The comparisons between the administrations of Richard Nixon and Donald Trump are starting to pile up—both hate the media, both think they are above the law, and now, both are racked with paranoia. Nixon had his “plumbers” but at least they didn’t have to deal modern technology (can you imagine?). Now, Trump has personally signed off on an action designed to stop White House leaks. Press Secretary Sean Spicer has taken to making his staff toss their cell phones on the table and having them checked to see if they’re creaking like an old pipe.
It is now pretty much unchallenged that Nixon was a nut (in the clinical sense) who was wildly paranoid. In the book All the President’s Men, authors Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward wrote about Nixon’s obsession with the Kennedys, particularly Ted. It’s also well known that the 37th president had an enemies list.
(For what it’s worth, neither Nixon’s criminal activity nor those of his staff would have become known if it weren’t for anonymous sources which are now the bane of President Trump. They were very real people during Watergate—Mark Felt notably—who helped unmask a president who thought he could use the power of his office to cover up criminal acts. At this point, we don’t know to what extent All the President’s (Trump’s) Men interacted with Russia.)
Spicer’s new “security” measures include calling an emergency staff meeting and having everyone put their phone on the table to be checked. Spicer, according to a number of (unnamed) sources, covered the action by telling staffer it was violation of the Presidential Records Act to use trail-covering phone apps like Confide and Signal. They are designed to use screen-shot-proof and encrypted means to communicate. All electronic devices held by the staff at the time of the meeting were checked.
Trump is said to have personally signed off on the electronic strip search.
Trump is showing signs of world class paranoia when it comes to the press. Despite his top staff routinely asking to not be named in stories, the president has bemoaned the use of anonymous sources claiming—astonishingly—that the media “should not be allowed to use” them. That’s nothing short of an attack on the First Amendment.
President Trump can stand taking the slightest criticism in reporting, even if the stories are factually accurate. They, in his mind, are “fake news” reports. He has gone so far as to declare that anything negative reported about him is “fake news.” This includes pieces from CNN, The New York Times, Politico, and others. These news outlets were barred from a press gaggle last week. It’s unprecedented and dangerous.
Even top Republicans are starting to get nervous about Trump’s proclamations against the press. Sen. John McCain has reiterated the role of the press as necessary for democracy. So too has former President George W. Bush.
Does Trump end up like Nixon? Will Trump’s paranoia be his undoing as well?