Editor’s Note: This post was written by Kaitlyn Smith.
One lesson for the Trump administration that can be derived from the Nixon presidency is transparency. The Nixon presidency was marked with secrecy and lies as Nixon sought to utilize unilateral executive power to conduct his affairs. The Trump administration should seek to be as transparent as possible in regards to executive action. Despite the fact that some decisions will be publicly unpopular or will be heavily scrutinized by the media, transparency will protect the Trump administration from possible investigations into abuses of power. For example, President Nixon’s secrecy led to the establishment of the War Power Act of 1973, which hindered his power as president. If President Nixon had sought congressional approval on his actions in Cambodia, Congress may have been more helpful in his quest to end the Vietnam War and may not have been inclined to restrict his presidential power. Also, the public tends to disapprove of the use of unilateral power by the president without congressional approval. President Trump, who is already suffering from low approval ratings, cannot afford further anger from the public. Therefore, President Trump should work with Congress and be transparent.
A second lesson for the Trump administration that can be derived from the actions of the Nixon presidency is that irrational emotions must be controlled. This is because President Nixon struggled to control his own irrational behavior during the course of his presidency, allowing it to not only worsen, but also control his decisions. President Trump, who at times has displayed some of Nixon’s behavioral characteristics such as paranoia, needs to keep his decisions and his emotions separated. President Nixon’s paranoia led to his involvement in the Watergate Scandal and ultimately his resignation from the office. President Trump needs to focus on the decision-making process and ensure that all decisions have been carefully planned before implementation.
A third lesson for the Trump administration that can be derived from the Nixon presidency is that divided government can produce success. Although President Trump is currently involved in a unified Republican government, he will most likely face a Democratic or divided Congress at some point in his presidency. Therefore, President Trump must learn how to work with Congress, even if it’s composed of the opposite party, in order to pass legislation. Proof that major legislation can be passed despite a divided government is evident in the Nixon administration through the plethora of laws that were enacted. President Nixon oversaw a major expansion of the power of the federal government as he helped enact regulatory laws that protected the environment, consumers and workers. President Nixon was able to successfully pass and implement these major pieces of legislation alongside a Democratic Congress. Nixon, who tended to dislike compromise, was able to not only compromise with Democrats, but also produce successful pieces of legislation that are still impacting the lives of Americans today. Therefore, President Trump should focus on compromising with Congress if he wants to pass any of his major policy goals, such as healthcare and immigration.
Information about President Nixon in this post was taken from “Richard M. Nixon: The American Presidents Series: The 37th President, 1969-1974” by Elizabeth Drew.