American Crash: Part V

Thom Hartmann is right beyond dispute: the cult(ure) of Reagan brought us the Amtrak disaster in Pennsylvania. The 40th President did so by nurturing a culture of political cynicism in America.

Yes, you can argue that Richard Nixon was the first post-WWII President to inspire cynicism about government by way of his actions in Watergate. However, in the late 1970s, President Carter did everything he could to repair the damage Nixon inflicted upon our trust in government. Sadly, an electorate seduced by well-packaged lies threw Carter out of office before he could finish rebuilding that trust.

When Reagan declared in January 1981 that government was the problem, he inflicted a psychological blow upon this country that was in some ways worse than Watergate. He essentially declared that government was by its very nature incompetent and ineffective and feckless and worthless. He told Americans that is OK to hate their government, OK to put more faith in special interests than the public sector, OK to mock and ridicule federal employees, OK to view government as taking money from hard-working Americans and handing it over to the so-called undeserving.

If you know somebody who was among the forty percent of the American electorate that rejected Reagan’s dark vision in 1980 and 1984, thank them. If you were among the forty percent of the American electorate that rejected that vision, thank yourself. You knew what was coming.

The disease of Reaganism—the disease that said government couldn’t do anything right, that government got in the way, that government was bad and evil—has killed far more Americans than Ebola ever did. That disease directly led to bridge collapses in Minnesota, levee breaches in Louisiana and derailed trains in Pennsylvania.

Reagan officially may have had five children, but he fathered so many bastards in American politics and culture. Reagan’s obliteration of the Fairness Doctrine led to the rise of Rush Limbaugh’s nationally syndicated program, as well as a slew of Limbaugh imitators, while progressive radio voices were pushed to the margins. Reagan created the culture of irrationality and extremism on the right; when you hear Ted Cruz or Mike Huckabee or Ben Carson spout off, you’re hearing the baby talk of Reagan’s ideological offspring.

“I gave up when they elected Ronald Reagan president,” Steely Dan singer Donald Fagen stated in a 2006 interview. “I’ve never watched political news since then. I figured that if the American public elected Ronald Reagan — if they can be duped on that level — then it’s really not worth paying attention to. Like H.L. Mencken said, ‘No one ever lost any money underestimating the American public.’”

I can certainly understand Fagen’s frustration—and I’ve certainly quoted Mencken myself!—but with the cult of Reaganism having led to the disaster in Pennsylvania, it’s time for a national commitment to reverse course and bring an end to this rotten legacy.

Don Henley only scratched the surface when he called Reagan ”the tired old man that we elected king” in 1989. Reagan was a malevolent figure whose poison still flows through the American bloodstream.

Yet we have the antidote, an antidote that can prevent the body of our democracy from dying. We have the ability to lift the curse of Reaganism, an opportunity to heal the wounds that deranged man inflicted.

We can get big money out of politics. We can fight harder for fairer wages, reproductive choice, sharp reductions in carbon pollution, equal treatment for women, and the restoration of confidence in government’s ability to do good by and for the people. We have it within ourselves to send Reaganism to the dustbin of history.

I certainly understand how people can feel despair about what Reaganism has done to this land. I expressed such despair myself two weeks ago when I predicted that this country would fall to pieces on racial fault lines. Yet there’s still reason to hope, still reason to believe that a better day can come if we fight and work and dream for it.

We can get America back on track. We can get America to move past the selfishness, irrationality and recklessness of Reaganism. We can get America to move once again towards liberty and justice for all.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.