As previously discussed, the GOP adheres fervently to its core values: namely a reactionary mindset in terms of fondly looking back to a time when middle aged white men could rule the land unfettered by messy disruptions by women, minorities and other distractions, a perpetually bubbling undercurrent of full-on racism that has now reached full bloom with Trump’s overt embrace of white supremacist thinking (now coming mainstream) as well as random deportations and of course regressive taxation. The latter is the lynchpin that holds it all together and enables the donor class to continue to profit handsomely; ironically most of this strata are probably holding their nose whilst the messy populism stuff happens (certainly luminaries like the Koch brothers would not allow a mob of Middle Americans wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ hats anywhere near their glittery Manhattan fund raisers.)
The great sage, who now looms over the party (and lets be fair, over much of the USA) as more of a mythical figure than an actual president with a well-documented track record that even in the most favorable light is strictly a mixed bag, is Ronald Reagan. While JFK has also ascended to mythical status, especially among Democrats* pining for the good old days when they were young and cute, thus Reagan has become a similar shining symbol for the Republicans. And it can probably be fair to say that the best grade you could give JFK is an incomplete.
Ronald Reagan is fondly remembered as the perhaps the peak of the GOP in the 20th century, a winking, charming unifier. To this day the search for another Reagan is an ongoing obsession (do a web search on ‘the search for the next Reagan’ – you can spend the rest of the day reading all about it).
But what is Reaganism? Is it strictly style points, a friendlier version of Trump’s noxious populism, Paul Ryan’s crude, ill-formed diatribes on entitlement reform, the overt racism and religious intolerance of the current administration and its concomitantly acquiescent Republican leadership?
Yes and no. It was Reagan who seriously introduced the idea of trickle-down economics (a fringe idea that suddenly gained credence with the ascension of Reaganism), and which continues to hold sway. Every Republican budget negotiation has repeatedly linked lower federal deficits with lower taxes, not higher ones. While this sure sounds great (the Trump budget assumes 3% a year growth, due presumable to tax cuts). It is useful to note that deficits have always worsened as a result of tax cuts, and that the resultant economic growth seems to happen (or not happen) independent of tax rates. Another useful aside is that more, not less direct government spending generally results in greater employment and concomitant economic growth.
Thus Reagan ushered in the new normal of permanent huge federal deficits, promulgated forever without any serious regard for balancing the budget (this trend was interrupted briefly during the Clinton administration). This has been taken to fresh extremes by the Trump tax cut, which does not even really paper over the problem of huge deficits – it’s just a fact of life now, and most GOP leaders don’t even bother to lodge any objections whatsoever.**
Another new normal is states’ rights, conveniently used for allowing rather sketchy state policies which include institutional racism, continuing erosion of the church-state divide and various other policies such as ever more permissive gun laws (Open Carry, ‘Stand your Ground’, etc). It should not be forgotten that Reagan made his now-notorious kick off campaign speech in 1980 espousing states’ rights in Neshoba County, site of the notorious murders of 3 civil rights workers 16 years earlier. This was not a coincidence. And Reagan continued to practice what he preached throughout his presidency, all in the name of states’ rights. States’ rights continues to be code for ‘we will not interfere in your local dealings with blacks. We’re with you’.
It is deeply ironic that both Reagan and Trump, two men who could not be classified as religious in any meaningful respect, have become heroes to evangelical America. Reagan’s election ushered in the overt GOP love affair with the Christian Right and Evangelical America. Although Jimmy Carter was an actual born-again Christian, it was Reagan who publicly courted the Evangelical movement (Carter had by now become a ‘traitor’ to the various mores held dear by the Christian Right, such as prayer in schools, overt anti-gay policies, public funds for private exclusionary educational institutions, etc.). Once again, Reagan did not disappoint, and it is important to remember that as AIDS mushroomed into a full-blown medical crisis, the White House did and said nothing (many Evangelicals to this day are still fond of categorizing AIDS as God’s revenge upon gay culture). In fact, Reagan did not mention AIDS publicly until 1987. He certainly mentioned God many times before that, and the phrase ‘God Bless America’ became closely associated with Reagan. More importantly, it is now commonplace for conservative candidates to demonstrate obeisance to the Religious Right.
Thus Trump’s cabinet contains 9 (out of 15 total) evangelicals. We have to come to a point where a twice divorced serial adulterer and habitual liar comes to be the champion of the Religious Right. Well, it’s all about power, isn’t it? The notion that Evangelicals have now surrendered the last bit of any real or imagined moral authority seems completely incidental and irrelevant to present day politics.
Thus the Search for Reagan continues for the Republicans, much as the Search for JFK (they might settle for (Mr.) Clinton at this point, or, for the next generation, Obama) continues on the other side. A well spoken, kindly gent with a twinkle in his eye, continuing those other three R’s of modern Republican policy.
Hmmm, and make sure you take care of the donor class, sir!
*Probably Democrats age 60 and above, to be brutally honest. I think in the next 20 to 30 years, failing a new Democratic superstar, Barack Obama has a good chance to be transformed into a bit of a mythical figure.
**One exception is the Freedom Caucus, many of whom continue to try to hold out for some semblance of deficit reduction. They are not averse to greater kickbacks to the wealthy of course, they just want to eliminate every vestige of the dreaded welfare state