People learn a lot of propagandized information from grade school history courses, but perhaps no area has been sanitized quite like the government. At the very heart of the patriotic bias are American presidents, who are romanticized for every youngster to ingest and absorb. That grinds my gears. To cope, I’m providing a weekly installment that reads American presidents to filth and hopefully makes you think a little differently about what constitutes a good president… especially in the four years lying ahead.
Last week you learned all about the redneck Andrew Jackson. This week lets learn about every Republican’s favorite president, Ronald Reagan.
I remember verbally assaulting a floor-mate because of his Reagan/Bush poster during my freshman year of college. The floormates name was Scott, and he was a member of the army reserves on campus. He was usually decked out in army issued gear and calling me “Lexi baby,” which was my cue to call him “Sexy Scott” or “boo”. We had a sarcastically playful relationship in which we yearned to make his suitemates as uncomfortable as possible. To be honest he was from a small Ohio town and screamed jungle fever from his actions, but he never said it out loud. Not that any admission of desire would have fostered a relationship. I dont date conservatives. His Reagan/Bush poster was more offensive than the time his roommate told me Harry Potter was liberal garbage. It hung on the wall of his diverse Ohio State living room suite for a short time until his roommates forced him to move it. One day I decided to do more than just call Scott’s poster derogatory. Instead I decided to ask him why he liked Reagan so much. The Reagan/Bush emblem was something I had seen on numerous tshirts and hoodies across campus and I was curious as to why anybody in my generation would idolize Ronald. “Because he was everything Obama isn’t,” he snapped, rubbing a white hand over his closely cropped ROTC standard buzzcut. I wont go into detail about the conversation. We made our points, we traded insults, we interrupted each other, and then we agreed to disagree and went back to calling each other babe to make his suite-mates uncomfortable. But the part about Reagan being “everything Obama isn’t” stuck with me.
To the average conservative, Reagan is the guy who cleaned the street up of crackhead criminals. The guy who was tough on crime and revitalized the Republican party. The guy who ended the cold war. The guy who boosted the economy. But that’s the sugary version of Reagan. The Reagan that is gobbled up like candy by trust fund conservatives and impoverished deplorables alike. In addition to vetoing a bill that was created to send funds to apartheid ravaged South Africa, the Reagan I want to re-examine did a lot of questionable and downright dirty things.
Ronnie enjoyed a distinguished career in Hollywood from the 30s onward, and even acted as a snitch to the FBI by serving them names of suspected Hollywood communists during the 40’s. Up until the 50s Ron was a democrat, but right around the time democrats added civil rights to their platform, he switched over to the Republican party. As a TV host and motivational speaker for General Electric, his abilities to speak on politics were limited so he quit and became more outspoken. When the legislation for medicare was introduced in 1961, he spoke out against it as a sign of socialism and America’s clearly impending doom. Gaining popularity in the conservative circle, he ran for Governor of California in 1966 and won on the strength of his campaign promise to send “the welfare bums back to work”. He served until 1975, when he made an unsuccessful stab at the presidency in the 1976 election. He came back for victory in 1980 and took office in 1981.
During his eight years of presidency, Ronnie made choices that disadvantaged certain Americans. AIDS was on the medical radar by the early 1980s, but Reagan didn’t address the issue until 1985- and then proposed to cut federal funds for research in 1986. The CDC had commented on HIV and blood plasma in 1983, but still Reagan said nothing. Because Reagan refused to acknowledge it or allot federal funds for necessary research, HIV/AIDS was spreading through donated blood plasma used for bloodclotting medicine for hemophiliacs. Plenty of women, children, and men who did not identify as homosexual were infected as a result. AIDS was considered a gay disease, and therefore seen as a punishment from God by many Americans. Like most of them, Reagan and his supporters didn’t give a damn about AIDS until they saw that anyone could contract it.
Reagans next attack on healthcare was repealing Jimmy Carter’s mental health legislation, officially ending the federal government’s role in providing services for the mentally ill. All the money usually used on the mentally ill was turned into block grants and spent at the discretion of individual states. The number of mental health related violent attacks increased after this.
Ronnie also introduced Reaganomics. Through a series of tax cuts, he claimed that wealth would trickle down from the wealthy and eventually make it to the lower class. He also established tax brackets, which would adjust standard deductions and exemptions for inflation. He garnered a reputation for being anti-high taxes, but this is a myth. The tax cuts of 1981 destroyed the treasury, so in 1983 Reagan did something to supplement the deficit…. he raised taxes again. In fact, throughout his presidency he raised taxes 11 times. The payroll tax hike of 1983 generated about $2.7 trillion in surplus Social Security revenue that was supposed to be saved, invested, and returned to baby boomers beginning around 2010. That’s what the American people thought it would do, anyways. Instead, it funded the military, the war on drugs, and other government activities. Up until 2009 the government had enough Social Security surplus to give people their money, but then it had to start borrowing money from other countries to cover the costs.
But Reagan did another thing to fuck with peoples money- mainly the dollars of the middle class. He diminished the power of unions when he fired more than 11,000 professional air traffic controllers for striking for better pay. Instead of negotiating, he hired an entirely new staff and signaled to private employers that replacing unruly laborers was better than paying them more. The middle class, many of whom depended on unions to ensure fair pay and good benefits, suffered.
Last but not least, Reagan was involved in a healthy bit of corruption. 138 members of his administration were investigated, indicted, or convicted for illegal behavior. Many of these incidents were tangled in the dreadful Iran-Contra Affair… which means I have to bring up crack and the War on Drugs.
Despite all that Reagan did to a) deliberately harm everyone who weren’t straight white upperclass males OR b) deliberately help straight white upperclass males with no concern for others, he is still adored by even the lowest rungs of the republican party. Republicans want smaller governments and less taxes- but Reagan didnt really adhere to those desires. He was indeed everything Obama was not. Reagan was a Republican darling. A movie star. A member of the NRA. A hero for people who enjoy that he denounced welfare queens, thugs and communists- but ignore the fact that he widened the wealth gap, accelerated the spread of AIDS, weakened the power of unions, increased the size of the government with the creation of the Department of Veteran Affairs, raised taxes 11 times in eight years, and turned a blind eye to the distribution of crack in urban areas. Unlike Reagan, Obama will never be granted the privilege of Republican amnesia. In 20 years I wonder what people will applaud Trump for- and what they will selectively forget about him.
Raiding the Trust Fund: Using Social Security Money to Fund Tax Cuts for the Rich (Allen W Smith)