I met Nixon when I was 8 years old. He had lost the 1960 presidential election a few days earlier to John F. Kennedy, and my parents told me he was coming to our house for dinner. I was given clear instructions before I went to school that morning: Do not go into your bedroom when you come home today because Mr. Nixon is going to be using it to change clothes. He will have come straight from the airport.
The minute I got home from school, hearing him and my parents talking in the den, I ran straight to my bedroom. His clothes were laid out on one of the twin beds. I saw a shirt, a suit, a tie, but no underwear. I raced into the kitchen where our housekeeper was preparing dinner.
“Mr. Nixon is wearing dirty underwear,” I announced.
I can still see how her mouth tightened as she tried not to laugh, saying, “Child, what are you talking about?”
I explained about his clothes on the bed, but no underwear. Hence, he had to be wearing dirty underwear. She gave me a firm command to not tell anyone else about this, and to go out and politely introduce myself to him, shake his hand and do nothing else. Which is what I did. Although I did say, “I’m sorry you lost the election.” I didn’t think he’d mind that. He tried to smile, which looked kind of painful, and said if he hadn’t lost, he wouldn’t have been able to come visit us.
Cut to many years later. In 1974, I was 22. After Nixon resigned the presidency, I was at my parents’ house for dinner and I asked my father if he had known earlier what kind of person Nixon was. (I probably used harsher terms than that.) My father said many people have a dark side and they take care to not reveal that side to others. So, no, he didn’t know. Then he told me it was such a shame that Nixon’s demons got the best of him, because he really did love America and he had the knowledge and the ability to do good things for our country.
When my mind wanders to Nixon these days, I think about that. For all his darkness, all his crimes and faults, Nixon did believe in the Constitution. He believed in working with the United States’ allies and revered the importance of those relationships. He resigned in shame, and did, according to most sources, feel incredible guilt — something Trump seems incapable of. My Secret Service detail leader worked for Nixon after his resignation. He told me he witnessed a man who seemed haunted, who would take long walks around the grounds of his home as evening fell, with his dog as his only companion, not coming in until it was dark.
It says a lot about what America is going through when Richard Nixon looks better than Donald Trump. This president doesn’t try to hide his darkness and his demons; they are on full display. He has managed to weaken the country and frighten its allies, and he has accomplished all of that in just two years. Nixon violated the law, but he never made anyone wonder whether he had colluded with a hostile foreign government. We should have known better as a nation. Trump never hid who he is. As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”