In the closing months of his presidency, Richard Nixon began unusual things. As the investigations intensified; as legal and impeachment proceedings moved ahead; as legislative debates ensued; and as various court proceedings continued, President Nixon publicly ignored everything. He followed a strategy of his own, as if oblivious to all the commotion.
First, he set out on a series of whirlwind global visits to take himself out of Washington as much as possible. These foreign trips with multiple stops, included ones to the Soviet Union and to the Middle East. Second, during his final months, Nixon, who had a less than cozy relationship with press already from his days as Dwight Eisenhower’s running mate, now engaged in an ad hominem attack, for example against Dan Rather. He even publicly embarrassed his own press secretary Ron Zeigler. Finally, during his last days and nights in the White House he was reported to have increased his alcohol consumption. He also apparently walked around the rooms and halls—sometimes accompanied by Henry Kissinger—speaking to the paintings on the walls.
President Trump is not yet in the waning days of his tenure in office, but there are signs in some of his comments and tweets that indicate that he certainly is beginning to unravel. (All of Trump’s organized crime jargon references suggest someone reverting to his early most thuggish days in New York City.) Depressed and despondent, Trump is lashing out whenever he can against whomever he can. His advisers, cabinet members, colleagues, and friends have been trying to distract him from the growing legal machinations. They want to divert him to the affairs of state and political campaigning. The problem with Trump staying focused is that can produce very dangerous consequences, especially internationally.
Speaking on Tuesday evening in West Virginia, following a day on which two of his friends/associates had either pled guilty or was found guilty, the President spontaneously appeared to begin to make new policy. Specifically, he suddenly declared that as a result of the U.S. Embassy being moved to Jerusalem, Israel would now have to pay a “higher price” in future negotiations with the Palestinians. John Bolton, the President’s national security adviser—who coincidentally was in Jerusalem at the time that the President spoke at the rally—subsequently walked back Trump’s declaration.
This shooting from the hip policy making, especially when it refers to national security matters, can make for very dangerous responses globally. While Trump indeed may have meant what he said in West Virginia, the Netanyahu Government responded with only quiet indignation; but Israel certainly may now be wondering what they ought to believe is real when it comes out of the White House.
Under the stress that is probably only beginning for President Trump, the Nixon behavior may be a harbinger of things to come. Much of what is transpiring these days in Washington may sound as the philosopher Yogi Berra remarked: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”