News from the Archives: A Tale of Two Presidents, Letters Between Nixon and Trump
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By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
Speaking as someone who once spent many hours in various archives, including the official libraries of U.S. presidents, I was fascinated by recently unearthed exchanges between Nion and Trump.
According to the Associated Press, Dear Donald, Dear Mr. President: A Trump-Nixon ’80s tale a new exhibit has just opened at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum:
They were two men in Manhattan who craved the same thing: validation. One was a brash, young real estate developer looking to put his stamp on New York, the other a disgraced elder statesman bent on repairing his reputation.
That’s how a thirty-something Donald Trump and a seventy-ish Richard Nixon struck up a decade-long, fulsome correspondence in the 1980s that meandered from football and real estate to Vietnam and media strategy.
The letters between once and future presidents, revealed for the first time in an exhibit that opens Thursday at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum, show the two men engaged in something of an exercise in mutual affirmation. The museum shared the letters exclusively with The Associated Press ahead of the exhibit’s opening.
We all recognize Trump the narcissist, but the letters reveal he also knows how to lay on flattery when he wants to:
“I think that you are one of this country’s great men, and it was an honor to spend an evening with you,” Trump writes to Nixon in June 1982, less than eight years after Nixon resigned the presidency during the Watergate scandal. The two had been spotted together at the “21” nightclub and Trump was writing Nixon to thank him for forwarding a photo.
Nixon, too, knew how to stroke the ego of this new acolyte:
“Let me be so presumptuous as to offer a little free advice (which is worth, incidentally, exactly what it costs!”) Nixon writes to Trump. Nixon, who played football in college and never lost his love for the game, then unspools detailed thoughts on how Trump should handle the New Jersey Generals football team that he had recently purchased and would fold by 1986. (Nixon included plenty of shoutouts for the underappreciated linemen, his old position.)
What spawned this exchange? Well, monumental self-confidence and high self-regard, at least for Trump. But let’s face it, one doesn’t get to be President without having an insanely strong ego (I hesitate to call it healthy because I think it’s much higher than would be considered within the normal range):
What motivated the correspondence between a young man seeking a bright future and an ex-president with a dark past? Nixon expert Luke Nichter, a professor at Texas A&M-Central Texas, says the two men “saw something similar in each other — that toughness, that guts, even being beaten up and coming back.”
At Trump’s age, says Nichter, “I can’t imagine trying to befriend an ex-president. … Somehow, I think they both pulled it off and I think they both served a need for each other.”
Both men despised the media. And let’s be honest, both had – and continue to hold – sound reasons for harbouring such a perspective:
The two men bonded over themes that resonate today: a shared distrust of the media, a desire to maximize TV ratings, the idea of using people as “props,” and more.
Writing about the Generals’ broadcast potential, Nixon tells Trump: “The people in the stands, apart from what they pay for their tickets, are indispensable props for the television broadcast which in the future is where the real money lies.”
It was a powerful lesson from a past president for a future one who would shamelessly inflate his reputation as a mogul over 14 seasons on “The Apprentice” and later turn his presidency into its own reality show.
The two men commiserated over their shared mistrust of the press. In 1990, Nixon reached out to Trump when the developer’s business deals were tanking and he couldn’t pay his bills, writing: “Dear Donald — I know nothing about the intricacies of your business enterprises but the massive media attack on you puts me in your corner!”
Trump, even now, is never one to let a grievance against the press go unaired, his strained relations with the media unsurpassed by Nixon or other presidents.
Anyway, the remainder of the AP account reads as filler. But if I had plans to be anywhere near Yorba Linda anytime soon, I would try to take in this exhibition.
I also need to check out whether the exhibition has any virtual analogue.