When Richard Nixon, the first president to have been driven from office, landed at his “Western White House,” in San Clemente on August 9, 1974, the same day he’d resigned, his career and life lay in ruins. He had strived for decades to reach the highest office in the land, and in 1968 had finally achieved his ultimate triumph, and had been overwhelmingly reelected. But now, as he saw it, he had been done in by a conspiracy of his “enemies.” When friends and acquaintances picked up Nixon’s phone calls from San Clemente shortly after he arrived there, they heard a deeply depressed man, sometimes in tears, convinced that “they” would never relent. “They won’t be satisfied until they have me in jail,” Nixon said.
Nixon’s fatal flaw was that he saw “enemies” everywhere; he was filled with resentments. He’d been looked down on all his life, he believed, by people of greater means. An awkward man, essentially a loner—he had very few friends—he never quite fit in, and he resented those who did. Most seriously, he confused political opponents with enemies. And so he came into office prepared to “get ’em.” Thus the White House hired thugs to spy on his “enemies,” including potential opponents in 1972, to “get the goods” on them. Nixon hired as his aides the kinds of people who would carry out his bizarre and even criminal orders. He didn’t understand boundaries. A major reason for Gerald Ford’s pardon was to put Nixon’s tribulations behind the country and to allow it to move on to other matters. When Nixon gave his final, iconic, two-hand V-shaped wave and boarded the helicopter parked in the South Lawn of the White House to take him to the plane for California, the nation had every reason to think that at last he was gone. He had made his troubles ours, had taken us on a wild ride through history but now he would be out of sight. Finished.