Always give your best.
Never get discouraged.
Never be petty.
Others may hate you,
but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them.
And then you destroy yourself.
Richard Nixon, 9 August 1974
Last White House Speech
On 7 August 1974, before my junior year of college, I spent two weeks traveling with family in Europe before striking out on my own from Amsterdam for Florence. After traveling for twenty-four hours on a slow train, I arrived sweaty and bone tired in that city of my dreams. Having booked a cot in a youth hostel dormitory, I took a cold shower for respite from the heat, and wandered the streets, taking in the twilight sights, sounds, and smells of Florence. But exhausted by the journey, I returned to the empty dorm room early, and fell into a deep sleep.
Around midnight I awoke to the sounds of American students in the streets below shouting, dancing, and making merry at the news—Richard Nixon had resigned. The saga of Watergate was over. The president admitted lying to the American people and complicity in crimes. He paid the price for hubris and was forced to resign.
I remember well my anguish, lying on my cot in that oppressively hot dorm room with American voices shouting for joy in the streets below. I felt myself the last Nixon supporter in the world; and I shed tears over the betrayal. I had willed to believe Nixon was a truthful man. I wanted to believe he was a good man. He had failed me.
But in truth, he had failed himself. The next day he spoke to staffers in a packed White House ballroom, reflected on the past and offered words of thanks before leaving the White House forever. Too late he articulated the fateful, deeply insightful observation, “those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.”
Nixon did have opponents. People disagreed with him. But Nixon’s hatred for his “enemies” had destroyed his presidency, and forever tarnished a record filled with major accomplishments. The nation should laud his many achievements (détente with the Soviet Union, opening relations with China, establishing the Environmental Protection Agency, and the list goes on). But none of those landmarks supersede the damage he did. His legacy is failed leadership. He did it to himself. He hated his enemies.
Thirty-nine years later, on 16 August 2013, after a twelve-hour workday in an Oxford library, I climbed into bed exhausted, but opened my computer to read emails before turning out the lights. There was a letter from SLU board chairman, J. Joe Adorjan. He announced Father Biondi would leave office on 1 September 2013, and start a one-year sabbatical immediately. The head of Saint Louis University’s General Counsel, Bill Kaufman, was named interim president. The search for a new president would begin in September.
This had been unthinkable three weeks earlier. On 24 July 2013, Mr. Adorjan discounted reports that the president had reduced dean-recommended, evidence-based merit raises of vocal faculty critics (among them department chairs, faculty senators and Faculty Senate officers, as well as Arts and Sciences Faculty Council officers). There had been calls for these reprisals to be reversed, and for Father Biondi to be removed as president and replaced with an interim president. The chairman downplayed these well-documented acts of revenge by the president. It was only a “small minority of people.” Mr. Adorjan insisted that this summer had been no different from previous years. As in the past, the president accepted most recommendations, while some were increased and others were lowered. The president “has the last say.”
One did not need prophetic powers to predict that this would happen. For years Father Biondi had rewarded those who had done his bidding and fired staffers who had not. Tenured faculty had seen their recommended merit raises reduced or nullified.
But this year was different. This year he did not hide behind the name of his academic vice presidents, as he had done in the past—making them complicit in his wrongdoing. On 8 August 2013 he published a commentary in the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, vilified “dissident” faculty, and blamed them for reprisals he had imposed, calling his opponents “self-absorbed and self-serving.” This act of hubris ended his presidency. He did it to himself. He hated his enemies.
As we look to the future, we must not forget the past. Mr. Nixon and Father Biondi have taught us by their example two important truths: First, critics may be people of good will who should be heard. Second, even if they are not, they “don’t win unless you hate them … then you destroy yourself.”
Kenneth L. Parker
Associate Professor of Historical Theology
Director, SLU Prison Program
24 August 2013