A message of hope in a dark season

Nineteen seventy-two, the year I entered public-policy school, was also the year of the Nixon landslide. The day after the election I was in utter despair.

Fortunately, one of my instructors was the immortal Richard Neustadt. After hearing me rant for a minute or two about how Nixon was going to wreck the country, Neustadt said something which I thought, at the time, was merely designed to comfort me, but which turned out to be prophetic.

“Don’t worry. Nixon has no sense of limits. He will be destroyed.”

Yes, the country is in much worse shape normatively and institutionally than it was in 1972. Back then, there were Republicans prepared to tell their own President that he’d gone too far. On the other hand, Trump is much wickeder and much crazier than Nixon ever dreamed of being, has far less grasp of the mechanics of governing, and has surrounded himself with a weaker (and crazier) team.

So there’s hope for the future.

For now, there’s work to do.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

17 thoughts on “A message of hope in a dark season”

  1. Oddly, Trump actually knows limits. That's why he's appointing truly horrible people to the Cabinet and upper-level agencies (e.g. the EPA). This will give him plausible deniability when they, as they will do, step over the line.

    But, in making these appointments, he's also moved the line. The line is different now than in 1972. There were Republicans then who observed certain norms. Take for example your call for a special prosecutor. I remember Elliott Richardson refusing to fire the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox. But Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III, is no Elliott Richardson. If anything, he and the other Cabinet members will only push Trump to move the line further.

  2. I agree with the above. But Trump has no real close friends in Washington. Certainly this will become relevant to how he fares when he starts to make war on people who do.

        1. Just an odd, off-topic question I've always wondered about–how/why did Nixon get selected as Ike's running mate?

          I know politics was very different back then. The parties were run mostly by the politicos, the folks in the back room. But Ike was the most popular candidate the GOP ever had. Ever. If he didn't like Nixon, or didn't trust him, then he could have simply said "no, not him." So what happened?

          1. Rick Perlstein, writing on pages 35 to 36 of Nixonland, reports that Ike became aware of Nixon through reading a book on his role in the Alger Hiss investigation. Nixon had also supported the Marshall plan when the conservative wing of the GOP was against it. That helped. But the factor that got Nixon the VP nomination was his work in peeling off California delegates who were going for Earl Warren and bringing them over to Eisenhower. Ike could not win the nomination without California, and his allies rewarded Nixon for his efforts in achieving that goal.

          1. I think you're thinking of Bebe Rebozo instead of Cardozo. I was sure you must have misspelled Bob Abplanalp's name, but you didn't, which more than makes up for the Cardozo/Rebozo confusion. I wonder if his parents were immigrants who tried to anglicize their name by taking something off a stock ticker. "Alcoa's easier to pronounce, but Abplanalp is just so much cooler."

          2. Gulp. You're absolutely right. In my defense, I DID say my memory was vague. There were photos of RMN and Rebozo in some lush surroundings in Florida.

  3. It's striking that of the commentators I read, Harold Pollack and Kevin Drum were quicker to get their balance and focus back than most of us. Harold cares for his mentally handicapped brother-in-law Vincent; Kevin is under treatment for cancer. Such burdens are heavy, but they give perspective on what's important and remind us in the morning of of what we can and have to do in the day.

    I recommend Jack Balkin's take from the I Ching. Remember that part of Trump's technique is to keep opponents off balance by an endless stream of outrages and media stunts, destroying their focus and making them react to the scandal du jour instead of planning effective counterattacks. It works like Operation Fortitude in 1944: the German high command got true intelligence before D-Day, but it was swamped by the false.

  4. I think that we should address the incoming President of the United States as president donald j. trump, as a continual reminder to him that he "won" the election with 2.7 million fewer votes than his opponent.

  5. It's clearly possible for Trump to be reelected, but one thing I've been wondering is if it's possible for Trump to be reelected in a Nixon '72 or Reagan '84-level landslide. We haven't had one of those since the 1980s, but George W. Bush would probably have had one if 9/11 had happened in, say, September 2004 instead of September 2001. So it's not inconceivable given the right kind of crisis.

  6. Neustadt's prediction, as you record it, was profoundly irresponsible and is not excused by the fact, that in retrospect, it appears accurate.

    The irresponsibility of it lies in the blithe disregard of collateral damage, unacceptable in any amount or kind.

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