Watching the news on my iPad on CBSNews, they showed a live feed of the CPAC (Conservative …something). The key speakers were Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, being interviewed by the head of the organization, I assume. They talked glowingly about President Trump and “the best cabinet ever”, they talked about (I kid you not) “Saint Ronald” Reagan, and they talked about their origins, under that great right-wing leader Barry Goldwater. Boy, do I remember things differently. And, except for Goldwater, I was there.
So, here’s the myth that worshippers of Reagan and early skinheads remember: Richard Nixon wasn’t that bad a guy. Partisanship and that wacky press had him impeached for nothing. Gerald Ford was… Gerald Ford. A nice guy, a human being (aka “soft”). America was weak under Jimmy Carter. The Iranians took our hostages and it was Game On!. Ronald Reagan came in and the very next day, Reagan gave ’em “what for” and they sent our hostages home. So there. Democrats weak, Reagan strong. (Grunt, Grunt). America, under Reagan, feels good about itself once again. We’re the land of the free and the home of the brave again. Then Reagan said, “Tear down that wall” and they did — because Reagan said so. When Reagan left office, the world was as it should be. The debt was reduced. The economy was great. Trickle down economics really worked . Companies made lots of money. The government decreased taxes and people found an abundance of jobs and money. Finally, we were proud of our soldiers again after a few minor skirmishes we called wars and won, for the first time in forever… In fact, things were so great that everybody was happy and we were proud to be Americans.
This is what I remember. Richard Nixon had an “enemies list” of people who opposed him and he wanted to squash them. Among people this affected: John Lennon, the Black Panthers, peace groups, activists for humanity. He was petty and vindictive and Watergate was a scandal that brought down the White House because we believed that no one, not even the President , was above the law. Nixon was disliked by many, but he was considered a moderate compared to Barry Goldwater, the founder of the coalition now called CPAC. Just recently it came out that he and his cronies sabotaged the peace talks which could have ended the war in 1968, rather than 4 years later. Regardless of how you think we could have done in the war, that’s 4 years of death, destruction, conflicts in this country and in Vietnam that are on Nixon’s head. I was a kid, but I don’t remember thinking he was a particularly bad or evil man. I will never look at him the same way with this new information. Using politics to continue a war or any tragedy is immoral in so many ways that I just can’t imagine it. Had people known, Nixon, the “liberal alternative” to Goldwater would never been elected in the first place. As an aside: That many fewer soldiers would have brought back opiate addictions and drugs and much of the war on drugs would have been unnecessary.
Almost everyone agrees that Gerald Ford was a good President. He was mentally stable and a decent man, but Chevy Chase made his career over Ford’s physical clumsiness.
Jimmy Carter was, and is, a great man. He claims that during his 4 years not one single shot was fired by our military. That said, he wasn’t always the best President. The Arab oil embargo changed everything we believed in the world. The olympics brought terrorism and the PLO to our attention. The Iranians kicked out the Shah we had enstalled years before and took our hostages. Cuban jails were opened and many criminals came to our shores while Carter thought of them as “asylum seekers”. No one could have seen these changes coming and Carter didn’t have strategies to deal with these events. He was probably naive, but he brokered a peace between Anwar Sadat and Menachim Begin which was unimaginable. I think everyone I know can agree on my assessment of Ford and Carter. That’s the last time, to my knowledge, the country had a shared opinion about history.
Then came Reagan. After a dispiriting Carter era, Reagan fixed that problem by lying to us, saying that the old ways were best. By “old ways”, he meant “before the Civil Rights movement”. Maybe it was a “great time”, but only if you were a White male, and by extension maybe, a White female. After we, the citizens, worked as a country to include more and more people in democracy, Reagan divided us into “deserving” and “not deserving” even if circumstances were beyond someone’s control. Some homeless people, he said, wanted to be homeless. Under Reagan, free thought was curtailed in a new way: you couldn’t get college loans unless you signed up for the draft because “college kids” had “caused all that turmoil” in the 60’s. Government was bad. Freedom to avoid social progress was good. African-Americans were marginalized and Reagan fostered the “one issue ” voting thing we now see. The “one issue” was abortion. It didn’t matter what other issues were on your mind. Anti-Abortion rights got people to the voting booth to vote for Reagan. Reagan told us we could have won the Vietnam War if we hadn’t stopped ourselves and wanted peace. Suddenly “liberal” was a swear word.
Taxes were lowered. Yay! We didn’t have to pay for each other! Fire companies suffered, schools suffered, anything the government did was de-funded and with it went the social contract. The poor couldn’t get welfare or food stamps because they “didn’t deserve them”. Blacks didn’t deserve rights or help because they were all a drain on the economy and deserved to be poor (poor being bad), because they chose to be poor.
And here’s the biggest lie of all: Trickle-down economics never worked, because money never trickled down. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer.
So, here’s the short version of what I remember: American regained a strong national identity by losing its soul. Ironically, as the “Christian Right” came to power, we became less Christian to each other. Patriotism became defined as “agreement” with racism, sexism, and something new altogether: either bashing or letting die gay folks who “deserved” AIDS. This is the world Ronald Reagan gave us: Think about yourself. Don’t think about others. If you do care about others, you’re not patriotic enough.
Homelessness increased under Reagan. The debt went up under Reagan. Compassion went down under Reagan. Ongoing war was encouraged by Reagan. The Drug War started under Reagan. Poverty went up under Reagan. Division went up under Reagan. Deep thought was discouraged under Reagan. “Simple and wrong” was encouraged by Reagan.
In my view, America –as one country — stopped being great under Reagan. Far from being a saint, Reagan demonized most of America and said certain parts of America — straight, White, men with jobs — deserved to be great.
But here’s the even sadder part: Reagan was considered moderate compared to Goldwater. Trump at CPAC represents Goldwater Republicans! Even Reagan wouldn’t divide us as much as Trump/Goldwater/Steve Bannon types!
Honestly, this is how I remember it and I was there. When people talk about “alternate facts” and “lies”, reconstructing history, they are the ones doing it. I was there, the 20-something or 30-something square-jawed neo-conservative White, hateful and violent folks weren’t. Don’t believe them. Don’t let them spread lies. Don’t buy into their BS.
If that makes me “unpatriotic ” and “unAmerican”, so be it. At least I’m telling the truth. If “making America great again” doesn’t mean making all of America great, I don’t want it. If being patriotic means not caring, (and thus, not a follower of Jesus) then I guess I am unpatriotic. At least I can look at myself in the mirror and not be insane.
Resisting with peace, and truth…