65. The joyous
Updated: Dec 18, 2020
I really like Richard Nixon. Perhaps it is because he reminds me of my maternal grandfather; they were men born around the same time and, though from different countries, there must have some common quality to what it meant to be a man around then. So far as I know, nobody really cares that much about Nixon today. When I was a teenager, I read Hunter S. Thompson’s rants against Nixon, though without much feeling. There is a strange tendency in the West to really hate, feverishly, right-wing political figures. I did a lot of that when I was a teenager, mostly Margaret Thatcher and George W. Bush, though the former I had hardly any memory of.
Why the rage and hate? Usually, the justification is that these people are the new Hitler—and Hitler was a very bad thing indeed. But that never holds up, not on closer examination. No, the rage is to do with the destruction of illusion. The left is a priestly movement, a blur of rhetoric and sophistry that is used to manipulate the masses. You have to be a true believer. I have been a true believer in many things—in Marxism and women and science and Christ and Hitler—and, above all, the true believer hates to have his necessary illusions challenged. One way to react to having your illusions destroyed—as reality always does, sooner or later—is to scream and accuse and, to use the psychological jargon, project. You hate, hate, hate the person who breaks the illusion: they must be a monster.
Thompson, who hated Nixon as much as anyone, when he met Nixon himself, cooped up in a limousine talking about football, found that he liked the man. They talked about football, a game that Nixon followed closely, claiming that the worse you are at a game the more you try to follow it. Nixon was one of those avuncular men you meet. I have an uncle like that. He became avuncular before he was my uncle; he was just born to be an uncle, and Nixon was like that. I am not going to tell you he was a nice man or anything like that—nobody gets to be president of the United States by being nice. He was, however, a pretty realistic man. If you spend some time with him—there are hours of interviews with him on YouTube, sometimes watched by 50 or 80 people—then Nixon the realistic uncle comes into view.
Nixon was an unfortunate man because he was a careful man. He was not a genius or a naturally charismatic person. He had to do everything very carefully. He proceeded through law school thanks to—using his own words—his iron butt; he simply had the staying power to master the material. His methodical nature was his undoing. Watergate was certainly a step too far, especially when Nixon was acclaimed across the country. His overcautious nature was his undoing; and his dogged personality lacked the charisma and charm to make up for it. He was a poor diligent Quaker to the end!
Nixon had one friend, they say. Is that unfortunate? Not really. If you are prepared to live without illusions then you will know that a man is lucky to have one genuine friend in life. Oh, we all have a social whirl and contacts and people to make deals with and go to parties with; but if a friend is someone who has your back in the worst circumstance then, for men, we have only one—sometimes not even that.
Nixon was an outsider. He was a humble man who worked his way up into elite circles and what he saw there was so much hypocrisy and complacency. He was not polished, though he was a Machiavellian in his own way. He lied many times, but he was an honest liar: a sincere liar. This is as good as anyone can expect in politics, or in life.