Throughout United States’ history, we’ve had many presidents. Some bought credit to the presidential office while others disgraced it. Richard Milhous Nixon, the 37th president, is one of the most controversial presidents. He was a diplomatic détente but was also the only president to resign from office.
As a perceived diplomatic détente, Nixon, with the help of Henry Kissinger, the brilliant Secretary of State at that time, made peace with China and the Soviet Union. The cause of the détente was the realpolitik policy. Realpolitik is a political system based on practical considerations rather than moral principles. America was losing the Vietnam War and struggling with threats of communism. Since the country needed change, Kissinger proposed this new policy. Now that Russia’s economy was unbearable and China’s Great Leap, an attempt to industrialize, failed miserably, it was the perfect time for détente. (Sandvick)
The hostile attitude between the United States and China started in the late 1940’s. After the Chinese Civil War ended in 1949, China became communist and the United States didn’t want a relationship with a communist country. The United States even tried to prevent the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) from getting China’s spot in the United Nations Assembly. However, as the Vietnam War escalated, U.S. officials looked for ways to reduce the conflict. (Museum)
Nixon showed interest in improving the relationship when he eased travel and trade restrictions in 1971 against China that dated back to the Korean war in the 1950’s. In 1972, President Nixon visited the PRC and met with Mao Zedong, the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and Zhou Enlai, the PRC’s Premier. The two governments negotiated to improve their relationship. Another step in the improved relationship was the “ping-pong diplomacy”. In April 1972, the PRC ping pong team visited the United States on a “good-will tour”. Although it wasn’t the countries’ leaders that got together, it was still a symbol of diplomacy. (https://history.state.gov)
The first step of détente with the Soviet Union was in 1971, when Nixon visited secretary-general of the Soviet Communist party, Leonid I. Brezhnev. Nixon was the first United States president to visit Moscow. Brezhnev and Nixon signed seven agreements to prevent military aggression. These agreements were known as SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) talks. They discussed joint research in many areas including space exploration, limiting weapons and expanding commerce.
Another agreement between the countries was the Basic Principles Agreement. Both countries pledged to avoid military confrontation, peacefully coexist and give up spheres of influence. The SALT talks were ratified by Congress and also included a grain deal where Russia purchased seven hundred fifty million dollars worth of much needed grain from the United States. Peacefully, the countries were able to agree, allowing each side to benefit. Russia got food for their starving citizens and the U.S. economy strengthened from the grain deal.
In 1973, Brezhnev visited the United States. He and Nixon continued to make agreements, symbolizing the commitment of peace between the two countries and easing cold war tension. In 1973 the trade ban of 1949 ended as a result of the SALT talks and the improved relationship. (Staff)
Although Nixon made peace with other countries, this author, along with many others, thinks he was a criminal. Many of Nixon’s actions throughout his life were questionable, starting as early as his college days.
When Nixon was studying law at Duke University School of Law, the pressure to do well got to him. He had won a scholarship to attend the university under a program that was nicknamed the “meat grinder”, since every year the lagging students were eliminated. One night Nixon had two friends hoist him into the dean’s office to check his transcripts and make sure he was doing well. Though he was fourth in the class and doing well academically, he had broke into the dean’s office which is committing a crime. (Braswell)
Later on, Nixon was accused of stealing money from the Pentagon but bailed himself out through his Checkers speech. In this speech, Nixon sweet-talked the country by saying he earned everything, except for his dog, Checkers, which was a gift. Although he wasn’t proven guilty, since he was accused, this author thinks there must have been something he did that triggered these charges.
The Watergate Scandal and its aftermath also involved dubious behavior on Nixon’s part. Though he handily won the election in 1972, five burglars were caught raiding the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel on June 17. This was the second invasion on the building. Earlier, in May, burglars had gotten away with secret documents and planted bugs in the office phones, which didn’t work. Now in June, they were back with a fresh batch of bugs. A security guard noticed some unnecessary tape during his rounds and removed it. However when he returned the tape had been replaced. The guard realized someone was trespassing and called the police. Charged with burglary and interception of communications, the five men were taken to jail. (Millward)
How was Nixon linked to this scandal? One of the five men was James McCord. McCord was a member of CREEP, Committee for the Re-election of the President. They were a group of ex-CIA members who Nixon permitted to do anything necessary in order for him to win reelection. Another clue of Nixon’s involvement was a paper found in one of the burglar’s pockets with a telephone number on it that connected to the White House operator.
Nixon wasn’t directly involved in this crime since he didn’t know it was being done in his name. The real offense was that Nixon and his team tried to contain information, bribe judges, and circumvent the law.
Nixon used “hush money” to pay the ex-CIA burglars after they were detained which is a criminal offense. He defense for any of his misdemeanors was that “If the president does it that means it’s not illegal” The day after the arrests, Nixon and chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, privately discussed how to get the CIA to tell the FBI to back off from the burglary investigation.
During the course of the Watergate hearings, Leon Jaworski was hired by Nixon to prove he was innocent. At the same time Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, later known as “Deep Throat”, were hired by The Washington Post to investigate the scandal. The two reporters found secret tapes that Nixon recorded from February 16, 1971, until July 18, 1973. Nixon secretly recorded almost four thousand hours of conversations from five different places such as the Oval office and Camp David. These tapes were known as ” smoking guns.” Jaworski asked for the releasing of these tapes, believing they contained valuable information. Nixon did not want to give over the tapes claiming he had executive power as president. (Voort)
Nixon was taken to court, in a case known as U.S. vs. Nixon on March 1, 1974. The court ordered him to release the tapes but he still refused. The judge’s allegation was the presidential abuse of power, criminal cover-up and other Constitutional violations since executive privilege is not limitless. In July the House of Representatives voted to impeach Nixon due to the fact that he was still hiding a few minutes of the tapes. Nixon claimed the secretary stopped the recording by accident and even had her act out what she did. As much as Nixon said there would be “no whitewash at the White House”, and he wasn’t directly part of Watergate, these tapes proved otherwise. (Voort)
Another example of Nixon dodging the law was in the case known as “The Pentagon Papers”. Daniel Ellsburg, a military analyst, was to research The Gulf of Tonkin incident. Ellsburg found seven thousand pages on the topic and gave the story to the New York Times who printed it. Nixon used his “plumbers unit” to try and cover up the story. They ransacked Ellsburg’s psychologist’s office to find any secret he was hiding but they found nothing. Nixon sued the New York Times attempting to push the story under the rug and even bribed the judge to let him win. However, the court ruled in favor of Ellsburg and the New York Times, since according to the first amendment there is freedom of the press. (Luce) (Staff)
On August 8, 1974, Richard M. Nixon resigned from the presidential position before the Senate impeached him. Nixon appointed his vice president Gerald R. Ford to take over as president. Eleven days after Ford took office, he pardoned Nixon which was odd since Nixon hadn’t had a trial and forty members of Nixon’s CREEP were still sitting in jail.
The reason this author thinks that Nixon was a lowly criminal is because as president, his role was to carry out the law- not break it. The president has the obligation to be a role model for the country and Nixon found loopholes to cheat through the system he was supposed to be protecting.