Stop The Reagan Worship: 101 Reasons To Tear Down This Altar

A Critical Look at America’s Favorite President.

I grew up in the 1980s. For the majority of my childhood, Ronald Reagan was my president. Like the rest of the country, I admired him. He had the welcome presence of a grandfather, the statesmanship of some bygone era, and an aura of dignity that seemed to elevate how we viewed ourselves and our nation.

As I grew up, however, I realized the picture was more complex, if not completely staged. Our image of Reagan did not always match the legacy of his presidency.

In light of Donald Trump’s manipulation of the American voter, it’s become evident how few of us understand the Reagan administration - and how it changed the course of the free world.

Journalist and bestselling author Chuck Klosterman posed an interesting challenge in his latest book, But What If We’re Wrong? He considers the present as if it were the past, visualizing modern America from the perspective of future generations.

Without our current biases, the picture is quiet different, and our hero worship of Ronald Reagan is at odds with his presidential record:

Let’s face it – narrative is everything these days. It’s the reason we go to the movies, and it’s why we buy certain cars, or clothes, or branded electronics.

Narratives provide the story.

When it comes to marketing and advertising, these stories are often used to deceive - to make us feel good about ourselves, or show us who we’d like to be.

Reagan could sell a story because he was a trained actor.

In Tear Down This Myth, journalist and political analyst Will Bunch explains the allure of Reagan’s story:

Sound familiar?

Donald Trump may only be an imitation of an actor, but he took a page from Reagan’s playbook, helped along by eight years of race-based animosity toward Obama. It didn’t matter that most of Trump’s claims were outright lies, he was only concerned with moving his followers emotionally.

This is why stories are so powerful, why Reagan employed them, and why we have such adoration for him.

Reagan never cared much for facts anyway, having once said, “Facts are stupid things.” In his defense, he was misquoting John Adams, “Facts are stubborn things.” It was a Freudian slip if there ever was one.

The use of emotion over facts continues to pervade American advertising, be it for Pop-Tarts, panty hose, or another political figurehead appealing to populist rage.

Even his White House Public Relations staff specialized in dodging legitimate concerns. Instead, they shifted focus to sales pitches crafted by in-house spin-doctors. For instance, when two thirds of America disapproved of Reagans education policy, instead of changing it, the White House launched a series of PR events in schools until the poll numbers reversed. (Reason #2)

Today’s agenda involves mythologizing Reagan by primarily clinging to his misleading narratives. This includes inflating his role in international achievements, flat-out forgetting his failures, and denying the disasters that resulted from his policies.

But why bother with all the Reagan myth-making?

Creating a faux-Reagan benchmark to rally around shows just how ideologically bankrupt the modern conservative movement has become.

They have no new ideas, so they deify the very “hero” who bankrupted the nation.

American history is too often viewed through these untruths - deliberately spun myths used to mislead and delude. These narratives are well crafted, even if completely inaccurate.

While Reagan conveyed an all-American sense of loyalty and solidarity, history books will note how he sold off our national parks (Reason #4), ended nutrition programs for children (Reason #5), cut development grants to struggling rural communities (Reason #6), gutted food stamps (Reason #7), and rolled back regulations that created a number of today’s crises.

Reagan “enacted policies that helped wipe out the high-paying jobs for the working class that were the real backbone of this country. (Reason #8) ...was the architect of wrenching social change that swept across the country in the 1980s, the emergence of an eerie, over-commercialized, postmodern America that has left so much of the populace psychically adrift. (Reason #9) ...propelled the transition to hyper-capitalism, an epoch in which the forces of self-interest and profit seek to make a final rout of traditional human values. (Reason #10) His mergers, deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, privatization, globalization helped weaken the family and eradicate small-town life and the sense of community. (Reason #11) Because of deregulation, trucking concerns, bus companies, and airlines have eliminated much of their service to small rural communities, leaving them isolated and economically depressed in a society dominated by the great population centers on either coast. (Reason #12) Because of corporate consolidation, businesses are no longer owned locally and Main Street is gone. (Reason #13) Companies made over many times by mergers and forced to tailor every decision to stock market prices have little loyalty to communities or people. (Reason #14) Plants are closed and companies are downsized, families uprooted, communities left without anchors… Without his tax, regulatory, and antitrust policies, there would have been no frenzy of mergers in the 1980s and 1990s, no unseemly scramble for overnight fortunes by arbitrageurs and raiders, no destructive obsession with quarterly earnings at the expense of long-term investment, no wholesale abandonment of ethics on the part of corporate executives. (Reason #15) Nor would there have been an Enron or a subprime mortgage crisis… The contagion of free-market purism has infected almost every sector of American life.”

It is because of Ronald Reagan that most of America is underemployed, poor, and left behind in the new global economy.

Instead of correcting the narratives, or even addressing the issues, Donald Trump and the Republican party prefer to exploit the anger and in the process, fully destroy what’s left of small-town America with more of Reagan’s disastrous policies.

To properly understand how these policies wrecked the nation, we need to understand how Reagan got into politics.

THE MILLIONAIRE BACKERS

Reagan was born to Democratic parents employed by FDR’s New Deal programs. But once Reagan started earning Hollywood bucks, he quickly changed his tune, especially after becoming spokesperson for GE and regretting how much of his easy money went to taxes. This disgruntlement only grew as he began to fraternize with other conservative businessmen who shared the same sentiment. These wealthy tycoons were dubbed “The Millionaire Backers” by the press, and they became Reagan’s first unofficial cabinet, promoting their tailored message through Reagan’s celebrity.

In essence, Reagan was recruited by corporate interests who realized his ready-made sales potential. (Reason #16)

Reagan’s Millionaire Backers were new money.

They weren’t like the East Coast establishment who previously ran the Republican Party. They hadn’t worked their way up through some Fortune 500 company. They didn’t come to their money through family or an Ivy League education.

The Millionaire Backers were ranchers, Texas oilmen, and Southern and Western developers whose fortunes were made in the postwar period. They built their overnight success in the Sun Belt, which created an entitlement not unlike the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age.

This financial backbone of Reagan’s rise to the presidency became the new face of the GOP. (Reason #17)

Which brings us to the beginning of the unraveling of campaign financing, and the corporate takeover of our government.

CORPORATE AMERICA

“His campaign effectively undid the campaign finance reform that had been put into place after the Watergate scandal…a blatant contravention of the effort by Congress to insulate American democracy from the illicit influence of wealthy donors [that] eventually paved the way for the fund-raising scandals of the 1990s and the widespread sense among the public that Washington was for sale. (Reason #18) The campaign accomplished this by ferreting out a loophole in campaign finance law…as a way to get around the legal limits on contributions, setting up an operation to pour money into the states…Corporate money had been banned from federal elections for decades, but now donors could achieve the same result by giving money to local parties, which in many states had no such limitations. (Reason #19) And the business interest that filled Reagan’s campaign coffers got what they paid for. More than any president before him, Reagan reached into the boardrooms of America’s corporations to fill top positions in his administration. (Reason #20) But it was in the government regulatory apparatus that Reagan’s tutelage of business interests was the most egregious. The people newly entrusted to prevent corporate law breaking were in many cases representative of the worst and most avaricious elements of their respective industries. Their mission was clear: reduce the number of regulations, slash the budgets, and weed out the most aggressive and effective staff members; in short, eviscerate the regulatory agencies that had been a thorn in their sides when they were in the private sector. (Reason #21)

Such regulation slashing was most detrimental to the Middle and Lower Classes, as explained by law professor Ian Haney Lopez in Dog Whistle Politics:

What does deregulation, defunding, and no oversight look like?

  • It looks like safety violations and cozying up to big business, as in the BP oil spill and Virginia coal mine explosions. (Reason #26)
  • It looks like FEMA’s response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. (Reason #27)
  • It looks like Enron, the California electricity crisis, and rolling blackouts. (Reason #28)
  • It looks like the credit-default swaps and predatory lending of the financial sector. (Reason #29)

But that’s not all that declined under Reagan’s watch.

THE GREAT COMPRESSION

The post-war period of the 1940s to 1979 is known in America as The Great Compression, when differences in incomes and living standards were compressed.

Inequality was at record lows, and this created our notion of the American Dream and the belief that each generation would be better off than the rest.

But all of that changed in 1980.

THE GREAT REGRESSION

In The Crash of 2016, author and political commentator Thom Hartmann explains that as a result of Reagan’s tax cuts, Americans got feudalism instead of leisure:

It is because of this wealth redistribution that we now have such low social mobility.

SOCIAL MOBILITY

In Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy, The Nation editor Christopher Hayes states that the U.S. is now less mobile than nearly every other industrialized democracy on the globe. (Reason #35)

  • Germany is 1.5 times more mobile.
  • Canada is 2.5 times more mobile.
  • Denmark is 3 times more mobile.

Reaganomics drastically reduced tax rates for the moneyed class. (Reason #39)

It’s no wonder the wealthiest in this country celebrate the myth of Reagan - they’ve became exactly what our forefathers tried to prohibit: a rising oligarchy.

To put this in perspective, the Obama administration has had 1 investigation. (Clinton)

How did Reagan pay for everything if the government was losing tax dollars?

Reagan left office with trillions in debt. (Reason #49) Because the 1% still pay record low taxes, our debt practically doubled by 2000. (Reason #50) Add in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the debt doubled again to over 10 trillion dollars.

Big Business made off like bandits during the Reagan years, and they continue to do so today.

Unfortunately, anyone seeking to educate and better himself in Reagan’s America now pays a heftier price. The mounting debt of college education makes it no longer feasible for the cash-strapped. (Reason #54)

THE RISING COST OF COLLEGE

Today’s student aid mess has its roots in the 1980s. According to Devin Fergus at The Washington Post:

This should come as no surprise, since Reagan, as Governor of California, called for an end to free state college tuition (Reason #56) and demanded a 20% across-the-board cut in higher education spending by declaring the state will no longer “subsidize intellectual curiosity.” (Reason #57)

Reagan must have had equal disregard for healthcare services.

HEALTHCARE

Insurance providers like Blue Cross and Blue Shield were formerly nonprofits, which meant they just passed on the actual cost of health insurance to employers.

Under Reagan’s deregulation of the healthcare industry, insurance providers could now earn profits off denying coverage to the sick and dying. Within a decade, the entire industry fell apart for everyone but the super wealthy. (Reason #59) Hospitals became for profit and started charging higher rates. (Reason #60)

These costs have been passed on to the employers, who in turn have passed the cost on to the employees. (Reason #62)

“After spending more than 40% of all the money in the world devoted to health care, we rank 37th in the quality of our health care, and [the United States] still have roughly 50 million people without health insurance… In 1981…per capita health-care costs equaled 23% of the average salary of the bottom 90% of Americans. By 2007 it had risen to 49%, with all signs pointing to a growing share of the economy going to big, inefficient, but stunningly profitable health care companies.”

Despite all of these national tragedies, perhaps Reagan’s most self-destructive blow was to how the public perceived government.

THE ANTI-GOVERNMENT AGENDA

Like Trump, Reagan exploited Middle America’s anger, frustration, and vulnerability by targeting the government. (Reason #64) Both repeatedly stumped using what researcher and author Tamara Draut calls a trifecta of conservative philosophy:

  1. The government is the problem (myth)
  1. Tax cuts and free markets are the engines of growth (myth)
  1. Individual responsibility is the cornerstone of democracy

Reagan allied himself with corporations and political interests that sought to hoard their income and discontinue investing in their country. (Reason #66)

How much were public services slashed during Reagan’s tenure?

How willfully blind must we be to think “character was king” when it came to our 40th president?

That is the power of the narrative.

And we haven’t even covered the root causes of America’s staggering homeless population.

THE HOMELESS

A hallmark of the Reagan years was a rise in homelessness, an issue that wasn’t even on the political radar at the start of his presidency, but is easily seen in any movie filmed in 1980s New York.

To quote Reagan on the homeless, “They make it their own choice for staying out there.” (Reason #83)

Clearly Reagan didn’t understand the mentally ill, or either he simply didn’t care. As psychologists have discovered, the wealthier you are, the less empathy you have for the poverty-stricken.

It’s in large part because of the influx of mentally ill people on the streets that crime rose so high in major US cities. (Reason #84)

Which brings us to...

THE WAR ON DRUGS

The first “War on Drugs” began under Richard Nixon. According to his domestic-policy adviser, and Watergate co-conspirator, John Ehrlichman:

The Republican Party, led by President Reagan, continued this policy.

There was no drug crisis in 1982 when Reagan laid out his anti-drug campaign. Marijuana, heroin, hallucinogens, and first-time cocaine use was down or had leveled off.

So where did the 80’s drug war come from?

From Reagan’s communist paranoia, more or less.

If you haven’t choked on your jellybeans yet, let me break it down for you:

The crack epidemic was engineered by the Reagan administration to fund illegal arms to the Contras. (Reason #85)

The irony of this debacle would be amusing if the result wasn’t so catastrophic for African Americans. (Reason #88)

Most crime could be attributed to the crack epidemic, but the administration’s priorities were clear: imprison the drug users, don’t worry about rehabilitation or prevention. (Reason #90)

The War on Drugs was the ultimate dog-whistle issue – the perfect way to instill fear in the populace and distract the public from the corporate agenda. (Reason #91)

One of the greatest consequences of the War on Drugs has been mass incarceration. (Reason #93)

White men behind bars: 1 in 106

Hispanic men behind bars: 1 in 36

Black men behind bars: 1 in 15

Too bad our inmates return to society with no education, no counseling, and no job training, yet they do have plenty of anger and psychological wounds from their prison experience, and far too often become affiliated with gangs while in the slammer. (Reason #95)

Which brings us to...

AIDS

Reagan's press secretary Larry Speakes was so dismissive of AIDS, he laughed when asked about it. You can hear the callous press conference HERE. (Reason #97)

MILITARY

Considering how much money was slashed from social services during Reagan’s presidency, Reagan practically doubled the federal government’s budget spending, mainly on the military industrial complex, and bailing out Wall Street. (Reason #98)

The most popular Reagan myth is that he ended communism, but the whole “Tear Down This Wall” soundbite was little more than political theater.

For anyone who thinks Reagan singlehandedly brought down the Berlin Wall, think again.

The end of communism, much like our entire notion of the Reagan Revolution, has rested on a fallacy.

“Somewhere in the American past shimmers a halcyon era when the masses lived happily and private enterprise flourished without interference from the dead hand of government. Ronald Reagan…a man who made crucial decisions on the advice of an astrologer, who believed in extraterrestrials, who again and again confused Hollywood images with reality, tried to take America on a journey back to a Shangri-La that never existed. The Millionaire Backers, who knew that his presidency was just a money grab by the upper class, may have chuckled to themselves at how gullibly he bought into the lines he was reading. His idea that America’s greatness would be restored only if freed from the shackles of government unleashed one of the great philosophical misadventures of modern history…reversing a seventy-year trend toward social progress. Ronald Reagan set in motion a tidal wave of deregulation and privatization that has transformed the nation. A long list of calamities that have befallen deregulated industries – two stock market crashes, the California energy crisis, the Enron scandal, the savings –and-loan bailout, the Northeast blackout, the rash of bankruptcies in the airline industry, and the subprime mortgage crisis, just to name a few – all rose from Reagan’s misguided quest for free-market purism. All grew out of the evisceration of regulations that a more sensible generation of political leaders had put into place to keep market forces from making a shambles of our economy and culture. All enriched an elite business interested at the expense of ordinary Americans, without achieving what was supposed to be the goal of deregulation: a general increase in the well-being of the nation.”

If your image of Reagan has been tarnished by his actual presidency, you are in good company.

When the PR stunts have faded, and the emotional pull of 80s optimism has receded, it’s hard not to be sobered by the 101 facts of the real Reagan legacy, especially as we continue to pay for them today.

However, if you don’t wish to be confused by the facts, I can’t say I blame you.

After all, facts are such stupid things.

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