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Is Trump Another Reagan?

On January 2nd, 1976, I arrived at the University of California, Berkeley, to begin teaching as a Visiting Professor of History. About a week after I arrived, Ronald Reagan announced that he was going to run for the Republican Presidential nomination to challenge Jimmy Carter’s attempt for a second term.

I was an East Coast guy, so all I knew about Reagan was that he was an ex-actor who had been Governor of California and was some kind of conservative politician aligned with the GOP.

When I began asking my faculty colleagues at Berkeley about him, this what I got: “He’s a nut,” said one. “He’s a complete idiot,” said another. “He’s crazy,” said a third. “He’ll start a nuclear war,” replied a fourth.

Nobody called Reagan a Fascist, nobody accused him of wanting to destroy American democracy. But the vehemence and anger that his name evoked in my conversations about him in 1976 were not very difference from how my liberal friends talk about Trump today.

What did we get from eight years of Reagan, who is usually referred to as a ‘revolutionary’ by today’s alt-right gang?

We got a tax cut which dropped the top rates by half, but in fact, many Americans who saw their tax bracket decline from 78% to 28% were already taking all kinds of deductions which gave them an effective tax bracket of under 40% anyway.

What nobody was able to duck, however, was the biggest, single tax increase ever passed by any President, the ‘adjustment’ of payroll tax rates which Reagan signed in 1986 in order to keep Social Security from going broke.

The conservative ‘revolutionary’ Ronald Reagan not only raising taxes but doing it save an entitlement? Yep.

As for pushing the button and starting World War III, in fact Reagan twice refused to abide by certain provisions of the SALT II treaty, which was considered the most important safeguard against the United States being plunged into a nuclear war. Know what the Russians said when Reagan unilaterally disregarded SALT II? As Grandpa would say, ‘gurnisht’ (read: nothing.) The Russians didn’t say one, goddamn word.

The biggest deal during Reagan’s tenure in office, which none of my colleagues at Berkeley could have predicted, was the utterly stupid foreign policy failure known as ‘Iran-Contra,’ which did nothing but turn a Marine Corps colonel named Ollie North into a great fundraiser and failed Senate candidate for the alt-right.

So, now it’s thirty-two years since Reagan left the White House and went back to his ranch and again the same question has to be asked but this time ending with a different name: What did we get from four years of Trump?

We got a tax cut, or I should say, the 5 percent got a tax cut.

We also got a slight alteration of the federal criminal code, which doesn’t change the fact that most of the population sitting in the can these days happens to have been convicted of violating state laws. Right now, there are 180,000 inmates in the federal prison system. There are more than one million ‘residents’ in state prisons, a number which doesn’t include several hundred thousand who are in jails or other lockups waiting to be tried or sentenced for some state offense.

What else did we get from Trump? Oh, I forgot all about January 6th. That got us a whole cottage industry within the media and academe which continues to publish and squawk on CNN and MS-NBC about the coming civil war, or the fascist threat to American democracy, or both.

Meanwhile, I just dropped my November ballot in the mail, and didn’t even need to use up a first-class stamp. Yesterday, Trump told one of his hirelings that he knows ‘for a fact’ that there were people in 2020 who voted “twenty-eight times in one day” to cheat him at the polls.

So why didn’t all those people bother to vote in 2016?

Know how history will ultimately judge Reagan and Trump? By the one thing we know about both of them to be true, namely, they both used the phrase ‘make America great again’ to define the basic narratives of their campaigns.

What we had here were two Presidents who actually got little, or nothing done, but on three occasions knew how to convince a majority of the voters that what counts most of all in Presidential politics is what you say, not what you do.

Too bad that Trump couldn’t convince a majority of the 2020 voters that he could effectively eliminate Covid-19 by calling it the ‘kung flu,’

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