There has been a lot of nostalgia lately for Ronald Reagan. It is difficult to go anywhere online without running into a picture of the gipper looking off into the sunset with a far away stare, contemplating something. His presence will always in some form stay with the public who remember happier times compared to what is going on now in the country.
We make heroes here in the country based how they made us feel. The fact that an actor playing the role of president reassured at least some of us that an America that we thought existed was still there. And many people, to the consternation of the rest of us, want to hang on to the illusion that the past was somehow better than an unsure present, and even more unsure future.
Ronald Reagan was the typical grandparent of post-World War Two America: eager to spend away a future to preserve the immediacy of the present for a grandchild. Was he an evil man? Probably not. Was his intentions malevolent? With respect to the prevailing culture he came up in it is doubtful he truly meant harm. He leveraged credit against commitments and a diminishing income to create a present, spoil his grandchildren and teach them his values, that although not very wise or practical for the future, worked for him in his age.
Reagan was a deficit spender. He embraced Keynesianism as any other politician of his age did. He cut taxes, borrowed, demonized the poor as lazy, lavished much on the military and somehow, managed through reverse distribution of income, created a climate that worked for a little while; take that Karl Marx. Right?
Like any elderly person maxing out the credit cards, taking out signature loans, and eventually reversing their mortgages, the country bought into the idea of Reaganomics: take care of your here and now and the future will sort itself out.
Meanwhile, the country encumbered by the inflation of the 70's, a president resigning short of impeachment, foreign policy failures, and gas prices through the roof, had "normalcy" back. It was all the government's fault and one man was going to see to it that it was going to change.
But not until a few adjustments could be made like adding to the bureaucracy, arming the military, funding drug cartels, dictators, terrorists, and slashing taxes for the "job creators" who, once grandpa removed regulations, began to move manufacturing jobs out of the country to low wage havens in the 3rd world. Grandpa himself would take steps to send similar union workers in the country a message as well by firing every air-traffic controller in the country. Unions got the message and remained largely silent the rest of the decade. There was little cause for concern as employment capacity was up, even though beneath the surface of what appeared to be a solid board, the termites were having a feast.
But who cares we had a president who talked about God and told us America was a great country again. Our military celebrated the overcoming the failure of Vietnam with the invasion of Grenada and the bombing of Quadafi's palace in Libya. New suburbs were being built and police departments across the country were being paid to start rounding up any of those "urban types" who sell drugs. Why? Because we were in a war against them.
And while we were fighting this war, the CIA was helping move the drugs into the country: one can't address a problem unless there is a problem to address you see. Out of that enterprise sprang a new black market drug - crack - that would eventually spread across the country like a plague. Grandpa's response to the problem: "Just Say No!" - the same argument used to address teen pregnancy.
The Soviet Union was dying the day Kruschev, in 1958, banged his shoe on the podium at the United Nations yelling, "We will bury you!" They were headed for life support when it was decided to "go for broke" when they invaded Afghanistan in 1980. Reagan's supposed victory over communism was only outdoing an already dead system. Without markets or institutions that protected and empowered the individual, the Soviet Union was destined to fail because there is nothing noble about poverty and that was one thing they were good at creating. Reagan didn't beat the Soviet Union; he expanded the power of the Military Industrial Complex while they beat themselves.
Reagan is an illusion like any cult figure manufactured in this country, and at some point illusions need to be exposed for the frauds they are. Regardless of how many flags, sunsets, crosses, or anything else one sets as a backdrop to his image, he was not the country's lovable grandpa; he was much worse and nothing worth idealizing.