The Man From Central Casting

I’ll never be able to watch the docuseries “The Reagans” when it airs on Showtime (November 15) (“‘They created a false image’: how the Reagans fooled America,” Guardian, November 12, 2020). Mea culpa! I don’t have the staying power anymore as a leftist to stomach more shit about The Great Communicator! To a leftist coming out of the antiwar movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, Reagan was pure poison!

When people I know, and some to whom I’m related, admit voting for Reagan, I become silent. When my hero, Muhammad Ali, supported Reagan over issues of religion in school, I recoiled. When I remember Reagan’s dog-whistle appeal to racists at his opening campaign appearance in Philadelphia, Mississippi, near the site of the historic murders of three civil rights workers in 1964, I literally get sick to my stomach. When I catalogue Trump’s abrogation of nuclear weapons treaties, I think of Reagan’s nuclear insanity initiating the Star Wars’ program of space weapons. When I think of today’s endless wars, I know that it was Reagan who began the so-called low-intensity war march toward the acceptance of war in Central America that culminated in George H. W. Bush’s eradication of the Vietnam Syndrome that gave us the massive military-industrial-financial pissing away of trillions of dollars that could have gone to programs of social uplift. When I reach down into my pockets, I can witness the diminution of the change there through the destruction of my retirement cost-of-living adjustment whose underpinning was Reagan’s destruction of unions with his frontal attack on the air traffic controllers’ union. When I see a sea of kids in the uniforms of charter schools in New York City, I recall “A Nation At Risk” and the march toward the privatization of public schooling in the US.

Here’s the man, Reagan, who provided money to fascist murderers in Central America in exchange for weapons for Iran: the Iran-Contra Affair. Here’s the man that began the real tax cuts for the very wealthy that robbed the Treasury of tax dollars that could have helped ordinary people on the streets and in the homes of the US.

Director Matt Tyrnauer is to be commended for laying the sweep of history that gave us The Great Communicator:

A dutiful cataloguing of the harm the two Reagans did in the black and LGBTQ+ communities segues into an illustration of how the damage he did has trickled down into present-day politics. Though no one utters the name of Donald Trump in any of the four parts, his presence looms over the Reagans’ speeches and rallies, the separate generations joined by their shared Make America Great Again catchphrase. ‘Reagan opened the door for Trump,’ Tyrnauer says. ‘He used dogwhistle [sic] racism to gain political power.’

‘He knew what he knew,’ Tyrnauer says. ‘He wasn’t intellectually curious. He wasn’t a deep thinker. He was, at heart, a reactionary. He was given the nuclear codes and the Oval Office and the greatest bully pulpit in the world, and what did he do with it? He tried to short-circuit the federal government in really detrimental ways. He implemented policies that hurt African Americans and economically disadvantaged minorities. He believed things that weren’t true and repeated them publicly. He was into science denial, he was a seeming believer in creation theory over evolution, he ignored and denied the Aids pandemic. He said trees cause pollution, which reminds us now of Trump saying wind turbines cause pollution.’

Those of us on the political left knew that when Reagan was president of the Screen Actors Guild he showed great motivation in cooperating with the feds in turning in his left and liberal colleagues. We knew that when he verbally attacked the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley as governor of California that we were in for trouble. We knew that when he said that if a bloodbath was needed to stop the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War, that blood would soon be spilled. We knew that he would ignore our work in the Nuclear Freeze Movement and that we, on the left, were in for serious trouble: he paved the way for the nuclear loose-cannon Trump.

Last fall, while parking my car in Rhinebeck, NY, I pulled in behind a car with a bumper sticker that read: “I never thought I would miss Nixon.” Useless bumper-sticker politics aside, I’m sickened by what the political system has vomited up in the US and the prospects for the future of power and wealth here look abysmal for those of us on the left!

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).