In the 1980’s conservatives had their champion. The man that would lead them to glory, after years of feeling ignored. After the perceived weakness of President Carter over the previous four years, a new man was in charge. The United States wouldn’t be pushed around anymore.
His name was Ronald Reagan, his mission; destroy communism.
With the Soviet Union already in a state of decline economically and militarily, their influence was dwindling but still in place. Upon the death of Leonid Brezhnev in 1982, and two forgettable leaders who died quickly after taking office in between, Mikhail Gorbachev became the new General Secretary in March of 1985.
Whether it was because the Soviet Union’s decline was unstoppable or the way Reagan outshined and embarrassed the General Secretary at the Reykjavik summit, many of Gorbachev’s citizens considered him weak. This perceived weakness was a driving force to the August 1991 coup d’état by Soviet military hardliners. Even though the coup was put down in a matter of days and Gorbachev returned to power, the event marked the final piece of destabilization and the end of the USSR.
Gorbachev and Reagan had a relationship that developed into a vision of change. Reagan saw the dangers in communism and the need to wipe it from the face of the earth. However, he knew to do it militarily was a no win situation for the two nations and the world as a whole. Gorbachev to his credit became the reformer that the Soviet people needed, whether they were all aware of it or not.
Growing up in the 80’s I remember the change in atmosphere. From the belief that the Soviet’s were our mortal enemies and ready to nuke us at any moment, to eventually American’s developing admiration for the Soviet leader and having a desire to see him succeed in bringing Russia to the new century. From enemies to virtual allies in a little over a decade. The relationship was still fragile but at least it was becoming friendlier.
Over the next two decades, both nations stayed in a constant state of change and to an extent, unrest. In the early 2000’s Vladimir Putin began to cement himself as the sole ruler of the Russian government. His tactics, policies, beliefs, and words all reminded the world of an old-school Soviet militant. At home, we faced unending foreign war, near economic collapse, and a nation divided both politically and socially.
The election of President Obama in 2008 was a moment that marked a change in America. How we dealt with other countries, allies and adversaries alike. His foreign policy was measured and constrained, to a fault in the eyes of many. His cautiousness was often mistaken for weakness. His understanding that US policy often had serious adverse effects on other nations made many call him anti-American. Coupled with the fact the wars he had been handed weren’t traditional military actions and an economy in an uncontrollable nose dive, gave many the excuse to blame all the ills they faced on him.
Many who in the past had been solid communist haters, were now saying positive things about Putin. He was a better leader; he knows more; he doesn’t mess around, were all part of the new narrative. Mostly these comments were derived from their hatred for Obama, but over time they began to believe them. What they were really saying is that they wanted a hardline authoritarian to lead the US. They wanted someone who would use the military as his foreign policy arm. They liked the idea of someone who crushed his opposition at home so easily and viciously.
They were craving a ruler, someone that would single-handedly make all their problems disappear. Someone who would tell them that the problems they faced were not of their own accord but because of outside influence. Desperately needing validation for their beliefs and biases. Wanting to be able to shed responsibility for their failures, while at the same time denying any hatred in their hearts.
In many ways, history has repeated itself with the election of President Trump. While Reagan denied a second Carter term; Trump, in the eyes of many, halted a potential Obama third term. The policies and approach of Hillary Clinton were expected to be similar to that of Obama’s. Reagan came in on a wave of revived patriotism and an America first message. While focusing on the threats to our way of life from outside forces and the lack of intestinal fortitude of the current administration, real or imagined, to do anything to halt it. For Reagan, it was Iran and the Soviets, for Trump its Muslims and the Mexico.
From building a border wall to destroying ISIS in 30 days, Donald Trump was saying exactly what many needed so desperately to hear. It didn’t matter if any of the things he said or promised were feasible, it was about his willingness to say them. Even if he didn’t accomplish any of them, they believed he was going to try to do all of them. Their champion had arrived.
This champion was different than Reagan though. Where Reagan despised the philosophy of the Soviet, Trump seemed to understand it differently, going as far as to say that Putin was a far better leader than Obama. Now VP Mike Pence said at the time in defense of Trump’s remarks that “I think it’s inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country.”
With Trump’s continuous war with the media and the seemingly unending parade of questionable Russian ties to administration officials, you would think that conservatives would begin to question their champion. That isn’t what’s happening at all if anything they are becoming more solidified in their support.
As I look at this country I grew up in; I must begin to question what the heck is going on. Why are we suddenly ok with someone, whom conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly calls a ‘killer, ‘ and Senate Majority Leader McConnell calls a ‘thug,’ being intimately involved with the process and function of our government? How did we go from a nation that elects a man like Reagan who hated every tenet of communism to electing someone from the same party who admires a leader like Putin? The same Putin that holds dear so many cold war values.
This nation’s acceptance to be ruled is shocking. The desire to have personal responsibility replaced with government control is sickening. I am immediately reminded of a quote from Reagan himself that I think addresses what we are going through, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” In the almost 30 years since he left office, America has indeed changed.
My hope is that my more conservative friends will come to their senses and understand the actual threat we face. That they will demand accountability from our elected leaders, no matter who they are. I want my liberal friends to do the same. We have to stop looking at the person and the party and focus on the policy. Quit just trying to win and start trying to understand the other side.
If not the next overlord we choose will simply bring more destruction to the American experiment. Remember the words of Ben Franklin we will only have this republic “if you can keep it.”