Posted by: ericgrimsrud | May 22, 2016

Ronald Reagan’s GOP

Behold the GOP’s candidate for President in 2016. Not long ago, Donald Trump was a reality show host in which he was the judge and jury concerning the performances of his contestants.  That is about as close to governance and actual reality that he has ever been.

And behold the GOP’s view on climate change. While the view of the world’s professional climate scientists has been clear for over a decade, the GOP still favors its own fantasies in this area simply because they wish them to be true.

And behold their hero, Ronald Reagan, a product of the make-believe world of Hollywood. I will be focusing on this grade-B actor turned politician below and how his influence shaped the GOP of today.

In trying to understand how the GOP came to its present sorry state – in which it presents the likes of Donald Trump and Sarah Palin for election to our highest offices and ignores one of the most important components of human civilization known as science – I have come to lay a large portion of the blame at the feet of their hero, Ronald Reagan, who that party still claims to have been one the best Presidents the USA has ever had. Today, even many Democrats, including President Obama seem to hold him in high regard. I don’t.  While Reagan was in office and ever since then, I have held him in relatively low regard and, more significantly, believe that his presidency set the GOP on the downward course it have been on ever since.  One of Obama’s reasons for acknowledging Reagan’s importance was that Reagan changed the direction of the country.  And sure, he seemed to be a “nice guy” who instilled a needed bit of optimism in Americans. While I agree with those assessments, I also believe that the changes he succeeded in making were most unfortunate.  Had Gerald Ford, for example, been able to carry on the Republican brand after the blow-up of the Nixon administration, I have little doubt that our country and the world would be a much better place today.

Some political analysts have shared my dim view of President Reagan. Therefore, in explaining my views of him, I will first refer you to a column written in 2009 by Robert Parry in which many of Reagan’s shortcomings are described in some detail. It can be seen at https://consortiumnews.com/2014/02/06/ronald-reagan-worst-president-ever-2/

As revealed in Parry’s article, President Reagan managed to do the following during his two terms:

He greatly undermined the public’s confidence in government even claiming that “government is the problem” and cannot provide solutions. He also undermined our confidence in science and its contributions to environmental issues.  He reversed the course of energy conservation and US energy independence set by previous President Jimmy Carter.  He undercut the authority of the EPA previously established by President Nixon.  He slashed taxes on the wealthy and undermined the economic future of the so-called “Reagan Democrats” of the middle classes who were fooled into supporting the faux reality of trickle-down economics. While the salaries of CEOs were increased several fold under his watch, the incomes of our middle class began its slide down to poverty levels.  He helped establish right wing dictatorships in South America that have hindered the development of democracies in those countries ever since.  He ignored US law in achieving unsavory objectives, such as the affair known as Iran Contra.  In what might be regarded as a treasonous act, presidential candidate and then President-Elect Reagan is alleged to have sabotaged President Carter’s efforts to free the American Hostages held in Iran until Reagan took office on the morning of January 20, 1981. If those hostages had been released under Carter’s watch, Carter would have undoubtedly been reelected in 1980.

I was personally very disappointed to see Reagan remove that symbolic set of solar panels President Carter had put on the White House roof. At that time he also encouraged the auto industry to produce more gas-guzzling large vehicles. He increased rather than decreased our dependence on Middle Eastern oil thereby increasing the importance of our military’s control in those countries. While he preached the importance of a balanced budget, he tripled our national debt and changed the USA from a leading creditor nation to a leading debtor nation.

While many believe that Reagan “won the Cold War”, history is increasingly showing that the Soviet Union was already falling apart due to its own internal problems and the efforts of previous presidents. In addition, that war was clearly finished off by Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, whose knowledge of foreign affairs and personal acquaintances with world leaders was extraordinary. While the public is not so well aware of the hard work done by many government officials behind the scenes, it does recall Reagan’s very public pronouncement “Tear down that wall, Mr. Gorbachev!”  I suspect that no President ever got more positive press for so little actual work performed than Ronald Reagan did. I will readily admit that he knew when to step onto the soap box.

On the personal side, Ronald Reagan could be cruel to those who did not share his political goals. For example, the distain he showed to the Carter family at the traditional changing of residents at the White House in January of 1981 provided for him, I guess, one last opportunity to humiliate the President he was replacing.  During the commie witch hunts of the late 40’s and 50’s Ronald Reagan served as a snitch providing information to investigative committees about his fellow actors.  It was later revealed that he was paid to do so by the Herbert Hoover’s FBI. Behind that smiling, aw-shucks, boy-next-door façade, there seems to have been a self-righteous, self-serving, mean-spirited person.  In order to help protect himself from the conflicts that such a person might expect to have with fellow human beings, he selected the perfect spouse for providing needed insulation and unconditional admiration.

So, returning to the present, why should we be surprised to see the likes of Donald Trump becoming the leader of the new Republican Party? Isn’t he the logical result of the trajectory that party has been on since 1980?  Shouldn’t a self-absorbed billionaire living out the American financial dream of achieving obscene levels of personal wealth make him an ideal leader of the modern GOP?  What else matters to the modern GOP?  Certainly not a record of government or public service. Yes, Donald Trump, the GOP’s presidential candidate for 2016, owes his existence to Ronald Reagan.

While the Democrat Jimmy Carter or the Republican Gerald Ford might have proven to be a far better presidential choice back in 1980, does anyone in the modern GOP consider Ford to be anything more than a bit player in the “Reagan Era” when the honesty and integrity of Gerald Ford was no match for Ronny’s silver tongue and faux reality.  It might be a shame and maybe even tragic that the real challenges of the future that had been laid out by Nixon, Ford and Carter were forgotten after we heard those comforting words of the “great communicator” – whose verbal skills and understanding of American history had been honed as the host of the TV series, “Death Valley Days”.  My own expectation is that with the passage of time, Ronald Reagan will be considered to be our very worst Presidents ever – unless he is beaten out by one of his more recent disciples, such as George W. Bush or (heaven forbid) Donald Trump.


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