It’s Ronald Reagan’s deathiversary! At the moment, television and broadcast news are full of touching tributes to the late star of Bedtime for Bonzo. Conservatives and even a few liberals love to talk about what a great president he was, what an admirable statesman he was, and what an exemplary human being he was!
Don’t listen to them. Ronald Reagan was a piece of shit.
If you’d like to know why, here’s an incomplete list of some of the terrible things Ronald Reagan was (at least partially) responsible for.
1. Thousands of AIDS Deaths
We’ve covered this topic before, but the Reagan administration’s response to the AIDS epidemic was unforgivably neglectful. He made no attempt to find a cure for the disease or to prevent its spread. His official spokesman laughed at the thousands of Americans who were dying of AIDS. His wife refused to help a close friend (openly gay actor Rock Hudson) when he begged her for help getting treatment for his AIDS.
Remember that the Reagans were Hollywood people before they went into politics. Ronnie was an actor who starred in a movie against a chimpanzee.
As entertainers, the Reagans worked alongside with countless LGBT people. These were their friends. And yet the Reagans flat-out did not care when they were dying. That’s monstrous.
Ronald Reagan could have prevented thousands of AIDS deaths. He could have funded research for a treatment. He could have launched a public awareness campaign to encourage safe sex. But he didn’t.
2. Almost Tripling the National Debt
During Reagan’s presidency, the national debt tripled from $1 trillion to $2.9 trillion. It’s normal for the national debt to rise during a serious recession or a major war, but these weren’t factors during the 1980s. No excuse. Dude couldn’t budget properly.
3. Childhood Obesity and God-Awful Children’s Television Programming
Back in the old days, television had much stricter rules regulating advertisements, particularly advertisements to children. In the 1970s, the Federal Trade Commission proposed a ban on advertising sugary foods to children, because children are impulsive, make poor decisions and don’t quite grasp how serious the negative health effects of sweets can be.
But that changed under Reagan. Earth Island explains:
As one of his first moves of his presidency, Reagan appointed a new FTC chairman, one more interested in pleasing business than parents. Within a year, the proposals were killed. What’s worse, Congress passed the Federal Trade Commission Improvement Act, which, Westen says, “mandated that the FTC would no longer have any authority whatsoever to regulate advertising and marketing to children, leaving markets virtually free to target kids as they saw fit.” Over the next couple of years the Reagan administration eliminated any remaining government oversight and deregulated children’s television.
That led to the rise of TV programs like Rubik, the Amazing Cube and GI Joe, shows that are little more than extended toy advertisements.
The change has also led to the current state of affairs regarding kids and junk food ads. According to the Prevention Institute, 98 percent of food advertisements viewed by children are for products that are high in fat, sugar or sodium. And these ads have an effect on children’s eating habits. The American Psychological Association asserts that there is a strong correlation between a child’s exposure to junk food ads and a child’s chance of becoming obese.
So Reagan is a part of why America’s kids are so goddamn fat now.
4. Arming Iran to Help a Nicaraguan Death Squad
You know how the current president is currently trying to disarm Iran? Well, the Reagan administration sold Iran weapons back in the 1980s. Lots of weapons. Millions of big fat 1980s dollars’ worth of weapons. To Iran.
Many of our readers are probably too young to remember the Iran-Contra affair, but here’s what happened: the Reagan administration illegally sold Iran a shitload of guns and missiles in order to raise funds to send to the Contras, an anti-communist military force rebelling against the left-wing Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
This whole thing was massively illegal, but somehow Reagan avoided getting into trouble for it.
Oh yeah and the Contras were murderous death squads who committed horrendous human rights abuses. They murdered children. They raped nuns. In 1985, The LA Times wrote:
Typical among them was an Oct. 28, 1982, contra attack on the rural area of El Jicaro in northern Nicaragua. In an affidavit, Maria Bustillo, 57, testified that five armed men dressed in the FDN’s blue uniforms burst into her house and dragged away her husband Ricardo, a Roman Catholic activist, and five of their children. The next morning she found the mutilated bodies of the children. Her husband’s body was found later.
Reagan called the Contras “moral equals of our Founding Fathers.”
5. The Death of the American Dream
Are you broke, miserable, working as hard as you can but failing to make ends meet? Thank Ronald Reagan (and also Bill Clinton, to be fair).
Ronald Reagan’s economic policies didn’t just raise the national debt. They also widened the gap between the rich and the poor, shredded the social safety net and yanked the rungs out of the economic ladder.
Reagan’s Supply Side (i.e. “Trickle-down”) Economic policies slashed taxes for the rich, allowing the upper classes to horde more and more money, leaving the rest of the nation with crumbs. The top 1% richest Americans’ share of the nation’s income has doubled since Reagan came into office:
Reagan made massive cuts to public programs that helped poor people. But while he denounced “welfare queens”, his administration spent billions of dollars bailing out the financial sector. That sounds… oddly familiar.
In 1981, Reagan castrated the power of organized labor when he broke a massive air traffic controllers strike. The New York Times writes,
More than any other labor dispute of the past three decades, Reagan’s confrontation with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or Patco, undermined the bargaining power of American workers and their labor unions. It also polarized our politics in ways that prevent us from addressing the root of our economic troubles: the continuing stagnation of incomes despite rising corporate profits and worker productivity.
Unions are not perfect, but they are (or at least used to be) one of the few political forces that protects workers from exploitation by their bosses. Unions gave us the 40-hour work week (down from 80 hours), weekends off, Worker’s Compensation for injuries, overtime pay, sick leave, holiday pay, anti-discrimination policies, parental leave, and nearly every other advancement that makes work bearable.
With unions weakened, we’re seeing workers’ rights and protections wither and die. For instance, in Wisconsin, the GOP fought to allow businesses to force their employees to work seven days a week without a single day of rest. More and more states are introducing “Right to Work” policies that screw over workers in the name of greed.
So if you’ve recently worked an 80-hour workweek without overtime pay, thank Ronald Reagan. If you’re working full time and still can’t make ends meet, thank Ronald Reagan.
Ronald Reagan’s administration helped arm and fund the terrorist group that would later become known as the Taliban. Yes, that Taliban.
Why the hell did he do that? Same reason he armed the Iranians and funded the Contras: to fight communism!
Back in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. To fight the spread of the Red Menace, the U.S. government funded anticommunist rebels in Afghanistan. In Reagan’s defense, he didn’t start this (Jimmy Carter did), but he expanded the hell out of it.
During the 1980s, the CIA gave tons support to the Mujahadeen, a militant group fighting a holy war against the Soviets. They were horrible violent religious maniacs, but hey they really hated communism so it was totally fine. The Reagan administration portrayed them as heroic freedom fighters. Hollywood even presented the Mujahideen as the good guys in Rambo III:
As the decade carried on, the jihadists became increasingly radical and anti-American. Journalist Steve Coll explains:
As that began to happen… there were individuals inside the US bureaucracy, at the state department, elsewhere, who began to warn that the United States needed to change its political approach to this covert action program, that they needed now to start getting involved in the messy business of Afghan politics and to start to promote more centrist factions and to negotiate compromise with the Soviet-backed communist government in Kabul to prevent Islamist extremists from coming to power as the Soviets withdrew.
These warnings, when you look at them with the benefit of hindsight, are quite prescient and certainly were strongly given, but they languished in the middle of the bureaucracy and were largely ignored by both second term Reagan administration and the first Bush administration, Bush 41.
Members of the Mujahideen went on to create the Taliban and al-Qaeda. These groups carried out acts of terrorism using methods the CIA taught them. You know how that turned out.
Why are we Ragging on Reagan?
So he was a shitty president. So what? He’s dead. Have some respect for the dead (even though he didn’t). Let sleeping dogs lie. Et cetera.
The reason we’re ragging on Reagan is that he’s still ruining America from beyond the grave. The social, political and economic policies he pushed have put the nation in a downward spiral for the past thirty years. Reagan’s legacy for the United States is one of terrorism, poverty and death.
By going easy on Reagan, we’re quietly endorsing the continuation of his terrible policies. We can’t do that anymore. We’ve been doing it for decades, and it’s destroying our country. If we really want to make America great again we have to dig the Reagan administration up, put a stake through its heart and kill it for good.