, he is in the process of moving back to Madera, and his computer may be in transit.