Spiro Agnew: Donald Trump's Doppelganger from Forty Years Ago

As he dug in for ideological warfare with the establishment media, anarchists, Marxist terrorists, anti-war protesters, and other militants in 1969, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew said he felt as though he were "involved in a crusade" (1).

It was a fitting analogy, given that the groups then arrayed against the American sociopolitical system had adopted a kind of missionary zeal in their adherence to a variety of delusional, as well as deadly, causes.

They would become the Alinskyites, social justice warriors, multicultural indoctrinators, rabid environmentalists, and similarly aligned disciples of what author Lloyd Billingsley described as a "mishmash of conventional leftisms," waging "jihad" against those who dare challenge their views (2).  Confrontation and demonization under the banner of political correctness are favored tactics.

De facto GOP presidential nominee Donald J. Trump has been combating P.C. fanaticism in a blunt, counterpunching style that's a throwback to Agnew, who unhesitatingly unloaded on provocateurs resorting to disinformation, obstructionism, and even harsher methods to stifle debate and subvert constitutional authority.

"A new violence is spreading in America, born not of covetousness for another's property, but for another's mind," Agnew told supporters in Phoenix, Arizona on Oct. 9, 1970.

"Freedom of speech is useless without freedom of thought," he'd said previously.  "And I fear that the politics of protest is shutting out the process of thought" (3).

The veep was a firm believer that "civil rights are balanced by civil responsibilities" – that no one should be tendered veto power over another's right to speak freely within reasonable parameters.

Agnew reserved especially fierce criticism for those perpetrating destructive demonstrations on college campuses, denouncing them as "theatrical radicals" who were convinced they'd be "architects of a brave new compassionate world" – the costs and consequences of which be damned (4).

Emblematic of the era was '60s rabble-rouser Jerry Rubin, who proclaimed a desire to see "the United States self-destruct" (5).  There were, of course, less strident – but nonetheless insidious – activists, whose number included a Wellesley College student by the name of Hillary Rodham.  In one petulant outburst, the future first lady declared that she and fellow humanists of her generation would "practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible" (6).  Hello, government is god.

As the Nixon administration's law-and-order line driver, Agnew was game for battle against campus radicals and rampageous mobs, with whom he first dealt as governor of Maryland. 

Black Power militant H. Rap Brown fomented a riot in Cambridge in 1967, telling a crowd it was time "to burn America down" (7), and roughly nine months later, a race riot erupted in Baltimore, causing significant damage.

Agnew gave a tongue-lashing to black civic leaders who had refused to publicly oppose the Baltimore instigators.  The episode prompted accusations of racism, though Agnew's candor also drew praise from many quarters (8).  

Interestingly, it was the same city and the riots there in April 2015 that resulted in Trump taking heat for making what one wire service characterized as "racist and insensitive" remarks.

Like Trump today, Agnew could hardly utter a word that wasn't micro-processed by critics, fishing for any allusion to a "lack of mental and moral sensitivity" (9).

In speech after speech, Agnew fulminated against radicals and the "permissivist" parents and college administrators who stood by as academic institutions were turned upside-down.  Mobs took over buildings, committed assaults, destroyed property, and engaged in other acts of aggression on more than 800 campuses nationwide.

The vice president pulled no punches, calling the would-be revolutionaries "childish, mindless, coercive and oppressive," likening their actions to "animal conduct" (10).  The word "garbage" slipped from his lips in one heated exchange with protesters.

Big media commentators and other "nattering nabobs" sought every opportunity to cast Agnew in an unfavorable light as he led the fight against the "New Left revolution."  

Editorialist Carl Rowan accused the vice president of pandering "to the prejudices of the most ignorant" in society, coming off as a "dumb joke" (11).  A Las Vegas Sun writer compared Agnew's tone to that of Hitler (12).  Not wanting to miss an opportunity to grandstand, the veep's political opponents joined in, deriding him as a "peddler of hate."

Virtually identical – and unsupported – condemnation has been heaped on Trump, who's been called a "clown," compared to Hitler, and accused of sporting hate speech for his positions on hot-button issues, including illegal immigration and Islamic fundamentalism.  But the presidential candidate, like Agnew in his day, has refused to walk the P.C. tightrope in deference to his antagonists.

Trump:  "I've been challenged by so many people, and I don't frankly have time for total political correctness.  And to be honest with you, this country doesn't have time either."

Agnew: "I have an obligation to call things as I see them[.] ... I'm not going to go away just because some people are sucking in their breath with alarm over what I'm saying" (13, 14).

The chaotic demonstrations so pervasive in the first half of Agnew's term are a rarity nowadays, though speech disruptions remain a preferred tactic of the left.

Trump has contended with several organized protests, the most formidable at the University of Illinois-Chicago in March.  The anti-Trump furor in the Windy City came as no great surprise, considering that it has long been a seedbed for what Agnew called "radical-liberal" activism.

Reputed domestic terrorists of the 1960s and '70s William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn make their home there, working as professors.  (Barack Obama, likely the most blatant P.C. practitioner to occupy the White House, has reportedly had ties to the pair for decades.)

Along with Ayers and Dohrn, other entrenched leftists went from assailing the establishment to adopting its conventions, repurposing to gain positions in academia.

The permissivists Agnew so disdained eventually morphed into propagandists and P.C. sensitivity police immersed in a kind of multicultural, pan-sexual clannism, affording little tolerance for opinions with the faintest conservative flavor.

The animus now pervades to such an extent that the mere sight of a "Trump 2016" chalk drawing is considered a "microaggression" that drives afflicted parties to "safe spaces."  While this P.C. ritual may seem tongue-in-cheek, others aren't.

Take, for instance, Project Veritas's exposé on professors and administrators literally trashing the U.S. Constitution to quell the fabricated anxieties of students.

Freedom Center founder David Horowitz has compared today's left-wing popular front to a "totalitarian force," using whatever means necessary to isolate and vilify targets.

Black Lives Matter, La Raza, Move On.org, Occupy Wall Street, and similar groups, it could be argued, have taken the place of '60s factions like the Black Liberation Army, the Brown Berets, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Yippies.   

These elements often seem passively or actively aligned with elitist politicians, segments of the Fourth Estate and Hollywood.  Thus, little wonder that the likes of California Gov. Jerry Brown, the New York Times, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Sean Penn, and Stephen King have staked anti-Trump positions.

Agnew in his era weathered scalding winds from a comparable "effete corps of impudent snobs" but stood firm in the belief that he was representing the interests of "the forgotten American."  The veep, however, was never under threat of diplomatic censure, as happened to Trump when the British Parliament in January actually engaged in a debate on whether to bar him from England.  Why?  Supposed "hate speech," or Islamaphobia, in his national security plank.

Such leftist histrionics may only magnify the cynosure of The Donald's campaign, but the broader implications of P.C. brainwashing remain.

"Our country is going to hell for being politically correct," Trump said at a February rally in Oklahoma City.  Three weeks later, during an appearance in Fountain Hills, Arizona, he said it was past time to "stop with this political correctness. We have become so politically correct that we're totally impotent as a country."

In his political thriller The Canfield Decision, Agnew approximated the same theme in one passage: "The American resolve was shattered from within.  The political geniuses, assisted by the news media, had emasculated the greatest power in the world.  The United States had become impotent."

That was published exactly 40 years ago.  Perhaps there's yet hope that the country's fortunes will change.  One thing is certain: if Trump makes good on his campaign pledges, change won't come without a furor with which Agnew would be immensely familiar.


1. "Agnew Tells Why He Says What He Says." U.S. News & World Report. 17 Nov. 1969, p. 20.
2. Billingsley, Lloyd. Bill of Writes: Dispatches from the Political Correctness Battlefield. San Bernardino: Center Shot Press, 2016, p. 120.
3. Agnew's speech at the Governors' Conference. Washington, D.C., 3 Dec. 1969.
4. Agnew's speech to supporters in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. 28 April 1970.  
5. Viorst, Milton. Fire in the Streets: America in the 1960s. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979, pp. 458-459.
6. Olson, Barbara. Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 1999, pp. 42.
7. Albright, Joseph. What Makes Spiro Run. New York: Dodd, et al., 1972, p. 173.
8. Witcover, Jules. White Knight: The Rise of Spiro Agnew. New York: Random House, 1972, pp. 170-171.
9. Agnew referencing his critics during speech at the Pennsylvania Republic Dinner. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 30 Oct., 1969.
10. Agnew's speech to supporters in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. 28 April 1970.
11. Agnew quoting during a speech at the Texas Republican Dinner. Houston, Texas. 22 May, 1970.
12. Coyne, John R. The Impudent Snobs: Agnew vs. The Intellectual Establishment. New York: Arlington House, 1972, p. 133.
13. Agnew's speech at the Texas Republican Dinner. Houston, Texas. 22 May, 1970.
14. "Agnew Tells Why He Says What He Says." U.S. News & World Report. 17 Nov. 1969, p. 20.

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