Meditations: The Reaganite Myth & Mania in America
The Reaganite Myth and Mania in America
For days, CNN has been doing a riff on the Reagan legacy with an intended pun and unintended irony that reflects the pervasive deadness in these United States. Inverting the Reagan myth and motto of “it’s morning in America,” CNN has been emblazoning the truth across our screens, as the maudlin ceremonies drone on: “It’s mourning in America.”
The Reagan mythology, now lamented so sappily, contains both a domestic and foreign component that Americans subconsciously feel they’ve lost. In the “homeland,” the national mood is so dreadful that it makes Americans long for Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” days. People feel, in a displaced and inarticulate way, that the era of America’s sunny optimism, a role Reagan so convincingly played, is being buried with him.
With respect to America’s place in the world, it doesn’t take a Jung to see that the blather about how Reagan restored America’s sense of purpose and greatness indicates how lost and second-rate people feel the country has become. Indeed, at some level people know that Reagan’s label of “evil empire,” applied both rightly and shamelessly self-righteously to the Soviet Union, now applies, in the eyes of most of the world, to America itself.
At times in the last few days, it has felt like one is witnessing a nation gone mad. Thousands of people stand for hours in the blazing sun on a scorching, humid day in Washington to view the closed, flag-draped coffin of a president few gave any thought to during the last ten years, as his Alzheimer’s progressed. Ersatz memorials have been erected in cities all over the country, where citizens are invited to pen their thoughts about “the Great Communicator.” (In San Jose, California, city employees cut out the page where some subversive had dared to write “negative” things.)
Absurdly, comparisons are being drawn between Ronald Reagan, who never saw a truth he couldn’t whitewash and smile away, and Abraham Lincoln, who struggled in his soul with right and wrong as no other American president ever has. Of course, given the inward deadness of the country and people, these comparisons center on the style of the Lincolnesque funeral ceremony (likewise culminating in a horse-drawn caisson carrying Reagan’s coffin ahead of a rider-less horse), rather than the substance of Reagan’s presidency. That’s because there was no substance to the man, or his presidency.
Again, with unintended irony, pundit after pundit, Reaganite Republican after Reaganite Republican, intones how he “set the country on its present course.” Jimmy Carter, for all his flaws as a leader, tried to get the country to face its problems. But Reagan came along just in time to reassert America’s love of illusion over reality, perception over fact.
Now Bush Junior, seeing and selling himself as the true inheritor of the Reagan legacy (a subconscious slam against his government-establishment father, who was trounced by Reagan and then enfolded within his “revolution”) has led the country into a needless and illegal war, and the depths of despair.
It all comes out in the wash eventually. Even the eternal myth that Reagan defeated communism and brought down the Soviet Union creaks under the weight of the anomie at home and animus abroad. In truth, both the US and the USSR lost the Cold War; the myth of “the sole remaining superpower” is as hollow as the last president who supposedly made it possible.
Americans are not the only people who have a fondness for maudlin spectacles of course—the Brits deification of Di was also a deeply unsettling reminder that humans remain an irrational species. Both Princess Diana and President Reagan were symbols of real people that millions believed were authentic persons. As such their deaths do not mark the hinges of history, but entire populations becoming unhinged.
Americans are really crying for the last time they could believe this was a good and great country. Self-centeredness, enshrined in Reagan’s unrestrained capitalism, has made this a nation of the walking dead, standing in lines for hours to catch a glimpse of the closed coffin of a man everyone agrees no one ever knew.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.