Ronald Reagan has been summarily dismissed by the progressive Left as a B-movie actor with more charm and looks than brains, a man out of his depth in the complex world of international affairs, and a simplistic idealist whose limited intelligence could only grasp patriotism, small government, God, and the private sector.
These critics have of course missed the point. Leadership is not about brains but about vision, mission, and will; and perhaps most of all understanding the American electorate.
Ronald Reagan was unhappy at the America left by Jimmy Carter, by all accounts one of the smartest men to reside in the White House, but one who both lacked the attributes of a true leader and who sorely misread the zeitgeist of 70s America and misunderstood its character.
His pleas to Americans to turn down the thermostat and wear a sweater might have pleased early environmentalists, but to more conservative citizens Carter was simply caving in to Middle Eastern oil cartels, bitter enemies of Israel who sought to use their control of petroleum to punish the United States.
These same Americans blamed Carter for his tepid response to Iran after the hostages were taken. Although some applauded his failed rescue attempt – he at least tried – most felt that it was too little, too late; and that a punishing blow to a renascent radical Islamist Iran would have been the right response.
Americans had had enough of Carter’s focus on human rights, soft diplomacy, weak, domestic energy policy; and worst of all the projection of a humble America unwilling to fight, huddled by fireplaces, but spineless and irresolute.
Ronald Reagan changed all that. His ‘Shining City on a Hill’ with its clear Biblical references, unabashed patriotism and unashamed faith in the greatness of America resonated throughout the country. Former lockstep Democrats – labor, especially – voted Republican. Reagan’s simple messages about the intrusive overstepping of government, its stifling of the free enterprise that built the country, and its inefficient meddling in the affairs of ordinary citizens was applauded by many.
Shortly after Reagan took office, the term ‘privatization’ was heard throughout the vast government bureaucracy. Reagan was serious about reducing the size of government and to turning over many if not most tasks to the private sector. He argued strongly for removing those fiscal and financial restrictions which were inhibiting investment, hiring, and economic superiority.
For years those in or associated with government assumed that the role of government shepherd and caretaker was to last forever. The munificent years of FDR had created an irrefutable, admirable model of governance and no one could or should alter it. Ronald Reagan changed all that. Not only did he take specific, practical steps to downsize government and enable the private sector to flourish, he changed the way Americans think of government. After him, fewer people looked to Washington for guidance, support, and succor. “Government is not the solution”, Reagan said. “Government is the problem”, and he was cheered.
In other words not only did Reagan begin the restructuring of America, he preached a new political philosophy. Communalism, welfare, and entitlement were to be things of the past. Citizens would no longer feel guilty about their individualism, their belief in personal responsibility, and their adherence to traditional moral and religious values.
If Donald Trump is elected President, he will be as transformative a Chief Executive as Ronald Reagan. In many ways the America he will inherit is much like Jimmy Carter’s. President Obama has been a week leader, flummoxed by Russia, Iran, ISIS, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea. While no champion of environmentalism, he nonetheless argued from the same pinched and guilt-inspired position as Carter. While the country saw America’s growing energy independence as a good and necessary step in reducing our political dependency on the world’s most unstable and inflamed region, Obama dithered about the XL pipeline, energy exploration, transport and foreign sale.
The world is an increasingly dangerous place. Liberal democracy itself is under hostile criticism from those, like Vladimir Putin who rejects the Western notion of ‘national sovereignty’ and and advocates a return to a neo-Imperial Russia; or from Islamic radicals who respect no national borders and see a religious caliphate as the new geographic reality. With the rise of new, powerful rivals like China who reject American hegemony, international finance, trade, energy, and economics are now part of the foreign affairs puzzle. Yet President Obama has taken no firm stance on any issue, focuses on emotional but minor domestic issues, and sheds tears instead of presenting a defiant face to our competitors and enemies.
Under Obama’s watch, free speech has been muted, Political Correctness rules in every university and public office. Hurt feelings are more important that probing and confronting the real causes of poverty, social dysfunction, and violence.
In other words, America today is much like that of the late 70s, the era of Jimmy Carter; and Donald Trump is as poised to radically reform and restructure the country just like Ronald Reagan.
Trump has understood Americans, their frustrations, and anger better than any candidate. His outsized persona, braggadocio and vaudevillian shows are quintessentially American. His non-PC, loud claims resonate. Voters take his exaggeration and hyperbole as part and parcel of who he is – a strong, decisive man who refuses to be intimidated. No one doubts where Trump stands.
If elected President, he will certainly take Reagan-like steps to roll back government programs, take a more muscular and proactive military stance, dismiss American ‘moral’ exceptionalism, and return to a Kissinger-esque and Machiavellian realpolitik.
He will loudly call out progressive PC hypocrisy, challenge any institution which impedes or stifles free speech; reject any vestige of entitlement and lack of social responsibility; dismantle the last traces of affirmative action, reform the public education system to be more honest and responsible to taxpayers and students; and deal as aggressively with immigration as European leaders are now doing once they have realized the dangers of open borders.
Of course Trump cannot do all this. The Executive Branch of government is but one of three. However, if both the House and Senate are Republican, then his job will be a lot easier.
Trump will, if elected, will be a President much like Ronald Reagan. His America will be radically different in spirit, tone, and policy from that of today. Free and unfettered free speech and individual enterprise will be back in force. The balance between individual rights and social rights will be tilted back in favor of the individual whose religious beliefs, social sentiments, and family integrity will be championed not demeaned. Responsibility not entitlement will be the modus operandi of the new America.
America is now, perhaps more than ever, a divided country; and the Trump Revolution will not be as easy as I have suggested here. Yet, because he has hit a nerve which is not exclusively Republican but very American, he may well be able to coalesce support among a wider range of Americans than one would think.
The American electorate would certainly be taking a chance by voting for Donald Trump. It is hard to match his pre-election posture with future governance. How will such an unashamed belligerency so appreciated now, play in the White House and in Moscow or Beijing? How will he negotiate his draconian immigration measures with private businesses who want cheap labor? Is he willing to take the no-holds-barred, win-at-all-costs military strategy needed to confront implacable enemies?
There is no doubt that the election of 2016 is a particularly important one. It no longer represents a changing of the old guard, but will pit a true political radical against an aging insider.
I am following the campaign with interest and can’t wait to see the outcome of the election in November.