Poor Richard Nixon would be so hurt, and baffled. He went to his grave knowing that while his historical reputation was in tatters owing to the deceptions and corruption of Watergate, he at least could lay claim to a few of the great advances in human rights in Western history. By fiat and legislation, he made it the duty of government to protect the people's right to clean air and water, a safe place to work and an environment as free of industrial contamination as it was within the government's power to make it.
If you grew up in the oilfields of South Arkansas or elsewhere before environmental regulation and saw the desolation of salt-water valleys and dead creeks and rivers and knew cousins deformed and brain-crippled by growing up in the brownfield under belching smokestacks, you knew it was a great advance when the public demanded protection from pesticides and other industrial poisons, smog, acid rain, deadened lakes and rivers and the hazards of unsafe workplaces. It had to be Tricky Dick who was in a position to do something, but he did.
He created the now despised Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, signed the bipartisan Clean Air Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, vetoed the Clean Water Act that he had supported because Congress wouldn't remove some spending, but then thwarted the spending and happily enforced the law, and then had to resign his office before the Safe Drinking Water Act made it to his desk.
Over industry charges of creeping socialism, the government got the lead out of paint and other commodities to protect children's health, cleared smog from some of the great cities, largely removed cancer-causing pesticides and other dioxins from the food chain, banished acid rain from Eastern forests and lakes, radically improved sewage treatment and made streams safe for recreation, cleaned up the Great Lakes, phased out lead from gasoline and reduced lead levels in the air by 98 percent and from blood levels by 75 percent, phased out industrial production of cancer-causing PCBs and ozone-killing propellants, vastly increased the fuel efficiency of vehicles and cleaned up their exhausts, forced the recycling of hazardous wastes, ended dumping sewage sludge into coastal waters and coal ash into streams, and cleaned up superfund sites. The list goes on. OSHA, which the chamber of commerce said was communist-inspired, impaired industry and killed jobs, cut workplace deaths in half and reduced occupational injury and illness rates by 40 percent while employment doubled over 40 years
They say government never works.
But while profits soared in the ever-healthier environment, industry developed a new lexicon: Stifling government regulations eroded rights and limited freedom. People began to believe that the EPA, worker- and consumer-protection agencies and bank regulators were somehow choking their own freedoms, not industry's. President Reagan and the Bushes adopted the alarums but didn't act on them, although Bush II didn't let his EPA act upon its own conclusion and the Supreme Court's that the Clean Air Act required it to control planet-warming greenhouse gases. Barack Obama's EPA created the Clean Power Plan to do it.
Now we have a president dedicated to reversing the Clean Power Plan and a half-century of government rules on industry. He has appointed an EPA head whose political career is financed by the oil, gas and coal industries. They won't be able to repeal the laws that authorized all the regulations but they will render them useless by rescinding rules, gutting staff and halting enforcement. President Trump threatens to withdraw the U.S. from the global climate treaty, neutering the movement to save the planet. Don't worry, the president says, because the world's scientists are all phonies.
The good part of Richard Nixon's soul must be horrified.
After all, the two men were alike in so many ways, though Nixon was an introvert and Trump ludicrously the opposite. Both hated Washington — the town, the Father of His Country only spiritually. In the Oval Office, Trump displays a framed letter from Nixon prophesying a brilliant political future for the Manhattan real-estate tycoon.
Both men ran afoul of the Logan Act while running for president by fraternizing with enemies to give themselves a leg up in the election —Trump by having campaign people consort with Russian agents who wanted to stop Hillary Clinton, and Nixon by having Anna Chennault secretly persuade South Vietnamese leaders not to show up at the Paris peace talks to end the Vietnam War on the premise that as president he would get them a better deal than Lyndon Johnson.
The two presidents' brains have run in tandem in so many ways. After he became president, Nixon insinuated that Johnson had the CIA or FBI wiretap his campaign plane. Sound familiar? (OK: U.S. intelligence agencies did track his adviser Chennault's visits at the South Vietnam embassy.) Like Nixon, Trump sees enemies everywhere.
But destroy Nixon's great environmental legacy? Et tu, Donald?