Do you know who Jeffrey Lord is? Maybe you aren’t familiar with the name, but you’ve probably seen the face on TV. Here it is:
Jeffrey Lord almost always appears with a picture of a smiling, waving Ronald Reagan over his shoulder, right next to an American flag. The message is so obvious as to not really qualify as subliminal: “My man, Donald Trump, is today’s Ronald Reagan.”
This message is part true and part bullshit. It is true, for example, in that both Reagan and Trump can be said to be grossly ignorant about foreign affairs. And it is true because both made up for their general ignorance (foreign and domestic) with a glad-handing salesman’s persona aimed at winning over voters’ loyalty.
Salesman Reagan presented himself as a good-natured all-American guy who would make America walk tall in the world. Trump doesn’t pretend to be good-natured. His message is that he can make America great by sticking it to Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese and other deserving types, and that only he can do it because he is one goddamn amazing human being.
But ultimately Trump is more anti-Reagan than Reagan. His core followers are largely people who have suffered because of the Reagan revolution and who are pissed off at the way they’ve been shafted.
The Reagan revolution transformed the economy by peddling a humongous lie. Namely “Government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem.” On the basis of this whopper, Reagan pushed through tax reform that allowed millionaires to keep much more of their wealth than they had in the past. At the same time this reform plunged the nation into unprecedented debt. And who has to pay off this debt? Not the millionaires on whose behalf Reagan created it, but all of us. Thus were today’s one percenters born.
Reagan also thought that the (evil) government shouldn’t pay for students’ college education and tried to eliminate the Department of Education altogether. One consequence of the post-Reagan stinginess in government support for education is soaring student debt.
Finally, the general “push to the right” initiated by Reagan was picked up and intensified by the tea party fanatics. Their mantras are “We hate Democrats and RINOs” and “Compromise is betrayal.” Their adamant refusal to engage in give and take with their political adversaries has resulted in multiple government shutdowns, damage to the United States’ credit rating, failure to confirm a qualified Supreme Court nominee and across the board inaction on a number of important issues. This breakdown in governance has heightened the notion that government is broken and politicians are incompetent.
Post-Reagan America is a place where the rich are richer than ever, and the government does less than ever to protect the middle class from debt and to help the poor get back on their feet. But many of Trump’s core supporters are infuriated because the government hasn’t done enough to help them. This makes them distrustful of traditional Republicans – those same Republicans who have transmogrified Ronald Reagan into a demigod.
So why would Jeffrey Lord try to convince voters that Trump is the new Reagan? I think it’s partly because a lot of voters haven’t figured out how much damage Reagan did to the middle and working classes, and partly because Reagan is remembered mainly as a powerful, iconoclastic figure who shook up Washington.
I’m willing to grant that Reagan was that.
The question now is, how much more “shaking up” can we take?
“Okay, so maybe voting for Trump was a mistake, but I didn’t like the way Hillary handled her emails.”