Most people today, including the Capitol insurgents, are too young to remember Ronald Reagan and his 1980 campaign. Before becoming President, he was a charismatic, Hollywood actor with a natural stage appeal, so when he spoke people listened. He was very good at coming up with entertaining punchlines to make his political position clear. E.g., “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” Reagan also said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” His opinion of government was made very clear in his Inaugural Address when he said, “…government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
Reagan believed government was a failure because of liberal Democrats. He said, “Republicans believe every day is the Fourth of July, but the Democrats believe every day is April 15.” He also said, “It isn’t so much that liberals are ignorant. It’s just that they know so many things that aren’t so.” Some people thought Reagan’s words were funny, spot-on, and poignant. But to others, they were offensive, bullish, and misleading.
I believe Reagan was a patriotic American passionate about what he believed; he just knew so many things that aren’t so. His mind wasn’t with us long enough for him to see that many of his ideas didn’t work. Tax cuts to the wealthy never “trickled down.” Money just continued to flow exponentially to the top. Deregulation gave crooks and corporations opportunities to profit, while exploiting people and the planet. Reagan didn’t get to see how his veto of the Fairness Doctrine Policy enabled bias media platforms to use “his words” to divide us. Perhaps he would have seen the potential dangers and intervened.
Reagan’s ideas became the foundation of the conservatives. And thanks to partisan media, his words were repeated, explained, preached and revered for over 40 years. Reagan’s ideas became a dogma and his main message, government is the problem, evolved to the darker idea that our government is crooked. Then, media pundits took the words “liberal” “Democrats” and affixed endless derogatory adjectives.
Today, blind faith has convinced some to believe that they are the hardworking, tax paying, true patriots on “stand by.” So, the latest mantra, “Stop the Steal,” was heard as a call to save America. On January 6th, they crossed the lines of reason and logic as they beat their way through police officers.
So, as we try to understand how we got so polarized, take into account the charismatic Ronald Reagan and his clever campaign rhetoric.
According to Reagan, the nine most terrifying words in the English language were, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” They should be changed to, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”