Of all American presidents we Vietnamese Americans have some ideas about, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump may be the best known.
Nixon undoubtedly had a criminal say in the fall of the Saigon regime in 1975. Trump should have gone to Vietnam during the war years, had he not had a “bone spur.” Owing to this, Trump is now the nicest American president Hanoi has ever known.
In a few ways, Trump is comparable to Nixon. In the 1968 presidential election, Nixon sought help from South Vietnam’s President Nguyen Van Thieu to block Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey’s effort to start early the peace talks with the Viet Cong. He did not do it personally, but sought the help from a Taiwanese-American, Anna Chenault, to transmit the message. In fact, “Tricky Dick” did not need to do this to defeat Humphrey, but he was too anxious to win at any price.
In Trump’s campaign in 2016, he openly called on Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to hack Hillary Clinton’s email server in order to look for dirt in tens of thousands of her erased emails. In fact, it is very obvious that he had full support from Putin in this election. There seems to be an implicit understanding of a quid pro quo, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe in fact did not exonerate Trump.
In Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign, he tried to undermine his rival, Sen. George MacGovern, with the Watergate break-in. There was no doubt that Nixon had managed the cover-up. This scandal led to the impeachment process and finally to his political withdrawal. Why did he need the Watergate break-in? He was too anxious, too.
Trump brazenly called Ukraine’s President Zelensky to ask him to do him “a favor” – make a dirt-seeking investigation of the Bidens. As a quid pro quo, the U.S., or he, would resume American aid to Ukraine. The call was premature, unnecessary, and highly costly. The impeachment is approaching nearer than ever for this blatant abuse of power.
In 1973, Nixon pulled the remaining American troops out of South Vietnam, ignoring Thieu and showing little care for 20 million South Vietnamese. North Vietnam, meanwhile, could retain its massive troops in the south. That’s exactly why and how South Vietnam lost the war in 1975, and hundreds of thousands of people had to either go to concentration camps or flee the country as boat people.
Trump recently said that “‘Well, I was never a fan of that war.” It is really disappointing that he still has no idea about what the war meant to the U.S. in the Cold War era. He still fails to understand that Saigon could have fallen in 1965 and the ASEAN bloc later could not have had a chance to come into being had President Lyndon Johnson not decided to send ground troops to Da Nang in March 1965.
This October, still seeking a way to re-affirm his loyal devotion to Putin’s cause in Syria, Trump pulled American troops out of this Middle East country, leaving the playground totally for Russia and Turkey, and endangering the security of more than one million Kurds, the United States’ most active ally in Syria for more than 10 years.
In a few ways, Nixon is very different from Trump. Nixon had two historic trips to Beijing and Moscow. Trump had two “funny” trips to Singapore and Hanoi. Nixon was a career politician who understood the need of political civility and when he should withdraw before it was too late. An “apprentice” president has no such knowledge and understanding.
Nguyen Hoang is a contributor to Vietnamese language magazines published in Orange County, San Jose, Phoenix and Salt Lake City. He was a ranking official of the Saigon government before 1975, for this he paid a price of two years in a “re-education camp.” He had worked at the University of Utah Library before retiring.