Denial and other things I have in Common with Richard Nixon
This morning I was reading an opinion piece in the Washington Post by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. In their first joint byline in 36 years, these writers made famous by the Watergate scandal, tell a much deeper story of Watergate in 40 Years after Watergate, Nixon was far worse than we thought.
SInce their early reporting and book, All the President’s Men, so much more is known about what actually happened in the Nixon White House. With released tapes of conversations in the oval office, candid interviews and books by many of the key players and internal memos and other documents, the depth of the activities of the President and his team seem to be the stuff of unbelievable fiction.
Clearly the President engaged in serious illegal activity. This activity was motivated by his fears. He was afraid he wouldn’t be re-elected and would do anything to knock out any Democratic challengers. This was only the tip of the iceberg. The article points out multiple fronts where Nixon employed illegal activity to exert his control over what was important to him from the prosecution of the Vietnam War to the liberal media to his war against the democrats.
Nixon’s undoing came from his hatred of perceived opponents. He felt anyone who challenged his programs, points of view or policies was an enemy. It appears Nixon felt he could employ any device he deemed necessary to diminish, discredit or destroy the enemy’s creditability.
As I was reading this article, I reflected on feelings of anger I had when I felt someone betrayed me. At one time, as the CEO of a technology company, a good friend who worked at the company went to the chairman and said he felt I was putting the company at risk by not paying enough attention to one of our partners. I was furious. How could he! I immediately began a “counter-attack”. I discredited his point of view and in short order fired him. My inner dialogue was, “Well I guess I have that handled.”
Turns out my friend was right. The partner was not given the support we promised. I made decisions to shift resources from his project without talking with him about my decision. I felt he would just have to roll with the punches. After all, he was supposed to be serving us. My arrogant perspective and denial led the partner to file an arbitration action against the company. It wasn’t until the arbitrator ruled on behalf of the partner that I took stock of the consequence of my actions.
I’m not sure if Richard Nixon ever looked deeply enough into his actions in the White House to see the impact of his denial and projected judgment on himself and others. In both his autobiography, RN, and his subsequent book, In the Arena, he continued to deny his involvement in many activities for which there are audiotapes of his complicity. In a now famous 1976 interview with David Frost, Nixon said, “I didn’t think of it as a coverup. I didn’t intend a coverup. Let me say, if I intended the coverup, believe me, I would have done it.” Yet over 40 people served prison time and Nixon relinquished the Presidency.
I wrote about denial last week. It is a constant companion when I am afraid of looking at myself without deception. It starts as an automatic reaction to the threat of exposure, and, if not corrected quickly, can lead me down the road of lies that are hard to retract and distrust that’s difficult to heal. It’s a good reminder to keep things clear and clean so that I don’t have to spend time clearing up the mess.