Did Nixon get as much flak as Trump for overtures to Moscow?

Right now many maistream media sources in the west are reporting on (and in some cases fomenting) concern and even outrage over Donald Trump’s overtures to Vladimir Putin. Trump’s public statements, such as those made at his recent press conference in Helsinki, are seen by many as overly conciliatory and overly friendly to the Russian leader, particularly in light of the consensus in the American intelligence community that Russia has interfered in American elections. There is a lot of opposition to the recent announcement that Trump has invited Putin to the US, which he says is part of his efforts to improve US–Russia relations.

Over four decades ago, another US president, Richard Nixon, also made some very public attempts at improving relations with Moscow. In 1972 he travelled to USSR for a summit with the Soviet leadership, and the following year he invited Leonid Brezhnev to Washington. Since these moves were made in a time when Soviet espionage and aggression were seen in America as ever-present threats, and the Cuban Missile Crisis was within recent memory, they were also met with significant criticism. According to the Nixon Foundation,

However, I wasn’t around back in 1973, so it’s difficult for me to compare the two situations. Just how severely was Nixon criticized at the time for his overtures to Brezhnev? Did it involve a daily parade of negative newspaper editorials and hostile talking heads on TV, the same as Trump is experiencing today? Or was the criticism more nuanced, or more confined to certain groups or media outlets? I am guessing that nobody accused Nixon of being “beholden” to Brezhnev, but did anyone back then throw around the “treason” word the way some are doing now? Maybe some Dopers who were around back then could offer their views on how the coverage and perceived public sentiment compares.

But did he meet them without taking seriously preparatory advice from people who knew about the USSR, with no-one else present to note what was said and agreed, and without having (let alone giving anyone else) a clear idea of the quid pro quo? And had the USSR taken any active steps visibly to promote his re-election or generally to interfere in the internal affairs of the USA?

“I spoke to Mao. He says he didn’t do the Great Leap Forward. And I said, why would it be him?”

Nixon got much more flak from his stance with China. Right-wingers were livid that Nixon would deign to recognize Mao personally after the Cultural revolution, and Mao’s wife took every opportunity to mock Nixon and Pat, and by extension US culture. The opposition had a field day mocking each step.

And yet, “Nixon goes to China”, is a potent cultural meme: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nixon_goes_to_China Not just for Star Trek. And the beginning of serious political changes between the US, China and USSR that endure through the time, up to today.

Face it. Once you’re president of the US, you’ve won. The worst lame duck gets to be part of history. The President who’s policies started “the war” (you pick which) ends up just a product of their time. The greatest accomplishments become boring anecdotes, yet even if you try to diminish them – c.f. Rush Limbaugh calling President Obama – a Hollywood “Magical Negro” – implying that his accomplishments aren’t enduring looks trite and ultimately ends up false: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Negro

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Frankly, that’s not relevant to my question at this point. Let’s first establish to what extent the public/media criticism of the presidents was the same or different, and then we can start looking for explanations as to why.

I disagree. What is actually happening and how different the events are is most important and should be addressed first - how the media responds second. Otherwise, we’d could be dealing with how the US media responds to US overtures to Japan in 1944 v. 1984 without first establishing what the facts were at the time.

The criticism was different because the events were different. It would be like analyzing the reactions of people watching one accident and comparing it to the reactions of people watching another accident without explaining that the first accident involved denting a fender unexpectedly, while the second involved a drunken idiot speeding down the freeway while going in the wrong direction. Context matters.

Richard Nixon was Uncle Joe’s best friend … proven to be a MAJOR anti-communist … it’s said Nixon was the only man who could go to the Soviet Union or China …

But this is exactly what I want. I am already more or less familiar with the contexts. What I am missing is the reaction. Please tell me how people reacted to what Nixon did. Were there a few scattered op-eds rebuking him for his ties to the USSR? Did he get scathingly hostile front-page headlines for an entire week? Did members of his own party publically distance themselves from his actions, or even condemn him outright? Did TV commentators claim he was compromised or engaging in treason? Were there popular protests in the streets? Trump’s behaviour towards Russia has already triggered some of these reactions. I want to know whether Nixon triggered any such reactions from his behaviour towards the USSR.

By all means, put the reactions into context. But first tell me what those reactions were.

I was only in middle school when Nixon went to China. But I remember it pretty vividly. Social studies classes talked a lot about it. I also remember a science teacher bringing up the story about a Chinese advance team handing out new transistor radios to spectators at a Nixon appearance which was heavily covered by U.S. media, and collecting the radios after the event was over. The science teacher explained that such a radio would cost many months’ pay of a Chinese worker. Message: China was poor and trying to look more prosperous in front of its rich visitors, and their government was sneaky.

I remember little, if any, negative comments from the media about the whole effort Nixon was making to engage with China. I suspect that this was due to two things:

First, the media were generally to the left of Nixon politically, so they would have been less critical of the effort than would right-of-center people. FWIW, I didn’t know who William F. Buckley was then - I wonder if he expressed disapproval at the time?

Second, in 1972 the media was much less likely to weigh in over ideological matters than in today’s ideological shopping center.

As smapti points out above, Nixon did nothing on his China visit which merited the kind of reaction that Trump’s actions (or lack of them) warrant.

PS: A few months later began the Watergate affair, during coverage of which the media certainly did express strong disapproval. The case can be made that their ideology influenced the degree of this disapproval, but there was eventually fire behind the smoke that made even conservative Republicans like Barry Goldwater tell Nixon he’d fucked up big time.

It is relevant, because I think you’re making a false analogy in comparing Nixon to Trump.

Yes, Nixon met with Breshnev and discussed national security issues with him. At one point, they actually had a one-on-one with no-one but translators present. Kissinger gently chided Nixon for having done that.

But at no point did Nixon say anything along the lines of: “The CIA, the FBI, our military intelligence, have all warned me that the USSR is hostile to us. Secretary Brezhnev assures me that is not the case. I see no reason not to believe Secretary Brezhnev.”

That is what Trump is has done here. Unless you can show a spot where Nixon (or any other president) has publicly stated that he prefers the advice given to by the leader of the USSR/Russia over the unanimous advice of the US intelligence bodies, it’s not really a fair comparison.

Expressed disapproval is, perhaps, putting it mildly.

Comparing things is not the same as equating them. I never said that their achievements or blunders were remotely equivalent, nor did I mean to imply this. All I said was that they both made overtures to Moscow at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow, and that both of them got flak for it, and asked whether the amount of flak was much different. Obviously the sort of flak that they did get was different in its content, addressing different flaws.

Look, I’m not trying to make some sort of point with this question. Honest. I’m just interested in comparing media reactions towards US–USSR/Russia relations, now and then, using a situation which, while admittedly very different in the details, was similar at a very general level. It’s like if I asked what the British press’s reaction was to Germany’s invasion of Russia in 1941 and how this compared to their reaction to France’s invasion of Russia in 1812. You’d think I’d be able to get a straight answer to that, or at least some interesting discussion, without people accusing me of equating Napoleon and Hitler.

I’m not suggesting you’re comparing Napoleon with the other guy :).

Where I’m disagreeing with you is this statement:

The outroar about Trump is because of the “detail” - namely that he said, in a press conference broadcast to the world, that he preferred the assurances given to him by the Russian leader, over the unanimous advice given to him by the US intelligence agencies. Nixon never did anything like that, and that’s not a “detail”, in my opinion. That’s unprecedented.

Nothing Nixon ever did made people worry, seriously, just what Brezhnev had on him to make him favour the USSR’s assurances, over US intelligence.

As I understand it, the saying is “Only Nixon could go to China”.

The reasoning behind that was that Nixon had made his career as being strongly anti-communist. He gained notoriety prosecuting the case against Alger Hiss, an alleged Russian spy (some still believe he even doctored evidence). And when he ran for the Senate in 1950, a huge mark of the campaign was accusing his opponent of being a commie (‘pink right down to her underwear’).

The point being, Nixon had spent a career proving his bona fides as an ardent Cold Warrior. So when he went to China (and later pursued détente with Russia) it wasn’t because he was soft on communism.

For Trump to get the same perception, he would have had to have spent the better part of the last few decades condemning Russia and taking anti-Russian positions. The reason the reaction is different is because he has been a Russian sycophant for at least as long as he stopped getting loans from American banks.

His recent behavior is consistent with his toadyism, not a strategic departure from a legacy of hostility.

Sure, The impression is that Nixon abode with the communist dictatorship out of geopolitical strategy, but still honestly hated it. Trump seems to admire the way in which Putin has turned Russia into a very weak “democracy” in name only.

In line with Nixon’s bona-fides as a cold warrior, with no sympathy for the USSR, remember the Kitchen Debate.

Vice-President Nixon, in Moscow, in public, went head to head with General Secretary Khruschev in an impromptu, unscripted debate about the virtues of US free enterprise v. Soviet communism.

When has Trump ever done anything similar? He doesn’t have the balls to have a public debate with Putin (probably because Putin already has Trump’s balls in a jar on his desk).

Nixon paid his dues by being a senator and vice-president. He earned the courtesy of the assumption that he was capable of meeting Soviet and Chinese leaders and playing hardball on their level.

Trump is a TV personality and political dilettante. The generosity required to assume he could meet with any nation’s leader and not screw things up is downright philanthropic.

Much as I dislike Nixon, I also would doubt that he would reject the findings of multiple US intelligence agencies, along with handing discussing over some US citizens to Brezhnev when he met him.

Yes, all of this. As much as an asshole as Nixon was, people at least believed he wasn’t just going to hand the USSR everything they wanted on a silver platter. Whatever deal he worked out would have been made with him considering the best interests of the US, and only compromising when necessary.

With Trump? No way. He’s spent the last year doing everything he can to let Russia have whatever it wants, without regard to what’s in the interests of anyone else, not even the US as a nation.

Negotiating with geopolitical rivals isn’t the problem, it’s negotiating with them perfidiously.