One of the inescapable disabilities of geezerhood is the temptation to reminisce. Here I go.
The time is early 1968. I am the eminence grise to the highest ranking member of the NYPD—a Sammy Glick* who knew how to run after the prize—and get it—but had no clue as to what to do with it once obtained. Bizarro!
A detective I’d known in the Army came to see me. He had a reputation. He’d made a contact in the Nixon camp and expected the Tricky One to be nominated and elected President. If he were assigned to Nixon’s security detail (which entailed a transfer to an elite unit) his contact would take him to Washington—and I’d have a friend in high places.
I’d think about it, but what was his contact’s name? John Ehrlichman! I’d never heard of him.
In the fullness of time I transferred, and Caulfield got assigned to Nixon’s detail and went to Washington. Very curiously he took another detective with him—Tony Ulasewicz.
Tony U was sent to Chappaquiddick to sniff around the Mary Jo Kepechne/Ted Kennedy drowning tragedy. He wound up writing “The President’s Private Eye” and shone as comic relief to Sen. Sam Erwin’s investigative committee on the Watergate break-in.
Tony U. was much more talented than Caulfield, and I thought it curious to see the role of Quixote and Panza reversed.
Tony died nursing a deep grievance against me because I’d been quoted as describing him as “as cunning as an outhouse rat.” I’d actually meant to convey he was, in a grotesque sort of way, really talented, but we never reconciled.
Both were caught up, tangentially, in the Watergate fiasco and punished and disgraced. Caulfield took to drink. Both died embittered and dismayed by their experiences. I got a White House tour for me and my family out of it all.
So, what’s the point?
We live in a period of fear and loathing—what the Chinese curse labels as “interesting times.” Trump’s vanity, thin-skin, commercialism, amateurishness and hapless judgment has truly shaken thinking America. It’s possible—even likely—that the inevitable shambles will produce tragic results. I pray not but it looks suspiciously like Opera Buffa.
And yet …
I am going to cling to the notion that Nixon was worse.
Fundamentally criminal in his view, Tricky Nick would—as he proved over and over again (in bombings, tapes, cover-ups, slush funds, Enemies Lists and anti-Semitism, to name only a few)—stop at nothing to get what he wanted.
I refuse to forget or forgive Nixon’s sins, and Trump will have to go a “fer piece” to beat them.
*from “What Makes Sammy Run?” by Budd Schulberg