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Op-Ed: At the GOP convention, Nixon’s ‘law and order’ mantra rings, but Trump stirs the pot of disorder

Then-Republican presidential nominee and Vice President Richard M. Nixon acknowledges cheers during a campaign speech at Public Hall in Cleveland on Oct. 6, 1960.
Then-Republican presidential nominee and Vice President Richard M. Nixon acknowledges cheers during a campaign speech at Public Hall in Cleveland on Oct. 6, 1960.
(Associated Press)

It has been a long time since Richard Milhous Nixon has found such love.

Law and order, the mantra that elected Nixon president in 1968, has become a central focus of Donald Trump’s convention. In the midst of Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, dueling but not incompatible perspectives, varying in emphasis but capable of being reconciled, comes the ghost of Nixon, in the form of Trump, rallying what he hopes are majorities to shout down and shut up the voices of grievance. Like Nixon, Trump is a modern-day incarnation of poor besotted Thomas Hobbes, railing against a world he thought a bleak and forlorn home to a multitude whose lives were nasty, brutish and short. Donald Trump, bless his soul, is standing firm against the darkness. His anger makes Trump grate again.

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Ironically, Trump has summoned only half of Nixon’s spirit. Troubled though he was, Nixon was also a smart cookie, well read, knowledgeable and reflective about many of the matters that mattered. As a member of the Republican leadership in Congress, I once spent an afternoon in the office of the Senate majority leader, one of perhaps half a dozen attendees for a visit by the then-former president. One of our small group asked Mr. Nixon his thoughts about the situation in various parts of the world, particularly as to how they might affect American interests. He then proceeded for a lengthy period of time, absent notes and long removed from a president’s daily briefings, and presented a verbal tour around the world, country by country, in depth and in detail, with concerns and prospects verbally underlined. That part of Mr. Nixon has not been appropriated by The Donald, who prides himself on his quite obvious lack of both interest and intelligence. Nixon was able to go on with specifity about places Donald Trump could not find on a map if you stood next to him with an Atlas and a pointer.

Richard Nixon’s areas of merit and competence are a rebuke to Donald Trump. Law and order, the part of the Nixon mantra that Trump has embraced, is, generally speaking, a good goal: There’s clearly value to a calm and orderly community. So long as there is also “justice,” which is the necessary precondition for order. In the preamble to the Constitution, “establish justice” comes before “insure domestic tranquility”. Those who would stand in a convention hall full of delegates charged with selecting a potential president of the United States should not demand order without also embracing its prerequisite. Trump would deport millions without due process, advocate for the murder of innocents, intimidate judges and journalists. He calls for law and order but he stirs the pot of disorder with his dismissive rejection of the rule of law. In the convention hall, sadly, these contradictions go unnoticed.

Mickey Edwards is a former congressman and member of the House Republican leadership.

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