Richard Nixon’s Resignation

the American flag

After the Watergate Scandal investigation found tapes revealing  Nixon’s involvement in the scandal and ultimately lost his supporters in Congress. Knowing he would probably be removed from office, Nixon resigned from his position as President on August 9th, 1974. America watched as Nixon delivered his resignation speech, becoming the only president to resign from their position. In his speech, Nixon failed to both connect to his audience and effectively appeal to the rhetoric appeals of ethos, logos, and pathos. 

Ethos

The thing that pops out right away is the situational ethos that hinders Nixon’s speech. Nixon clearly looks very uncomfortable and nervous, which is not surprising. His body is very rigid as he appeared to be reading from a paper instead of making eye contact with the audience and engaging them. While the president of the United States would normally have a great ethos, even before Nixon, he loses his credibility because of a severely damaged reputation.

Normally, speakers are given a blank slate if the audience doesn’t know them personally. Like at a conference, or a presentation given by a classmate you don’t really know. But unfortunately for Nixon, the American public was already aware of his selfish acts of injustice against the country. Therefore, anything that Nixon said, even statements of validity and truth, would be in question.

With his ethos now gone, President Nixon and the supporters he had left tried to build up some ethos by displaying the American flag and presidential seal in the background. Presidents are typically portrayed with American symbols so Nixon was relying on the credibility given to him by his position as president rather than creating ethos for himself, as a person who made a mistake. However, the American people, as well as the president himself, knew attempting to estable ethos was a lost cause from the beginning.

Logos

Not only did Nixon fail to establish ethos but he also failed to achieve logos in his speech. Nixon and his staff attempted to use deductive reasoning to make up for his empty logic. I noticed he said many times a variation of putting the “interest of the nation first.” His resignation would be of the best interest of America after the Watergate Scandal, however his real intentions were not to protect the nation but to protect himself. If he didn’t resign then he would have been impeached.

Also, resigning before the process of removing him from office meant that potential evidence against him were kept private and perhaps might have saved what remained of his political base. This empty logic  is evident in the fact that he obviously didn’t put the nation first when taking part in the scandal, therefore there is empty logic in his statement. This puts strain on his logos of the speech.

Pathos

When it comes to pathos Nixon made a good attempt to appeal to the emotions of the audience. Nixon, well aware that families would be watching his speech, tried his best to appeal to the American family unit. He mentioned that his family urged him to finish his term. He showed that he was sacrificing the best interest of his family for the best interest of the American people.

He also tried to build himself up to be a hero through saying things like, “I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is complete is abhorrent to every instinct in my body” and “I would have preferred to carry through to the finish, no matter the personal agony it would have involved.” These phrases were placed within his speech to try to get sympathy from the audience. However, Nixon’s attempt to appeal to pathos, overall, was a failure. While watching the speech, I could not sympathize with him because of his crimes, and I feel like Americans’ at the time probably had an even harder time trying to forgive him for his crimes.

Conclusion and Legacy

While his speech ultimately failed when he originally spoke it in 1976, I think that the general reception of the speech is the same as it was back then. Over the years, there have been numerous articles written about him assessing his presidency. People have looked past his scandal to see the great things he had done as president. However he is still considered one of the most hated presidents.

The difference from then and now is that I think people were much more invested because it was their president that had betrayed them and therefore had a stronger reaction to the speech and Nixon, himself. While I was watching I obviously noticed his flaws because I was looking for them, but as a person who isn’t into politics and wasn’t alive at the time, I didn’t care as much. Although he is still considered to be one of the most hated Presidents, I think time has helped with his reputation, especially since our current president is known for being hated by many. 

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