He was raised in the hicks, the son of a loud, uncouth grocer and an emotionally austere and often-absent mother. His childhood was marked by emotional privation and the death of two cherished brothers. It left him awkward, shy, peculiar.
"I wish you would come home right now," he wrote his mother as a boy of 10. He signed the letter, "Your good dog, Richard."
Nixon was "badly, badly hurt" as a child, said his friend and aide Bryce Harlow. He never learned to trust, and people shied from trusting him. "He went up the walls of life with his claws."
As a young man Nixon was spurned by Eastern elites, and seethed ever after with resentment. He went through life like a whipped cur, flinching from real and imagined cuffs. "People react to fear, not love," Nixon told speechwriter William Safire. "They don't teach that in Sunday school, but it's true."
A candidate of the elite, Adlai Stevenson, captured their snobbery and scorn for Nixon, who so angered them by exposing one of their own—Alger Hiss—as a Soviet spy. "Nixonland," Stevenson said in a speech in Los Angeles in 1956, was "a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash and grab and anything to win."
In part through self-discernment, Nixon recognized the defects of human character, and employed that knowledge to manipulate his countrymen. He persuaded Americans to gnaw, as he did, on grievances—and to look upon each other as enemies.
Nixon persuaded Americans to gnaw, as he did, on grievances -- and to look upon each other as enemies.
It was Nixon who helped launch the McCarthy era, whose aides drafted declarations of culture war, who set South against North in his "southern strategy" and instructed his Silent Majority to distrust the country's elect institutions.
"What starts the process, really, are laughs and slights and snubs when you are a kid," he told Ken Clawson, a former aide who saw him in exile after Watergate, and wrote about the visit in the Washington Post. "But if you are reasonably intelligent enough and your anger is deep enough and strong enough, you learn that you can change those attitudes by excellence, personal gut performance while those who have everything are sitting on their fat butts."
"It's a piece of cake until you get to the top," Nixon said to Clawson. But then "you find that you can't stop playing the game the way you've always played it because it is part of you, and you need it as much as an arm or a leg."
The 3,700 hours of White House tapes show the perceptive and visionary Nixon, but also his rancor, venality, paranoia and bigotry.
Who are they after? Hell, they're not after Haldeman or Ehrlichman or Dean; they are after me, the President! They hate my guts!
Get me the names of the Jews, you know, the big Jewish contributors of the Democrats...could we please investigate some of the cocksuckers?