It used to be ‘The Party of Lincoln.’ Not anymore. There is an old saying that when you’re young you’re a Democrat, and as you age, you become a Republican. There is a simple reason for this — you’ve made it and nobody is going to take your piece of the pie. A superintendent of schools explained it to me during tense teacher salary negotiations: There is a pie and I want it all — you can have your small slice and better be satisfied. If you want more — there is going to be a fight. (For the curious, yes, he was a Republican.)
And that’s the way the cookie crumbles. It is a zero-sum game. The weakest get the crumbs and the strongest get … fat. Sound familiar? It should. It is the way America has operated since the bottom fell out of the economy for workers who manufacture goods in our country — circa the late 1970’s. Then the Reagan ‘Revolution’ sent the problem into overdrive.
Previous to that, the Eisenhower/ Rockefeller Republican Party was fairly mainstream as it oversaw the Baby Boom and the surge of growth for the middle class. They helped lead the infrastructure projects like the interstate highways. They sent the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock, Arkansas to insure that nine children broke the color barrier. And it was Earl Warren’s Supreme Court that set civil rights in motion with the Brown v. Board decision. (Warren was a Republican, too.)
What changed? Vietnam. LBJ. Civil Rights MLK. Watergate. Nixon. Inflation. Ford. Iran. Carter. And with all that came a heavy dose of cynicism and disappointment. People began to distrust politicians and the government that they led. Some Americans were ripe for a new Republican leader.
Enter Ronald Reagan and the nine words that he claimed terrified Americans, I’m from the government and I’m here to help. Government is the problem he argued. And thus was born the idea that what the government stood for was inherently counterproductive, unfair and Un-American.
What were the facts? Reagan’s nine words were spoken to farmers in 1982 regarding the federal intrusion on their business, primarily food embargoes. He later recanted his nine words when federal intervention became necessary once he became president. (Later, he explained since he was speaking of a specific crisis.1 After all, he made sure the government got involved the air traffic controllers’ union strike.
Despite all this brouhaha about limited government, the Reagan administration spent and spent on the military, raising the deficit significantly, but at the same time reducing taxes. For an administration that claimed fiscal responsibility and conservative values — this was awfully contradictory.
Reagan did make sure government curtailed in the Aid to Dependent Children AFDC program and a host of other social programs. The “welfare” state went under the knife. Examples abound. Spencer Rich of the Washington Post detail one such study, “President Reagan’s welfare cuts for working mothers forced many poor families deeper into poverty, according to a study of 207 Georgia welfare families funded by the Ford Foundation and released yesterday by the Center for the Study of Social Policy.” 2
According to Peter Dreier of the Urban and Environmental Policy Department, “Reagan… was no friend to America’s cities or its poor. Reagan came to office in 1981 with a mandate to reduce federal spending. In reality, he increased it through the escalating military budget, all the while slashing funds for domestic programs that assisted working class Americans, particularly the poor.” 3 The New York Times reported, “Expenditures for the construction of subsidized housing, for public-service employment and for job training have been sharply curtailed.”4
And there was the blind eye to environmental regulations as Amanda Little reported, “The gutting of funds for environmental protection was another part of Reagan’s legacy. ‘EPA budget cuts during Reagan’s first term were worse than they are today,’ said Frank O’Donnell, director of Clean Air Trust, who reported on environmental policy for The Washington Monthly during the Reagan era. “The administration tried to cut EPA funding by more than 25 percent in its first budget proposal,” he said. And massive cuts to Carter-era renewable-energy programs ‘set solar back a decade….’” 5
But considering all of the above, Reagan likely would be a RHINO, a moderate, in today’s Army of Trump syncopates. Why? Because he worked in a bipartisan manner to govern. The biggest example is the tax restructuring act that was led by Democrats and supported by Reagan. But slowly and surely the last two decades have seen partisanship reach dangerous heights, notably with the election of President Obama and Senator McConnell’s determination to defeat him and obstruct all his legislation. It reached its zenith with former President Trump’s ‘American Carnage’ motto to destroy any vestiges of the rule of law and the peaceful transition of power.
Trump personifies what the (former) Republican Party has come to stand for — selfishness, greed, and ignorance. Today’s Trump Party (I refuse t call them Republicans) believe in walling off the public. They have their private schools, private planes, gated communities, and red states. They received their massive tax relief for the wealthiest ‘clients’ (who gave eagerly to the political coffers to make sure it stays that way).
Even before Trump, Senator Mitch McConnell ignored the Constitution’s obligation to allow President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the US Supreme Court, and that Supreme Court ignored the portion of the Voting Rights Act, giving power over states that ‘historically’ suppressed the vote of black voters. Today we see the results as 36 states are considering or passing new voter ‘regulations sure to stem the tide of popular opinion against the former Republican Party under Trump’s control. For a closing act, the Supreme Court also opened the floodgates of dark money to politicians under the guise of free speech in ‘Citizens United.” So the deck is stacked…so to speak.
So the former Republican Party is all but a memory. The Trump Party touts that they do not need government in their lives. They just want others to volunteer for the military to protect them; they want their cheap energy; and they want to control who gets to vote, when, where, and if they can have a glass of water while they wait hours for a polling place.
They have their private beaches, cost prohibitive, resorts, and private golf clubs. They have their cheap labor to make the beds, trim the greens and serve them their food. Just make sure that the minimum wage stays at $7.50 an hour.
Let’s see what naïve, young people have to say about that. I can only imagine what Lincoln, who saved the Union, would say.
1. Transcript of President Reagan’s News Conference. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1986/08/13/transcript-of-president-reagans-news-conference/bceaa7d7-a544-4c4e-8af1-51f303a00e25/?tid=ss_mail
2. Spencer Rich.”Reagan Welfare Cuts Found To Worsen Families’ Poverty.” July 29, 1984. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1984/07/29/reagan-welfare-cuts-found-to-worsen-families-poverty/077278f9-a875-4791-9c34-d1cf3cd148b5/?tid=ss_mail
3. Peter Dreier. “Reagan’s Legacy: Homelessness in America.” May 1, 2004. https://shelterforce.org/2004/05/01/reagans-legacy-homelessness-in-america/
4. Robert Pear. “REAGAN’S SOCIAL IMPACT; News Analysis.” Aug. 25, 1982. https://www.nytimes.com/1982/08/25/us/reagan-s-social-impact-news-analysis.html?smid=em-share
5. Amanda Little. ”A look back at Reagan’s environmental record.” Jun 11, 2004. https://grist.org/article/griscom-reagan/