Playing the Game: Trump Ain't Fit to Carry Nixon's Jockstrap

By Jasper Gerretsen, a Dutch grad student in history (and I love the name "Jasper")

(Continuing with the millennial dudes writing about the election. I didn't intend this to be all dudes. I would have preferred it not to be all dudes. But dudes you got. I'm in Ireland. Feck off.)

One of my favorite American presidents of all time is Richard Nixon. This might be hard to accept for someone of my political inclinations or hair length. It's certainly not because I agree with any of his policies or recognize anything likable in his character. Rather, Richard Nixon fascinates me because he was one of the best players of the political game of the twentieth century. You can take the American presidential election as a board game, in which two players compete over a finite number of resources until finally, after a long and arduous battle of attrition, the final tally is made and the player with the largest number of resources wins. It's not always a clean game, sometimes the final decision has to come down to the judges, but when the smoke is cleared both players shake hands, congratulate each other on a game well played, and move on. 

If the American elections are a board game then it's hard to argue that there's a greater player than Richard Nixon. Sure, he got his ass beat by the young upstart Kennedy in 1960 but he spent the next eight years preparing to play again. He scouted the board that would be played on. He moved foreign and domestic policy pieces into positions that would favor him well before anyone even knew he'd be having another go at it. He studied the rules meticulously and made a note of every loophole that could be exploited to his advantage. He analyzed how previous winners played the game but also how other players lost. He even got a coach to put together a game plan that was entirely designed to use the 1968 edition of the game board to his advantage by accumulating as many Scared White Man pieces as he could. After his victory he spent the next four years stacking the deck and rearranging the game pieces to assure that he would win even harder in 1972. 

Fast-forward to 2016 where two new players have lined up. The board looks sort-of-kind-of similar to the one the players in 1968 played the game on. There's the US being embroiled in foreign wars that it had no business starting, the bills for which have completely crippled the economy. There's black people being righteously pissed off at decades of systemic abuse and old white men in the media and politics nervously clutching their pearls at the sheer audacity of it all. And in the middle of this retro game board the red player seems to have taken a few pages out of the playbook of the old master. He plays the Law and Order card repeatedly. He positions himself as the only guy who can end the military quagmire. 

To any but the most casual observer however, it should be obvious that the 2016 red player can't hold a candle to the grand master from 1968. Nixon knew every inch of the board and every letter of the rulebook. The current red player hasn't bothered with all that. He bumbled his way into getting to play at the main table by making moves that were so stupid that no sane player would contemplate them and being so unpredictable that nobody, neither the his opponents nor the analysts that cover the game's progression, could make any sense of it. And it worked, up to a point. It has all been so outlandish and weird that it has somehow kept him going. Those analysts rooting for the red team struggle to sell it all as brilliance but the longer the game goes on, the less it's working. The blue player is a veteran and while she has struggled to get out of the starting block she has come out swinging, beating the red player at his own game and succeeding more and more at exposing himself as the bumbling fool he actually is. And the red player got more and more frustrated until finally, on August first, he made his stupidest move yet. 

After a series of particularly successful moves from the blue player and a series of blunders from himself, the red player has stood up, dropped his trousers and announced that he was ready and willing to take a steaming dump right on the game board if he doesn't win in the end. And that's a problem. Because not only has it already been established that the red player is stupid enough to do it but everybody knows that if it happens, it will take forever to clean up the mess he's made and even if everything has been cleaned up it will take decades for the lingering stink of shit around the game to dissipate. It's a sad commentary on the state of the game that it just might work. It taps into the same banal strategies that the red player has utilized so far. It even draws on sentiments that have been fermenting among observers of the game for the past twenty years, the silent sullen belief that the only way to win the game is to cheat. 

What has changed this time around is that one of the players is validating that belief. Of course he's not going to cheat, he'd never dream of it, but if his opponent wins in November it must be because his opponent cheated. And if he convinces enough people of that fact they will burn everything around them down. 

This also shows why Trump is nothing like Nixon. It goes well beyond one of them being competent and the other being Trump. Because at the end of the day Nixon might have played ruthlessly and taken every opportunity to bend the rules but he never even suggested that he didn't respect the game itself. He had the good taste to keep any desires to beat up those who exposed his idiocy to himself. When he lost the first time around he accepted it and went back to the drawing board. Even now I can only imagine him looking up from whatever kind of hell there is for a Quaker who made bombing brown people his policy and shaking his head in disbelief at the thought that anyone could compare him to Trump. Something has to be done about him, and soon. He has already climbed up on the table and dropped his pants. He's squatting. He's even crowning. And if he's allowed to continue there's no telling how far his shit will spray or how long it will take to clean everything up again. 

Even the tiniest brown nuggets will fuck up the game for generations to come.