It’s Not Just Trump. People Freaked out Over Nixon and Reagan, Too.

Donald Trump’s election has been greeted by a considerable portion of the country with panic. Large swaths of commentators have described his victory as a potential disaster for the nation — placing a “xenophobic racist” and “clown” in the Oval Office. One Hillary Clinton supporter outside her hotel in New York the morning after the election said, “I’m feeling physical pain. I’m shocked. I’m sad.” 

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Hillary’s Not the Problem

For Hillary Clinton—and most of Washington—email-gate may be a relatively new issue, but it is an issue with a decades-long pedigree in American history. Once upon a time, in the era before email and whose “server” was whose, it wouldn’t have been an issue at all: Dean Acheson, for instance, lived in no fear that the public would have access to his personal letters musing about the intentions of Stalin or the presence of possible Soviet spies in the State Department alleged by Joe McCarthy, or any number of other matters of state. Long before that, presidents in particular were free to keep or dispose of their papers as they saw fit; one obscure president, Chester Arthur, sealed his obscurity by instructing his family to burn his papers after his death.

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Means of Ascent

Some presidents shape their times more than others. The 1830s are known as the Age of Jackson, but few people think of the 1920s as the Age of Harding. The 1960s and 1970s were too dynamic and cacophonous to be defined by any one person, but Lance Morrow suggests that they were marked by three men who occupied the Oval Office during these years: John F. Kennedy, whose sudden death transformed him into an icon of progress and optimism; Lyndon B. Johnson, who managed to represent both the best of us with his commitment to civil rights and the worst of us with his mismanagement of the war in Vietnam; and Richard M. Nixon, whose fateful involvement with the Watergate break-in ended the proverbial innocence of America.

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