In May, 1970, our country was in turmoil, much as it is today. We were embroiled in the Vietnam War, which was widely unpopular among many of our citizens. Four students had just been killed by the National Guard on the Kent State University campus.
President Richard Nixon’s response to the growing national unrest was to expand American bombing of Cambodia. He billed himself as the “law and order” president rather than try to understand what the turmoil was all about across the nation.
In the early morning hours of May 9, Nixon led a cadre of aides and Secret Service agents to the Lincoln Memorial to meet with a group of antiwar demonstrators. I suppose Nixon might have earned some moxie points for his bold action, but the result was a blatant demonstration of how out-of-touch the president was with the nation’s mood.
When Nixon learned some of the students were from Syracuse University, he asked them about their football team. Students later termed “absurd” what Nixon had to say.
“Here we had come from a university that’s completely uptight, on strike, and when we told him where we were from, he talked about the football team,” one student said.
“I know probably most of you think I’m an SOB,” Nixon told the students. “But I want you to know that I understand just how you feel.”
No, he didn’t, and all the students there, and all the people across the nation, knew he didn’t “get it.”
At the time this occurred, I almost felt sorry for Nixon. He was so out of touch with the American mood, it was sad and pitiful.
I had the same feeling on this June 1, when I saw Donald Trump order the tear gassing of a group of peaceful protestors near the White House, so he could walk across the street and hold up a Bible, simply as a photo opportunity, in front of the St. John’s Episcopal Church. He was not there to lead a prayer service in memory of George Floyd. He didn’t even have approval from the church for his stunt. Many of the demonstrators he had gassed were church members.
The act was condemned by the church pastor and the Washington archbishop.
Just as the gunning down of college students in 1970 sent a chill down the collective American spine, so did the gassing of U.S. citizens in the nation’s capitol, as military helicopters flew overhead and troops marched in the street.
Just as Nixon “didn’t get it” back in 1970, so does Trump “not get it” today. It’s all about an opportunity for him to demonstrate a show of force and play to his political base with a phony Bible waving. He has no remote understanding of why millions took to the streets last week to demonstrate. He has no comprehension of the current plight of African Americans in our nation’s culture.
After the event was widely reported all around the world, Trump had the audacity to demand media retract their reporting.
Just as the nation rejected Nixon’s mistaken move toward understanding, it also sees through Trump’s ludicrous staging of a photo op in trying to demonstrate his leadership. The whole scene was so ridiculous, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.
Winston Jones is a former journalist living in Carrollton.