The Great Imposters: Reagan and Trump

Donald Trump likes to compare himself to Ronald Reagan.  Trump and Reagan do have a lot in common, both in terms of ideology and their approach to the office of the President.  They’re imposters.  Reagan was an actor playing the role of President; so is Trump.

Ideology: Reagan and Trump were influenced by Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism: “unfettered self-interest is good and altruism is destructive.”  This produced the “trickle-down” economic theory that cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy would eventually benefit all members of society.  In the 80’s this produced “Reganomics” and, in 2017, led to the massive GOP tax-code revision.  Trump doesn’t believe in governing for all Americans, only for those he perceives as winners.

Reagan and Trump supported the doctrine of white supremacy.  Reagan’s approach was less overt: he advocated “States’ rights” and deplored “welfare bums” and “welfare queens.”  Trump has a long history of racism and, since Charlottesville, has made public his support for white supremacists.  (Trump’s immigration objective is to block the immigration of everyone who is not of white-European origin.)

Reagan and Trump campaigned with an “America first” perspective.  In 1980 Regan said, “Let’s make America great again.” In 2016, Trump’s campaign slogan was “Make America great again.”

Personality: Reagan and Trump marketed themselves as outsiders who would come to Washington and shake up the establishment.  Reagan promised to reduce the power of the Government and noted, “Government is the problem.”  Trump promised to “drain the swamp.”  (Both Reagan and Trump forgot their promises after entering the White House.)

Reagan and Trump were raised as mainstream Christians; at the end of their lives they both identified as Presbyterian.  As they began to campaign for the Republican presidential nomination they adopted a conservative Christian agenda.  Reagan’s signature “values” issue was prayer in the schools.  Trump’s signature issue is abortion.  Both Reagan and Trump began their adult lives as pro-choice and then switched to being “pro-life.”

Reagan and Trump both had an unsavory aspect of their personal history that they labored to conceal.  During the 40’s Regan was an FBI informant who provided the bureau with names of motion-picture luminaries that he believed were communist sympathizers.  Reagan continued his relationship with the FBI into the 70’s.

In the 90’s Donald Trump several times filed for bankruptcy because of problems with his hotel and casino businesses.  It’s alleged that he recovered from a ruinous financial situation by laundering money for the Mafia.  (Allegedly, Trump’s Russia connection started with the Mafia.)

Mental Health: Reagan left the presidency in January of 1989 and five years later was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Writing in the Virginia Quarterly Review (http://www.vqronline.org/essay/reagan-retrospect ) Robert Erwin notes that during his time in Washington, Reagan was regarded as an “amiable dunce;” someone who did not understand business essentials or the governmental process but who, in public gatherings, exuded confidence and spoke effectively.

Since Trump became president there has been continuous speculation about his mental health.  Like Reagan, Trump does not appear to understand business essentials or the governmental process.  Trump functions best when he reads from a script.

Management: Robert Erwin writes, “Future historians will have no trouble understanding [the Reagan presidency] as an American example of the ancient practice of political puppetry… put a videogenic executive impersonator out front who would not interfere with trade associations, lawyers, lobbyists, and others doing the important work.”

The Trump presidency follows the Reagan “puppet” model..  Trump is the “videogenic executive impersonator,” while in the background Republican oligarchs organize to get their objectives accomplished.

We can see this model at work in the recent Republican legislative initiatives.

1.2017 Tax Reform: Trump signed the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” on December 22nd.  It passed the House and Senate with no Democratic support.  (Most legislation needs a minimum of 60 votes to pass the Senate; the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by a 51-49 margin because Republicans were able to use a convoluted “budget reconciliation” process: they had to “ensure” that the tax bill only increased the deficit by $1.5 trillion in the first 10 years.)  The GOP tax plan, which greatly benefits the Oligarchs supporting Trump, was shepherded through Congress by Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin (formerly CEO of OneWest Bank) and WH chief economic advisor Gary Cohn (former COO of Goldman Sachs)

2. Immigration: On September 5th, Trump precipitated an immigration crisis by ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and not providing a way for the Democrats to negotiate safe status for the 690,000 DACA young people.  On January 9th, Trump promised that he would soon sign a “clean” DACA bill.  However, on January 12th, when presented with a bipartisan compromise, Trump reneged on his promise.  Democrats briefly shut down the government and then backed off, on January 22.

It’s become clear that Democrats are not negotiating immigration with Trump –whose positions change hourly — but his chief-of-staff, John Kelly, and senior policy advisor, Stephen Miller.

The White House staff keeps Trump in the background and lets Republican operatives do the real work of crafting the legislation.

Caveat: Although Reagan and Trump are strikingly similar, Reagan was a fervent anti-communist.  On the other hand, Trump never misses an opportunity to suck up to Russia.