The wretched and ignorant former governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, has praised President Trump for his “courage” in supposedly “braving” protesters in the nation’s capital to walk across Lafayette Park from the White House and stand, Bible in hand, in front of a small chapel.
The sycophantic Walker, who never graduated college and so might be excused for lacking awareness of things that happened before he was three years old, claimed in a Tweet that it was “Hard to imagine any other @POTUS [president] having the guts to walk out of the White House like this.”
It’s time for a little history, and a discussion of what is and is not courage.
The truth is that another president did exactly what Walker says it’s “hard to imagine” someone doing. It was Richard Nixon, certainly not a president I have anything good to say about. But in fact, even crooked Tricky Dick looks good in comparison to the current denizen of the White House.
The difference between what these two Republican presidents did 50 years apart is striking.
Trump, who earlier this week huddled with Secret Service officers in the security of a White House bunker designed to survive a nuclear attack as Washington was convulsed in an uprising of angry black, white and brown people outraged at the nation’s militarized police and the brutalizing and murdering of blacks following the cop killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, wanted to show he wasn’t hiding out. He decided to do this by walking outside the White House’s secure fenced-in and heavily guarded compound to a conveniently nearby chapel for a bizarre photo op.
But before attempting this little outing, he ordered Washington National Guardsmen and National Park Police to use force to drive peacefully assembled protesters from Lafayette Park, a traditional protest zone for all kinds of Americans expressing grievances against the U.S. government. The troops and the park police obliged by assaulting the protesters (and journalists covering the protest) without warning using tear gas, rubber bullets and even flash-bang grenades.
When the whole area around the White House and the pathway to the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church and Parish House across the park and Pennsylvania Avenue had been cleared and a military perimeter established around the entire White House, Trump and a retinue of White House staff and Department Secretaries as well as the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ambled over to the church where the ‘brave’ president had photographs taken of him in front of the church holding up a Bible like some B-movie preacher trying to ward off a vampire.
There wasn’t a lot of courage required for any of that.
Nixon’s exploit was something else altogether. It was May 9, 1970, just five days after the massacre of four students at Kent State by Ohio National Guardsmen whom Ohio’s Republican Gov. James Rhodes had ordered, rifles loaded, to go and break up a big campus protest against the president’s surprise expansion of the Vietnam War into neutral Cambodia. That little peasant kingdom had, since April 30, been getting carpet-bombed by B-52 Stratofortresses, as U.S. ground troops poured across the border seeking to disrupt North Vietnamese troops at this terminus of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, their supply route to South Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia.
Because of the slaughter of peaceful protesters on the campus, a national student strike had been called which ended up shutting down colleges and universities across the country for the rest of the spring semester.
A group of protesters, including returned veterans of the Vietnam War, were holding an overnight vigil at the Lincoln Monument as part of that national protest. Nixon, reportedly having trouble sleeping, and awake at 4 am, called his aides and the Secret Service and said he wanted to go talk to the protesters. He then set out with his personal valet Manolo Sanchez, his physician and a small Secret Service team in the Presidential limousine and drove to the Lincoln Monument. There he surprised the groggy protesters and engaged in a discussion about the war that lasted over an hour.
Now let’s be clear. Less than two yeasrs into his first term as president, Nixon had already proven himself to be a grotesque war criminal, bombing countless civilians, escalating an already terrible, genocidal war in Indochina to new levels of murder and mayhem. No decent person could call him a hero. In his own way, with his “Southern strategy” and his “Silent Majority” appeals to reactionary whites, he was as divisive and hate-mongering as Trump. Yet one has to at least credit Nixon with showing some kind of personal courage traveling with such a small entourage and minimal armed escort and advance planning to meet with a group of angry protesters whom he knew viewed him (rightly) as the personification of evil.
President Bone Spur could never do something like that! Neither could ex-Gov. Walker, who didn’t even have the courage to face the voters of his state for a second term without first taking steps to disenfranchise tens of thousands of Democratic voters.