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  • Reverend James Squire

Another Time Same Issue

I never realized the similarity between Nixon losing the presidential election to John F. Kennedy and how he handled that loss compared to Trump. Gibbs and Duffy in their book, The President’s Club, made the following statement: “The vote had barely been counted before Nixon’s supporters charged that the election was stolen. They told him about Texas counties where there were 4895 votes on the rolls but 6138 voted; of the precincts in Chicago where after 43 people had voted, the machine counted 121. Kennedy had won Illinois by 8800 votes and the ballots were quickly destroyed. Many close friends as well as party officials urged Nixon to press for an investigation.”

I think that when we hear the name, Nixon, we immediately think of someone who is immoral and unethical. But there was much more positive about him that gets very little attention. Nixon didn’t question the election results because he didn’t want to do anything to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power. He saw that function as key to supporting our democratic form of government.

It was the first time in a hundred years that a candidate for president announced the result of the election in which he was defeated. Nixon had to preside over the roll call of the electoral college in similar fashion as Pence did. Think about how hard that must have been for him. Nixon went on to eloquently comment on the election as another example of how our democracy was the best in the world. Both Eisenhower and Nixon met with Kennedy for a photo op to communicate that the accusations of fraud and the bitter run up to the election should be cast aside. The country came first.

Cardinal Cushing gave Nixon the “man of the year award.” Gibbs and Duffy make the point that “in few other nations could so narrow a result have been so smoothly accepted.” Nixon went on to help Kennedy in any way that he could to get Kennedy off to a great start in his administration. I want you to know how much Nixon wanted to win this election. There was probably election fraud, but the nation came first. Al Gore was another example of a close margin between him and Bush, but he did the same thing as Nixon. He supported the process.

Why give this mini history lesson? It is not only about the contrast between how the above was done and how Trump is behaving.

One of the books/videos that I used in ethics class was The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. He gave his final lecture at Carnegie Mellon when he was dying of cancer. In essence, he spoke about childhood dreams, but the lecture is laden with ideas of how to live the good moral life. One of his hardest truths spoken was, “If you hang in there long enough, you will find the good in the other person.” I have attempted to follow this statement which focuses on intent to be looking for that good in the other. I have so many examples of when I felt that the other was a terrible person and got to know him or her and discovered good in the other.

I believe that we can change the nation and our individual lives if we attempt this difficult path. It is at the heart of how we can move forward through the various isms as well. When we strive to know the complete person, those labels tend to drop by the wayside.

But there is another reason to mention this excerpt of history. Nixon could serve as a model of putting nation above selfishness. People act as though there has only been one close election as expounded in the big lie. Why not leverage Nixon and Gore’s response? The history is not debatable. Don’t even contrast it with Trump. Never mention his name. Continue to see it as a patriotic example. It may be a way for Nudge Theory to make a difference. Nudge Theory created by Sunstein and Thaler is best explained by the flashing speed limit signs to make sure that we slow down if we are above the speed limit. Nudge Theory doesn’t say “you must slow down.” It nudges us in the direction of responsibility.

We will not be able to convince Trump and his base that he lost. But our minds work in a different way in Nudge Theory. Show a positive idea of what patriotism has looked like in the past. Engaging the facts of the past which is something that hasn’t been done will provide an alternative mindset.

I have not been able to see any good in Trump. It may not exist. I do know that a positive way of having a peaceful transition can act like the flashing speed sign that reminds us of our speed. England actually has a Nudge Theory Committee. They sent out a punitive letter about the need for people to pay their taxes. It resulted in little increase in tax dollars. They followed up with a letter stating what their neighbors were doing to pay their taxes. There was no mention of a demand that others do the same. A flood of taxes was paid after this approach.

A positive series of advertisements about Nixon and Gore is, in my opinion, the best way forward. We have nothing to lose. Nothing ventured is nothing gained.

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