Sunday, 20 March 2016

Richard Nixon (ESI): Personality Type Analysis

Richard Milhous Nixon was an American lawyer and politician who served as the 37th US president from 1969 to 1974. Having fought in WWII in the Pacific, immediately afterwards he started a very successful political career, from Congressman to Senator to Vice-President under Eisenhower, but then losing, very narrowly, the 1960 presidential election to John Kennedy (EIE). He narrowly won the 1968 election but won 49 states when re-elected in 1972 - only to have to resign in August 1974, the only US president to have done so.

Nixon's career suggests as common traits personal drive and ambition, careerism, political pragmatism and the presence of goals rather than ideology or political principles. As he himself described in his memoirs, he saw the 1946 election to Congress as a career move, rather than following a vocation.

In his early days in Congress, he achieved national fame for his role in prosecuting Alger Hiss for pro-Soviet activities, which led him to being known as fiercely anti-communist, a fame which he exploited politically when seeking election to the Senate and the Vice-Presidency. Yet, his own foreign policies when president were marked by drastically improving relations with the USSR and China.

Likewise, despite a reputation as a 'conservative', in domestic policies Nixon was mostly non-ideological, essentially following the then largely consensual trend of expanding the government (by establishing the EPA, for instance), attempting to reduce inflation by imposing wage and price freezes, etc. By all accounts, including his own (even if not explicitly), Nixon was mostly indifferent to domestic policies as such and tended to adopt those that would give him the most political support. His real interest was in foreign policy. There, his main goals were to maintain US power and prestige by pulling out of excessively costly and fruitless direct conflicts (i.e. the Vietnam War) while encouraging and supporting allies even if arguably unpleasant, and undermining regimes thought to be hostile even if arguably impotent, and most importantly, reaching an accommodation with the truly powerful hostile powers, the USSR and China. For the latter, he strongly believed in establishing relationships of mutual trust or if not, at least of mutual comprehension of interests.

The above already suggests a man with low focus on L and clear focus of F. When writing about foreign policy and his experiences of it, Nixon very often, repeatedly, digressed on the characters and personalities of the leaders he had met rather than on larger, non-personal trends and events, which points to a high focus on R.

In his books that he wrote as ex-president, the same traits are seen: when writing about longer term historical or economic trends, he is brief, not very original, even repetitive. He is far more comfortable writing about his experiences and about individuals. This shows higher confidence in R than P.

Nixon's approach to R can be seen in how he ran the government and what brought him down, the Watergate affair. Nixon preferred to deal closely only with a very narrow circle of subordinates, namely H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Henry Kissinger. Yet, these did not form a 'collective inner circle' as Nixon had very different, individual relationships with each of them, keeping each in his own box, as it were. This extended to other individuals whom he also trusted but in different ways.

It can be said that this is what ultimately led to his political downfall in the Watergate scandal. In itself a very minor crime involving the White House only peripherally and almost certainly not initiated by Nixon, the Watergate break-in grew into a huge political scandal due to Nixon's inability to either fully dissociate himself from it by ruthlessly firing those connected to it, or to actually get into a thorough investigation himself. He ended up getting into a half-baked series of clumsy attempts to either obstruct the investigation while protecting those close to him that he suspected were involved (like John Mitchell) while relying on John Dean, who appeared to be well-informed but who ended up becoming a whistle-blower.

At a more personal level, Nixon was known for making speeches of high personal content on occasions of huge stress, which many found embarrassing while others appreciated their sincerity: examples are his farewell speech to journalists when supposedly leaving politics in 1962 ("you won't have Nixon to kick around anymore") and his farewell speech to the White House staff. Such speeches were clearly aimed at the individuals directly in front of him rather than the broader audience, just like his statement, as president, during a press conference: he said that didn't hate the press, as some said, because he only hated those he respected.

Despite all this, Nixon's life had as common trait the ability to retain the loyalty and admiration of nearly all of those who worked with or for him, over decades.

All points to a man with a high focus on R, essentially dismissive of E when he felt like it, no real concern about L ideology or consistency, and a man much inclined to the Gamma R+F harsh approach to relationships. His P can be seen in his pragmatic approach to economics and domestic policies: he seemed to assume that others could and should handle it better.

R1, F2 and P5, as well as barely visible T and I seem to fit Richard Nixon well, making ESI his likely type.

Recommended reading and sources: the material available on Richard Nixon online, in form of video interviews, extracts from his White House tapes, and biographies, is enormous. His own memoirs - "The Memoirs of Richard Nixon" - provide a glimpse into his thinking and how he would prefer to be remembered, as does a later, more revealing memoir, "In the Arena",  Monica Crowley's two books on her recollections of her years working as Nixon's assistant after his presidency, "Nixon Off the Record" and "Nixon in Winter", provide the most complete eyewitness description of what he was like.

To learn more about ESI, click here.

If you are confused by our use of Socionics shorthand, click here.

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