Republicans consistently rave about Ronald Reagan as one of the twentieth century's greatest presidents. There is more than a little yearning for Reagan in their attitudes to Donald Trump. Trump himself is an admirer of the 40th president and sees himself treading the same path.
And Trump may well be right. I was struck, when reading William Leuchtenburg's chapter on Reagan in his "The American President"
, just how much there was a similarity between them. Forget the traditional smiling picture of Reagan, and consider this:
"If the casual observer thinks that Trump’s presidency is headed for the rocks, then reflect for a moment on the actuality of Reagan’s presidency. His swingeing budget cuts condemned millions to poverty and wretchedness, cutting off millions more from any realistic chance of health care. His tax cuts benefitted primarily the very wealthy. He sought to weaken the Voting Rights Act and became the first president to veto a civil rights act; in both his elections he received the smallest share of African American votes ever given to a presidential candidate. He appointed an anti-environmentalist to the Environmental Protection Agency who proceeded to halve the EPA’s budget, urged drastic weakening of the Clean Air Act and refused to enforce most of the congressional regulations on the environment. Her name, incidentally, was Anne Gorsuch, and her son became President Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee.
In foreign affairs, Reagan actively connived with a hostile power (Iran), selling them arms in a trade that his administration banned as aiding terror when undertaken by other countries. He went to great lengths to deceive Congress on this, and when he could evade responsibility no longer he threw those of his aides who had done his bidding under the proverbial bus, sacking them without a backward glance. His consistent defence was that he couldn’t remember authorising such sales. He also supported some of the most brutal and dictatorial leaders in the world, including the murderous presidents of El Salvador and Guatemala. Early in his presidency he sent several marine divisions to Lebanon against the advice of his military chief. Over 260 marines were eventually killed, mainly in suicide attacks, before Reagan recalled them, having gained nothing.
For all the mishaps, for all his political ignorance and his utter disdain for the poor, working class victims of his domestic policies, Reagan is somehow remembered as a great president."
There are some extraordinary parallels between Trump and Reagan, even down to the reason why so many people voted for them. The above extract is part of my longer article on Reagan as Trump's curtain-raiser, and even when writing it I felt increasingly pessimistic about the chances of anyone really dislodging Trump before his time is up.
The full piece is here