11/08/2017 Peter Durantine

Donald Trump and the Ghost of Richard Nixon

Past may not be prologue, but it is a guide for the present as historians, political scientists and national journalists make comparisons between President Donald Trump and President Richard Nixon who, faced with impeachment over the Watergate scandal in 1974, resigned his office.

On Nov. 15, Franklin & Marshall College hosts Luke Nichter, professor of history at Texas A&M University – Central Texas, a leading authority on Nixon’s White House tapes, the Oval Office recordings that helped build the U.S. House’s case for impeaching the president. Nichter speaks at 7:30 p.m. in Stager Hall’s Stahr Auditorium.

  • Trump, conferring in January 2017 with Vice President Mike Pence and then Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, who is now the president's chief of staff. Trump, conferring in January 2017 with Vice President Mike Pence and then Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, who is now the president's chief of staff. Image Credit: U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Daniel Frick is F&M’s adjunct associate professor of American studies and the author of “Reinventing Richard Nixon: A Cultural History of an American Obsession.” Frick said Nichter will address the question of whether history will repeat itself in his talk, “Past is Prologue? Donald Trump’s Watergate and the Ghost of Richard Nixon.”

“Professor Nichter’s talk is especially timely,” Frick said. “From Trump’s recycling of such phrases as the ‘silent majority’ and ‘forgotten’ Americans to his firing of FBI director James Comey and the onset of criminal indictments in the Russian probe, many people see historical parallels and use Richard Nixon’s presidency as a lens for trying to understand what’s going on today.”

Watergate is named for the Washington office complex, where in June 1972, police caught operatives linked to Nixon’s re-election campaign breaking into Democratic National Committee headquarters. Their intent was to sabotage the Democratic nominee’s presidential bid.

The scandal exposed widespread political intrigue. Congress learned through hearing testimony about Nixon’s secret recordings, which the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Nixon to release. The tapes provided evidence of cover-ups and obstruction of justice leading to the indictment and conviction of key Nixon aides.   

  • Nixon, with stacks of edited transcripts from the taped  conversations in the White House, during an April 29, 1974 broadcast to the nation. Nixon, with stacks of edited transcripts from the taped conversations in the White House, during an April 29, 1974 broadcast to the nation. Image Credit: National Archives and Records Administration

Since the investigation that began earlier this year into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians, many have made comparisons between Trump and Nixon. Nichter will discuss today’s events and those during Watergate to assess the relevance of the historical parallels that are drawn between the 37th and the 45th presidents.

Between February 1971 and July 1973, Nixon secretly recorded 3,700 hours of his phone calls and meetings in the White House. About 3,000 hours of the tapes have been declassified and made available to the public. Nichter has taken on the task of compiling audio files and transcripts that are accessible at nixontapes.org.

Past is Prologue? Donald Trump’s Watergate and the Ghost of Richard Nixon,” 7:30 p.m., Nov. 15, Franklin & Marshall College, Stahr Auditorium in Stager Hall.

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