Research

Welcome to Nixonland

June 3, 2021
Steven McCormack
2 mins
The Press Is The Enemy

I have a strange fascination with Richard Nixon. Here was a man with huge insecurities, rampant paranoia and a real taste for whiskey. And for a period he was the most powerful figure on the planet. So what happened? Rick Perlstein's Nixonland presents his incredible story from depression era poverty to vice presidency, from unknown lawyer to infamous conspirator.

Yet the book offers so much more than that. We are given an alternative glimpse into the 1960s; one very different from flower power, free love and civil rights. It depicts a scared, restless America. One that was willing to elect a flawed man in the pursuit of law and order. Peace of mind. Comfort and security. Does that ring any bells?

'The Fracturing of America'

Nixon's genius was that he could tap into the undercurrent of discontent. He was an outsider. He could see what the American establishment could not. And he was impressively persistent. Don't forget that he was sorely humbled by JFK in the 1960 election. Yet he kept chipping away. Nixon would not stop until he attained the power he so craved.

There are lessons in that. Your background is no excuse for inaction. Failures are mere bumps in the road. Mental anguish can be a potent fuel for ambition. Just don't end up a traumatised alcoholic with access to nuclear weapons codes.

The (Monetary) Butterfly Effect?

So what is his legacy? It is more significant, and yet more subtle, than you might think. The Watergate scandal etched his name in history. 'Nixon Goes to China' was a political masterstroke. But the key decision, one that is touched only briefly in the book, took place in 1971. In that tumultuous year Nixon decoupled the US dollar from gold, and with it introduced (unwittingly) the financialised world that we grapple with today.

I am drastically simplifying for effect. For the real detail I direct you to Lyn Alden's spectacular piece on the Petrodollar system. But the snowball effect is now clear. Separate value from currency and you distort motivation. For where do we store the fruits of our labour? First we tried houses, then we tried stocks and bonds, and now we try digital assets. I sincerely hope we are third time lucky.

I'll always admire Richard Nixon's determination. But I no longer want to live in Nixonland.

Singing out, Steven.

Photo on Wikipedia.

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