Nicholas Goldberg: What I discovered about myself on the Richard M. Nixon museum

In the home the place I grew up, President Nixon was a villain. My dad and mom voted in opposition to him each alternative they received, and all of us cheered when he resigned throughout his second time period, flying off in ignominy from the White Home garden to a life outdoors the general public eye.

That he was a prison, a warmonger, a bigot, a vicious redbaiter, a menace to the Structure — these have been unquestionable truths.

So for me, a latest go to to the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda was a head-turning, mind-bending expertise that challenged my assumptions and compelled me to check my long-hardened opinions in opposition to a really totally different narrative.

Some individuals don’t like having their assumptions challenged. I made a decision to embrace it.

Opinion Columnist

Nicholas Goldberg

Nicholas Goldberg served 11 years as editor of the editorial web page and is a former editor of the Op-Ed web page and Sunday Opinion part.

I didn’t go to the museum due to this month’s historic anniversaries. However for the file, January 2023 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords that led Nixon to withdraw American troops from Vietnam, and the fiftieth anniversary of the trial of the Watergate burglars earlier than U.S. District Courtroom Decide John J. Sirica.

Vietnam and Watergate have been central problems with my political formation. I used to be younger within the Nixon years — solely 16 when he resigned in 1974 — however I marched in opposition to the warfare and adopted the Watergate hearings on tv, with acceptable revulsion.

On the museum, I knew I’d be getting into an alternate universe. One through which the identical info are introduced however by some means appear totally different, the place the story has subtly shifted so that you’re caught off guard and compelled to scramble to search out the reality. Like watching Fox Information after years in entrance of MSNBC.

The Nixon introduced by the museum is one who must be judged “on nothing less than his entire life and career,” as President Clinton put it at Nixon’s funeral in 1994. The museum’s Nixon just isn’t harmless or innocent, but the portrait painted is essentially heat, admiring and forgiving.

This Nixon is complicated, a person of imaginative and prescient, a tragic hero introduced down by his personal flaws.

I wandered by way of the displays, studying about his days within the Navy, and about his courtship of his future spouse, Pat. He appeared downright human. However I couldn’t assist questioning: Was I being performed?

Certainly they have been proper about Nixon’s successes: He made a rare, historic go to to China in 1972 that laid the groundwork for normalized relations between the U.S. and that nation after greater than 25 years. It was so surprising and transformative that it spawned a metaphor: the “Nixon-to-China moment.”

Later that 12 months he met in Moscow with Soviet chief Leonid Brezhnev, setting the stage for arms management agreements and a brand new period of detente within the midst of the Chilly Struggle.

Remarkably, it was Nixon — a Republican — who created the Environmental Safety Company and signed the Endangered Species Act. He signed the Occupational Security and Well being Administration into existence.

Frankly, it’s troublesome to think about Republicans at this time working throughout the aisle on such vital initiatives.

And given at this time’s vituperative, self-destructive politics, it’s arduous to not be swayed by his phrases at his first inauguration: “We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another.” God is aware of President Trump by no means mentioned something so considerate.

However every step I took by way of the museum was a technique of confronting and testing my very own beliefs and prejudices, pitting the info as I understood them in opposition to these being introduced.

Sure, Nixon inherited the Vietnam Struggle from his Democratic predecessors — and ultimately ended it. However he additionally bombed city areas, mined harbors and presided over a cross-border troop incursion into Cambodia. It shouldn’t have taken him 5 years to finish the warfare.

Nixon was recorded on the well-known White Home tapes saying Washington “is full of Jews,” and “most Jews are disloyal” and “you can’t trust the bastards.” But when these recordings have been talked about on the museum, I missed them. As a substitute, within the exhibit on the tapes, I used to be capable of hearken to him congratulating the Pittsburgh Pirates on their 1971 World Collection victory.

I couldn’t assist however take into consideration Nixon’s cheerleading position within the McCarthy period — a interval of blacklists, loyalty oaths, the naming of names and the persecution of individuals for his or her political views?

What concerning the Republicans’ cynical “Southern strategy” to win over white voters within the South utilizing coded language to play on racial fears?

And at last, Watergate. Within the run-up to the 1972 marketing campaign, Nixon’s cronies burgled the workplace of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, broke into Democratic Nationwide Committee headquarters on the Watergate Resort, engaged in “dirty tricks” and marketing campaign finance abuses. They focused political enemies, together with weaponizing the IRS in opposition to adversaries.

The museum, to its credit score, had a comparatively thorough exhibit on that mind-boggling scandal and the president’s disgraceful position within the cover-up.

Ultimately I didn’t discover my core beliefs upended or my view of the world shattered. Nixon continues to be a villain in my thoughts. However I got here away with a extra nuanced view and a greater understanding of how others may see the person in a different way. I may acknowledge his successes. And I used to be served a well-needed reminder that folks (even these as polarizing as Nixon) are hardly ever solely good or unhealthy.

Which brings me again to my primary level, which isn’t to select a combat about Nixon’s failures and virtues.

My level is that, for me at the least, you will need to stay open to argument, to problem my very own preconceptions and to hearken to different views with an open thoughts. Generally it helps me ratify what I already imagine. Generally it doesn’t. I often get pleasure from it, however generally it’s disconcerting.

However of this I’m certain: Speaking solely to individuals inside our bubbles, permitting ourselves to be ruled by polarization, siloization, demonization and affirmation bias — that’s intellectually lazy.

Hate Nixon by all means, if that’s the place the info lead you. Or don’t, for those who assume his accomplishments are commensurate along with his failures. However hear one another out.