Former Nixon aide: Presidency under siege is bad for the nation

“Dems Vow To Impeach Trump Again Even If He Wins 2020 Election -- And They Could Succeed,” reads a headline in the International Business Times.

Donald Trump’s legions of enemies are doing the nation no great service by laying siege to his presidency.

I have worked in a White House under siege, and it’s not pretty — for either side, and especially the country.

In 1969, as Nixon’s aides were setting up the new administration, they could still remember the riot-fueled fires burning mere blocks from the White House just months before.

In fact, inner cities across America were aflame. Nixon’s young team felt if they did not stop the assault, the nation would fall. Rarely has there been a better example of “you had to have been there.” The view from inside the White House is drastically different from that looking in.

Studies show that people suffering the siege mentality see themselves as heroic victims, become paranoid, and share a distorted groupthink.

The siege mentality in the Nixon White House resulted in actions that ultimately brought down the president, unwittingly by his own people.

The belief surged through Nixon’s campaign organization and seeped into the White House that perhaps Fidel Castro was helping finance the campaign of Senator George McGovern, Nixon’s opponent in the 1972 presidential race. A team decided to break into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex and bug phones to confirm Castro’s alleged involvement.

Ironically, just as the Democrats in the Trump era tried to prove Russian maneuvering for Trump in 2016, so, in 1972, some Republicans hoped to prove Castro’s collusion with McGovern.

The would-be buggers were caught, and the Watergate scandal swept down on Washington and the nation.

In the months that followed, Nixon’s enemies, rather than limiting their inquiry to objective investigation, determined to wipe Nixon off the map.

As that effort expanded, the siege mentality intensified in the White House. Nixon tragically allowed himself to be drawn into discussions about how to cover up the scandal. He was, in the eyes of many, on the verge of impeachment, when on August 9, 1974, he resigned the presidency.

Lyndon Johnson, Nixon’s predecessor, had also come under siege over the Vietnam War, and announced on March 31, 1968, that he would not seek a second term.

In 2007, Thomas Lynch wrote in The New York Times about the pressures on Johnson in the summer of 1967. “There was a distant, ugly war” and “a siege mentality in the White House.” Lady Bird Johnson, the president’s wife, described the atmosphere as “frustrated, unable to explain or control, but you never cease trying.”

Presidents are humans like all the rest of us and have their breaking points that a long siege can ultimately weaken, leading to disastrous consequences.

Former Trump aides Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie looked at the problem of the siege against Trump in Trump’s Enemies: How the Deep State Is Undermining the Presidency. “The assault on the 45th president began immediately following Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential campaign (when) Democrats concocted the absurd story of Russian spies and international plots as an excuse for Hillary’s humiliating defeat.”

“They tried to defeat (Trump) during the campaign,” said Bossie. “They tried to delegitimize him during the transition. And now they are trying to run him out of town through impeachment.”

Some sincerely believe Trump is a danger to America. The presidency is not exempt from criticism. This is a republic, not a tyranny under “dear leader.” But the Constitution stipulates how opposition is to be carried out in an orderly way.

Truly objective journalism is vital for the nation, but agenda-driven media worsen the paranoia of the siege mentality. Objective investigation and oversight are constitutional duties of Congress but hijacking constitutional processes to meet the demands of the opposition’s agenda is an attempt at a coup.

The reason the siege strategy puts the nation in jeopardy is revealed in the outcomes, which can be seen in the “4 Rs”:

  • Reactionism: People under siege often react in extreme ways, imperiling those they lead
  • Restraints breaking down: The longer a siege is in place, and the worse it gets, the more those under siege cast of all restraints to break the siege
  • Reality muddled: Reality is distorted as paranoia and deprivation intensify under siege conditions
  • Retaliation sought: When the besieged are at last set free, the passion for revenge is so strong that ongoing conflict spreads chaos throughout society

Trump’s enemies do the nation no service by laying siege to his presidency, but Trump does not serve the nation’s best interests by prodding his opponents.

Both sides could learn a lot from the episode when young David had the opportunity to kill King Saul. The Bible says Saul had gone into a cave apparently to relieve himself. David, against whom Saul was laying siege, found him there, though Saul didn’t see David. Rather than killing the man who wanted him dead, David sliced off the corner of Saul’s kingly robe — and later even regretted that. David said he would not touch “God’s anointed.”

David, though besieged, had no passion to destroy his enemy.

Now is the time to lift the siege against the Trump presidency, rein in the voices that stoke it, and apply the wisdom of David who refused to destroy King Saul when he had the golden opportunity. David understood that it would be much more than King Saul that would die in that cave — David’s integrity before God and the ultimate well-being of the nation.

That big-picture vision and wisdom are needed now to end the siege and the craziness it provokes.

For the sake of the nation.

Wallace Henley is a former pastor, White House, and congressional aide. He served eighteen years as a teaching pastor at Houston's Second Baptist Church. Wallace, the author of more than twenty books, now  does conferences on the church and culture, church growth and leadership. He is the founder of Belhaven University's Master of Ministry Leadership Degree.

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