Ronald Reagan’s legacy is polarizing, to say the least.
The 40th U.S. president was a staunch conservative who, among many things, slashed taxes for the wealthy, lured evangelicals to the Republican party, bulked up military spending, and did, well …. pretty much nothing in response to the AIDS crisis ravaging many U.S. cities. His presidency, for better or worse, changed America.
All the same, Reagan operated within the bounds of presidential norms and loved his country dearly, as his daughter Patti Davis argued in a new op-ed in The Washington Post.
And that made him wildly different from his modern-day conservative counterparts.
“People often ask me what he would say if he [my father] were here now,” Davis wrote, rebuking Trump without mentioning him by name at all in the piece. “Sometimes I’m a bit glib in response, pointing out that he’d be 107 years old. Other times, I simply say he’d be pretty horrified at where we’ve come to.”
In her essay, “Mourning America,” Davis laid out four important things she believes her father would say to Americans if he were alive today.
1. Reagan would warn us against authoritarianism.
Davis argued that “we the people” must stop any president from blurring the lines between democracy and dictatorship:
“I think [Reagan] would remind us that America began as a dream in the minds of men who dared to envision a land that was free of tyranny, with a government designed and structured so that no one branch of government could dominate the others.”
Historians have argued that Trump — who’s attacked “so-called” judges and challenged Congressional rules meant to uphold legislative fairness — presents the kind of authoritarian behavior our Founding Fathers warned against.
2. Reagan would be “heartbroken” by a Congress that has no backbone.
Protecting a president that’ll sign “whatever [Congressional Republicans] put in front of him,” the GOP has excused, dismissed, or conveniently looked away as Trump tramples the Constitution and shatters political norms — from the president’s threats to end the Russia investigation to the web of global conflicts of interest Trump’s presidency poses to national security.
As Davis wrote:
“[Reagan] would be appalled and heartbroken at a Congress that refuses to stand up to a president who not only seems ignorant of the Constitution but who also attempts at every turn to dismantle and mock our system of checks and balances.”
3. Reagan would point out the critical value of a free press.
Trump blasts “fake news” on a near-daily basis, once called the free press “the enemy of the American people” and, according to journalist Lesley Stahl, even admitted that he relentlessly attacks news outlets so that the American public won’t believe negative stories about his administration.
Davis believed her father would be appalled:
“[Reagan] would point to one of the pillars of our freedom — a free press — which sets us apart from dictatorships and countries ruled by despots. He didn’t always like the press — no president does — but the idea of relentlessly attacking the media as the enemy would never have occurred to him. And if someone else had done so, he wouldn’t have tolerated it.”
4. Reagan would defend immigrants against cruelty.
Trump’s misleading attacks on immigrants — both documented and undocumented — are unprecedented in modern U.S. history.
Many immigrants are living in a constant state of fear in the face of deportation. Hate crimes against people of color have surged in the era of Trump. And teachers report that bullying against minority students has spiked in their classrooms under a president who routinely led chants of “build the wall!” at his campaign rallies.
As Davis wrote:
“[Reagan] would ask us to think about the Statue of Liberty and the light she holds for immigrants coming to America for a better life. Immigrants like his ancestors, who persevered despite prejudice and signs that read ‘No Irish or dogs allowed.’ There is a difference between immigration laws and cruelty. He believed in laws; he hated cruelty.”
Reagan was no angel.
But it’s telling that Reagan’s own daughter trusts that her father would join every living U.S. president in thinking our current commander in chief is dangerous and abnormal for our democracy.
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