With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Who in the White House Will Turn Against Donald Trump?

... Veteran Washington reporters tell me that they have never observedthis kind of anxiety, regret, and sense of imminent personal doom amongWhite House staffers—not to this degree, anyway. These troubled aidesseem to think that they can help their own standing by turning on thosearound them—and that by retailing information anonymously they will beable to live with themselves after serving a President who has proved sodisconnected from the truth and reality.

I thought about Trump and his aides and councillors while reading “TheLast of the President’s Men,”Bob Woodward’s 2015 book about Alexander Butterfield, a career Air Forceofficer who took a job as an assistant to Richard Nixon. He made themove less for ideological reasons than to indulge a yearning ambition tobe “in the smoke”—to be at the locus of power, where decisions aremade.

As an undergraduate, at U.C.L.A., Butterfield knew H. R. Haldeman andJohn Ehrlichman, and, after serving in Vietnam and being stationed inAustralia, he called on Haldeman, who was Nixon’s most importantassistant. Haldeman made Butterfield his deputy. Butterfield got whatevery D.C. bureaucrat craves most—access. He worked on Nixon’sschedule, his paper flow, his travel; he offered advice, took orders, nomatter how bizarre or transitory. Butterfield could not have been more“in the smoke” than he was then. He quickly discovered that Nixon was afantastically weird and solitary man—rude, unthoughtful, broiling withresentment against the Eastern élites who had somehow wounded him, be itin his imagination or in fact. Butterfield had to manage Nixon’srelations with everyone from his Cabinet members to his wife, Pat, whoon vacations resided separately from the President. Butterfield carriedout Nixon’s most peculiar orders, whether they involved barring a senioreconomic adviser from a White House faith service or making sure thatHenry Kissinger was no longer seated at state dinners next to the mostattractive woman at the occasion. (Nixon, who barely acknowledged, muchless touched, his own wife in public, resented Kissinger’s public, andwell-cultivated, image as a Washington sex symbol.)

Butterfield experienced what all aides do, eventually, if they have theconstant access; he was witness to the unguarded and, in Nixon’s case,the most unattractive behavior of a powerful man. Incident afterincident revealed Nixon’s distaste for his fellow human beings, hisracism and anti-Semitism, his overpowering personal suspicions, and hissad longings. Nixon, the most anti-social of men, needed a briefing memojust to make it through the pleasantries of a staff birthday party. Oneevening, Butterfield recounts to Woodward, he sat across from Nixon on anight trip back to the White House from Camp David on Marine One, andwatched as Nixon, in one of the more discomfiting passages in theliterature of sexual misbehavior, kept patting the bare legs of one ofhis secretaries, Beverly Kaye: "And he’s carrying on this small talk, but still patting her. BecauseI can see now, Nixon being Nixon, he doesn’t quite know how to stop.You know, to stop is an action in itself. So he’s pat, pat, pattingher. And looking at her. And feeling—I can see he’s feeling moredistressed all the time now about the situation he’s got himself into.So he keeps trying to make this small talk, and I can see him saying[to himself], you know, when the small talk is over, what the hellam I going to do? . . . She’s petrified. She’s never had this happenbefore. The president of the United States is patting her bare legs."

For how long? Woodward asks.

“It seems like half the way to Washington but I’d say a long time,minutes.” ...

Read entire article at The New Yorker