Criticize the Republican party’s regressing ideologies
Thirty years ago, President Ronald Reagan stood in front of the physical incarnation of Cold War division and reaffirmed his view of a global world led by the United States — a shining city on a hill. At the risk of throwing away years of progress made with the Soviet Union, Reagan stood tall and issued a direct demand: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Today, his self-anointed successor is planning a wall of his own and cozying up to an increasingly authoritarian Kremlin. How did the party that never saw a foreign government it wouldn’t overthrow become the poster boys for isolationism once more?
The neoconservative establishment, kings of the Republican Party, was borne out of foreign policy hawks who came to detest the “make love, not war” attitude that Democrats took on military intervention during the Vietnam War. In short time, they abandoned the party in order to take their “shoot first, ask questions later” policy of military intervention at the slightest hint of trouble to the White House. Together, with Southern whites disgusted with the left’s embrace of civil rights, this new conservative coalition propelled Richard Nixon to victory in 1968 and later Ronald Reagan in 1980. Reagan, himself a former Democrat, codified the muscular foreign policy agenda that became the new conservative orthodoxy. At the center of neoconservative thought was a rabid hatred of Communism and a belief that sustained military action was the one and only way to ensure the security and prosperity of the United States. In Reagan’s eyes, the Soviet Union was not just a hostile state; it was the “Evil Empire,” a terrifying colossus that could only be defeated by scrubbing the earth of any influence or power it had. If that meant overthrowing legitimately elected leftist regimes or supporting brutal authoritarian dictators like Manuel Noriega in Panama or Augusto Pinochet in Chile, so be it. Billions of dollars were poured into the defense of America’s allies abroad; America was going to free the world from the Communist menace, no matter the cost. When the Soviet Union fell and the Communist Menace was officially no more, the neoconservatives did not give up their mission of peace through superior firepower; they instead set their sights at the Middle East, with disastrous consequences.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Today, we still have a belligerent and manipulative Russia and a Republican Party still waging Reagan’s crusade against the government offering any assistance to the public. Yet in every other way, it seems that the house that Saint Ronnie built is nothing but a pile of splinters. If the Cold War conservative establishment saw a sitting president openly declare NATO to be “obsolete,” as Donald Trump did, according to a Jan. 16 Reuters article, they would have his head within minutes. Our modern-day Grand Old Party, however, barely bothered to notice.
Instead of a president who gave amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants in order to fulfill America’s role as a beacon of democracy, we have one who cannot go five feet without seeing “bad hombres” in his country, and one who sold his candidacy to a skeptical conservative base with three simple words: “Build the wall.” In place of an administration made up of Capitol Hill’s best and brightest, we have a Cabinet staffed by Trump’s network of supporters and sycophants seemingly appointed to destroy the departments they swore to steward from the inside. The surface-level sweeping rhetoric of American exceptionalism and greater hopes that conservatism attempted to wrap itself in have been completely scrubbed away, leaving only the ugly foundation that always lays beneath. When Bill O'Reilly asked Trump how he could attempt to buddy up to Vladmir Putin — considering the Russian leader’s crackdown on civil liberties and his reputation as a “killer” — Trump discarded any notion of American greatness. He retorted that “there are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers,” responding to O’Reilly’s stunned silence by saying, “Well, you think our country is so innocent?” according to a Feb. 4 Washington Post article.
For all of his hopefulness and true adoration of the narrow slice he considered America, Reagan dealt in the same ugly racist and wealth-obsessed tactics that have now come to define his party. In the past, dog-whistles like “welfare queen” and “inner-city thugs” served to keep a bigoted voter base riled up and active. Those winking nods have long since given way to outright hatred, with unapologetic racist and Islamophobe Steve Bannon sitting in the nation’s driver’s seat, a man whose tenure at Breitbart gave white nationalists a mainstream media outlet. The only Reagan-era initiatives that Trump seems keen on bringing back are those regarded as his greatest failures — massive tax cuts for the super-wealthy, slashes in funding for infrastructure and the arts as the defense budget balloons to unimaginable size, and the drug war that locked up hundreds of thousands of young Black and Latino men simply to keep the prison system humming. Optimism and compromise aren’t on the menu. What was once the dark underbelly of the Republican Party is now its public face.
Even after the decade of non-stop societal dissolution and eroded trust that was the 1970s, Reagan saw his election as “Morning In America” — a new dawn for a country that had seemingly lost its groove, according to a May 7, 2016 New York Times article. Trump looks at an America largely recovered from the wounds of Iraq War and 2008 recession and declares it to be “American carnage,” according to a Jan. 20 article in the Atlantic. Republicans still cloak themselves in the legacy of Lincoln decades after they inherited the Confederate legacy. Unfortunately for Reagan, the party will carry on his legacy of reactionary politics well after it gave up his hope for a better future.