President Donald J. Trump and Richard Nixon: Comparative Analysis
President Donald J. Trump and Richard Nixon are known for setting famous “firsts” in history. Nixon devoted his entire life to the world of politics, whereas Trump has never held a single political office before becoming president. Then we have Trump who has been impeached twice by the House of Representatives and contrastingly, there is Nixon who resigned before the impeachment process began during the Watergate Scandal. Towards the end of the Trump presidency, after the insurrection of the United States Capitol, many of his advisors brought up the idea of a possible resignation, and banned the comparison of him to Richard Nixon at the White House. Ironically, this essay will focus on the comparison between Trump and Nixon in terms of their foreign policy differences in Russia, China, the Middle East, and Vietnam. Furthermore, this essay will also explore the President’s various achievements, personalities, characteristics, and communication strategies to ensure their agenda aligns with the goals of the American People. Looking at many of the similarities and differences in Trump and Nixon’s foreign policy strategy, it is apparent that Nixon’s foreign policy strategy has allowed him to not only create peace with China and the Soviet Union, but those efforts also contributed to establishing world order, especially in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia. This has been widely praised by the American people, thus, his efforts resemble what an American idealist would do — working to benefit the American people and advancing America’s agenda.
Trump and Nixon operated on the idea of populism, but what differed was their use of strategies and methods. Nixon was able to help improve trade relations with China and the Soviet Union using détente, something that Trump could not do — he in fact, started a trade war between China and instilled some of the toughest sanctions in Russia such as not lifting the Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014. Nixon’s civil negotiations with China and the Soviet Union is something that stood out in his foreign policy — it was always in line with his goals and it is apparent that it is driven by American idealism. Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger confronted communism and old allies that now had become economic adversaries and were committed to advance economic growth. Nixon made sure the balance of power was established using the policy of triangulation and his consideration of rapprochement is what allowed his administration to thrive in foreign policy. The underlying reasons for Nixon to consider rapprochement stems from the potential he sees in China that it could grow to be a huge market, but more importantly, because it increases the Sino-Soviet tension. It is a very smart move by Nixon considering that he notices the “growing dissidence between the U.S.S.R and China has limited both countries in the pursuit of policies basically antagonistic to U.S. interests.” Even in today’s society, being able to negotiate with China and Russia remains a challenge with the U.S. because of the loss of trust that has occurred between these two countries. The national security threat with Chinese companies posing as spies in the United States, i.e. Huawei, along with the meddling done in the 2016 presidential election has further divided the relationship between the U.S. with China and Russia.
In regards to the Middle East, Trump brokered a peace deal for the first time in more than a quarter-century with Israelis and Arabs — the Abraham Accords, the agreement that stabilized the relationship with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan. It is an achievement in the Trump administration that should not be dismissed as it will be easier for the U.S. to be able to deal with other countries in the Middle East. During the Nixon administration, he dealt with the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, in which it left Syria and Egypt to attack Israel, so they were able to reclaim the territories that they lost during the war. During that time, Nixon established “Shuttle Diplomacy,” in which Kissinger traveled between the Middle East capitals to negotiate peace after the Arab-Israeli War in 1973. Nixon was not able to broker peace, but later ended up aiding Israel by sending them two billion dollars worth of military supplies and with Kissinger securing a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Syria. Although Nixon did all he could to reduce tensions in the Middle East, dealing with the Middle East was more of a pitfall for Nixon in his foreign policy strategy, but one of Trump’s strong suits as he was actually able to get the countries to sign the peace treaty. However, it is important to note that all Secretary of States since Kissinger have used shuttle diplomacy to further U.S. foreign policy goals.
Southeast Asia has been an issue for both presidents, but Nixon’s way of handling Southeast Asia in regards to what he was faced with was remarkable. When Nixon was inaugurated back in 1969, the U.S. had been involved with the Vietnam War which had killed 30,000 Americans and several hundred thousand Vietnamese citizens. One of Nixon’s goals during his 1968 presidential campaign was to end the Vietnam War, hence his motto, “Peace with Honor.” He rightfully did so by announcing the Nixon Doctrine, in which the United States would help with defense if needed, but the allied nations are still in control of their own security. This doctrine was applied during “Vietnamization,” a policy which helped end the Vietnam War by training South Vietnamese troops and reducing the number of American troops in Vietnam. This also helped their goal of de-escalating tensions with the Soviet Union and China in order for their policy of détente to be more effective. The establishment of the Nixon Doctrine was a mutual benefit as it allowed for world cooperation, rather than the United States aiding to solve the problem of communism. During Trump’s presidency, he had to help mitigate issues in the South China Sea, with regards to China’s nine-dash line claim which overlaps with some of the pre-existing maritime zones (Vietnam being one of the countries involved). China has constantly been deploying research vessels and oil rigs to the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Vietnam, which has really affected Vietnam’s ability to trade in order to prosper economically. Since Trump and Vietnam have always had a shared interest in getting rid of China, Vietnam now needs to look for other sustainable options such as increasing relations with Japan since they are unsure of what President Biden will do.
It is ironic how President Trump and Nixon had become pen-pals back in the 1980’s, and they “engaged in something of an exercise in mutual affirmation.” Fast forward to 41 years later, that perception has changed once it was announced that Trump would be known as the former president and he completely disregarded any comparison between him and Nixon — that was why anything along the lines of resignation was not a viable option for Trump. That mentality instilled in Trump — a person that is never able to accept defeat — is probably what makes him stand out amongst all political figures. The first not to attend an incoming president’s inauguration, the first to win a presidential election without prior political experience, and most importantly, the first to have made 30,573 false or misleading claims as president, according to The Washington Post. Then we have Nixon, who is more reserved and follows the “rules” of a traditional politician, which is good because he could improve his own ratings because what he does is what the American people want, as shown by his leadership during the Vietnam War and his establishment of the Nixon Doctrine. However, with Trump’s extreme narcissist personality, combined with his “low agreeable” demeanor, one that contrasts Nixon heavily, makes him the president where countries such as China are traumatized by him for his harsh trade deals, also known as the China-United States Trade War. Back in January 2020, Trump was able to navigate and negotiate a “phrase-one China deal,” with “China agreeing to an additional $200 billion in U.S. purchases.” These negotiations are leading America to having “the hottest economy in modern history,” as Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s White House Press Secretary describes. Although left as one of the most controversial presidents in history, Trump’s ability to reshape the judiciary branch, establish a space force, making sure there is tax reform, and signing the First Step Act into law are some of his significant accomplishments. On the other hand, with Nixon being able to excel in foreign, environmental, and domestic policies is what brings him prominence.
There is no doubt that both administrations mastered the art of communication. It is worth noting that both presidents despised the press and never instilled any trust in them. It is funny how the individuals running the Press shop in both the Nixon and Trump administration are the definition of “perfect PR professionals” — they are perfect on camera, they know what to say to defend the president’s agenda, and etc.. We see McEnany come into press conferences with her briefing book filled to the maximum, videos to prove the president’s point, and thorough research done on every single one of the president’s statements, no matter how controversial they are. Then there was the press secretary that Nixon appointed, Ron Ziegler, because of his “modest abilities and lack of public stature meshed with Nixon’s desire to diminish the direct impact of the print and electronic media.” This approach towards the media is not the most strategic as “it did not take long for the press corps to determine that the youthful and uninformed Ziegler had no real access to the serious White House information.” With Trump installing some of the best and most loyal communications staff was a smart choice that made sure that his messages were being communicated to the American people effectively. Having a press secretary that is able to defend the president’s messaging without the need of “programming” them, shows that they understand why the president is saying that and why they believe it is best for our country to follow. Although both really disliked the press, being able to play the role of defense is crucial to surviving the intense questioning from the media, and it is something that Jen Psaki and future communications officials should take away. Most importantly, being transparent and honest is what will also allow the communication officials to be trusted while they are on the podium.
Both Nixon and Trump are regarded as infamous and controversial presidents who have set “firsts in history.” Although both Trump and Nixon shared some similar quotes and their populist behavior, Nixon is regarded as an intelligent president who was determined to make his vision become a reality. This is shown through his accomplishments with the Nixon Doctrine, Vietnamization, and with Shuttle Diplomacy. His intricate way of becoming his own PR spokesperson guided him to receiving positive press coverage. He used his power to disallow journalists to record in the oval office, and extended his “honeymoon” phrase, the phrase where the president does not have any criticism against them for the first few months in office, except Nixon’s lasted for about nine months. These were the traits that differentiated him from other presidents, especially Trump, who oftentimes used his business-minded approach and strong personality to tackle obstacles he faced. He brought in the right people to defend his messaging and created the “hottest economy in modern history,” something no other president has yet accomplished. All in all, they both might be similar from the outside, but looking deeper down at their foreign policies and execution, it is not the same way you would expect.
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