Whenever America is polarized, as it is today, people go back in memory and history to recall other times their nation was so divided.

The Civil War of the 1860s and the social revolution that tore us apart in the 1960s come instantly to mind. In that latter time, there was no figure more central to the conflicts of his day than Richard M. Nixon.

And no staff member was closer to Nixon in the campaign of 1968, or for the first four years of his presidency, than his personal aide Dwight Chapin, whose memoir, "The President's Man," is published this week.

Coincidentally, this February of 2022 is the 50th anniversary of Nixon's trip to China that changed the world. Chapin was at Nixon's side every day of that trip and had negotiated with the Chinese to prepare the schedule for both the president and first lady Pat Nixon.

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Because America entered both world wars of the 20th century last, while all the other great powers bled one another, and because we outlasted the Soviet Empire in the Cold War, America emerged, in the term of President George H.W. Bush, as "the last superpower."

We had it all. We were the "indispensable nation." We saw further into the future. We could impose our "benevolent global hegemony" on all mankind. And so it was that we set out to create a "new world order," plunging into successive wars in Iraq, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq again, Syria, Libya, Yemen.

So doing, we bled ourselves, distracted ourselves, exhausted ourselves and sundered ourselves, until half the country was echoing George McGovern's 1972 campaign slogan: "Come home, America."

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When the Union was fighting to preserve itself in the Civil War, the France of Napoleon III moved troops into Mexico, overthrew the regime of Benito Juarez, set up a monarchy and put Austrian Archduke Maximilian von Habsburg on the throne as Emperor of Mexico -- one month before Gettysburg.

Preoccupied, the Union did nothing.

At war's end, in 1865, however, at the urging of Gens. Ulysses S. Grant and William Sherman, the Union sent 40,000 troops to the Mexican border.

Secretary of State William Seward dispatched Gen. John Schofield to Paris with the following instructions: "I want you to get your legs under Napoleon's mahogany and tell him he must get out of Mexico."

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Speaking in Conroe, Texas, last weekend, former President Donald Trump accused his successor of allowing millions of migrants to enter the country illegally across our Southern border.

"The most important border ... for us is not Ukraine's border but America's border," thundered Trump.

"Before Joe Biden sends any troops to defend a border in Europe, he should be sending troops to defend our border right here in Texas."

Thus did Trump not only frame a compelling issue for the fall election; he has framed an issue that touches on one of the great and deepening divides of our time.

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Is the territorial integrity of Ukraine a cause worth America's fighting a war with Russia?

No, it is not. And this is why President Joe Biden has declared that the U.S. will not become militarily involved should Russia invade Ukraine.

Biden is saying that, no matter our sentiments, our vital interests dictate staying out of a Russia-Ukraine war.

But why then does Secretary of State Antony Blinken continue to insist there is an "open door" for Ukraine to NATO membership -- when that would require us to do what U.S. vital interests dictate we not do: fight a war with Russia for Ukraine?

NATO's "open door policy" is based on Article 10, which declares that NATO members, "may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European State ... to accede to this Treaty."

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