Hearing President Trump refer to an alleged phone wiretap by former President Barack Obama as a "Watergate/Nixon" scheme is to hear the pot calling the kettle black. More than 40 years ago, I sat on the hot stove beside the original "pot," Richard Nixon. This was during my role as U.S. assistant postmaster general (from 1969 to 1975), which gave me an insider's view of the many similarities between Watergate and what we're now calling Towergate.
For Nixon, I worked in two capacities, one of which was on the radar screen. Officially speaking, I ran customer services for some 42,000 post offices in the U.S. along with the Stamp Program (for which I introduced the Love Stamp and the Space Stamp). I also worked on postal reform — getting the post office out of the presidential Cabinet.
The other underlying half of my job was to find out everything I could about what Larry O'Brien (former postmaster general) was doing as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. O'Brien and the Democratic "agenda" plagued Nixon — so much so that it became part of my job description and routine: find out what they were up to and report to the White House. At some point, Nixon's "White House Plumbers" went into O'Brien's office under cover of darkness and thus we had Watergate. After 40 years, this perpetuates. We also now have Deflategate, Bridgegate and Towergate.
Although Nixon didn't know the details of the Watergate break-in, he did order O'Brien to be under surveillance. He also allowed his handlers to handle things so completely that it led to catastrophe. Even before I had heard of the mythical "plumbers" in the fall of 1972, I backed away from everything — declining to participate in the under-the-radar operations any further.
The months after the indictment were hell. Everyone was perceived to be guilty — and, as I told the FBI (which cleared me of any wrongdoing), I was innocent. I'm lucky not to be one of the guys who sat mulling over prison options, but I do know how it feels to breathe the polluted air of an administration headed toward disaster.
Trump resembles Nixon in a number of significant ways — both good and bad. Foremost, in his habit of reacting to attacks — real and perceived — by launching attacks of his own. Like Nixon, he seems to have a long-standing distrust of the media and a paranoid obsession with perceived enemies. Trump also shares Nixon's tactical view of political bullfighting: When the bull charges, they run straight for the bull.
As it was with Nixon, Trump's narcissism seems to permeate everything. And, just as Nixon did, he has gone overboard to say that the press is not only his enemy, but also the enemy of the American people. This ultimately distracts us from the deeper problems we are facing today. For Nixon, the preoccupation with his image was his Achilles' heel. Wanting to preserve what was left of his legacy, he declined to make his actions transparent. In his pride, he also declined to destroy the Watergate tapes, which became his smoking gun.
I would implore Trump to understand that being president is not a dress rehearsal. The bridge between campaign promises and presidential accomplishments is discipline. The focus should be on moving his agenda forward. Right now, the question is: Can Trump heed the lessons of history and tap into the redemptive, reformist energy that Nixon did ignite before the Watergate scandal?
As for myself, I am a senior white businessman. I favor tax reform, decreased regulation, a strong economy and a government that stays out of my hair — or what's left of it anyway. My identity is hardly the sum of the 10 presidents I have met or worked for in my lifetime. I have a richly diverse family, including an African-American wife, two African-American children, three white children, a Jewish grandson, two Korean grandsons and three Scottish-Irish granddaughters — and I greatly respect each of their desires and rights to be heard.
In short, I truly hope this divisive era can encourage us all to unite, heal our wounds and bring some oxygen back to the air.
William "Bill" Dunlap worked for two decades as chairman/CEO of Campbell Mithun. The youngest assistant postmaster general in U.S. history, he was first employed in the mailroom of the Hormel plant in his hometown of Austin, Minn.