Evening in America

By Chuck Williams
I am curious why there is so much hoopla surrounding Reagan’s 100th birthday and the coming year-long celebration. I don’t remember him as a particularly good guy. I find that our sharing Feb. 6 as the day of our arrivals sullies what otherwise is a perfectly good day.

What I remember of Reagan is this. He rigged the election of 1980 by manipulating the Iran hostage crisis. He waged an illegal war in Central America. He changed the rules for the savings banks and thus helped create the savings and loan crisis (an ominous sign of things to come). He was in power during the market crash of 1987 and the ensuing recession. But worst of all is his legacy.

I think Reagan’s legacy is not the optimism he showered on the country but his dividing of America through his ingraining of the idea that the wealthy should neither have to pay their fair share of taxes nor be responsible citizens as it pertains to the health of the country. Before Reagan, common ground could be found and the most serious problems of the country could be addressed. (It was Nixon who signed into law the 55 mph speed limit in 1973. Can you imagine a Reagan or Bush doing that?) After Reagan, the country has been divided down ideological lines to such an extent that it seems the split can never be closed – even with the most common sense solutions to the horrendous problems facing us today.

But worse, I think Reagan’s optimism can now be seen as denial. Frank Rich commented in the Times recently on how Obama’s State of the Union address, with its optimism, brought back strains of Reagan and not the doom and gloom of Carter. But maybe Carter had it right. The irony may be that the rosy picture Reagan painted and the seeming growth and expansion we saw in the 80’s and 90’s were nothing more than mirages driven by lax credit and inflated property values.

That is, our growth really stopped in the 80’s; there weren’t any meaningful jobs then and there aren’t any now. Sure, there were construction jobs but those were driven by easy credit and false property values. But real middle-income factory jobs went overseas or were automated; one hundred workers can now do what it took a thousand to do 40 years ago from the auto industry to the printing industry.

So where are those other 900 working? They aren’t.

Everyone, from Obama on down, talks about the need to create good jobs, but nobody talks about what those jobs are. As Paul Krugman has wisely pointed out in the Times, what is good for international corporations, such as GE, GM, Apple, Microsoft, is not necessarily good for the U.S. In fact these companies could have great profits and not create a single well paying job in the U.S. (In the sense of a middle-income factory worker that is.)

Looking back, it’s rather sobering to see that it seems like America’s day in the sun lasted about 40 years at best, from 1946 to 1986. In our drive to provide ourselves with cheap “stuff” we’ve cut our legs out from under ourselves without even knowing it.

I would suggest that Reagan’s real legacy is:

–A crumbling infrastructure; bad roads and bridges, inadequate airports, an archaic power grid, etc.

–An education system in shambles.

–An alternative energy policy that is 30 years behind.

–An industrial base that has abandoned America for cheap labor and markets abroad. (As Bob Herbert said in the Times, American industry doesn’t need America any more.)

–A financial industry whose interest is completely at odds with the good of the country.

–A political climate that has put ideology above practicality and which makes it impossible to learn and build from crises, such as 9/11 and the Tucson shootings.

–A backward looking philosophy that fails to prepare the country for the global economy and its ramifications to the workforce, Reagan created a false sense of stability and prosperity that finally collapsed in 2008.

True to form though (in what I remember to be his demented state), I think Reagan was looking out the wrong window when he said it was morning in America. I don’t think he was looking at a sunrise, rather at a sunset.

Chuck can be reached at GuestWriter@zestoforange.com

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Chuck Williams is an architect by training and profession. He recently developed specialized computer software for the architecture and construction industry. He is an avid fly fisherman.


9 Responses to “Evening in America”

  1. Joan D'Amico Says:

    Well said, Chuck. Thank you for your thoughtful response to this distortion that we’re suffering. I agree that it’s more harmful than the lionizing of Reagan, but to tout his policies produces a group-think that perpetuates them. As Paul Krugman said yesterday, we are, indeed, “Eat[ing] the Future”.

  2. Joe Burgess Says:

    Yep, it’s Reagan redux all over again — all over the place in the massive effort to legitimize his policies and practices, begun in 1997 by right-wing ideologue Grover Norquist.

    For further play-by-play about the Gipper’s league-leading fumbles, take a look at the latest issue of my modest op-ed e-zine, which is posted at http://mytown.ca/green-dog/ (or archived in the library internally linked at the upper left of the page or at http://tinyurl.com/6ldesbr).

  3. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    Refreshing to read this. Many of us are just as bewildered as to how Regan has become such an icon of good. You can go even further back and recall that he worked hand in glove with McCarthy.

  4. Mary Makofske Says:

    Thank you for this insightful article. Remember Reagan having the White House solar panels removed? We could have used that 30 years to position ourselves better for the energy crises to come. We’re facing fracking in our backyard because few were interested in where we go as fossil fuels become harder to get. Sadly, Reagan worship is simply part of a larger revisionist history that’s enveloped us.

  5. Chuck Williams Says:

    Thanks to all for your comments. And Mary reminded me of the direct impact Reagan had on my early professional life. I was a pioneer in passive solar architecture and Reagan pulled the rug out from under that entire movement. And we see what the results of that have been.

  6. Joe Haller Says:

    Construction jobs are good jobs, when governments and unions are not involved. When plumbers are plumbing, framers are framing, electricians are wiring, and roofers are roofing they are buying cars, eating out, shopping, and therefore creating OTHER jobs.

    I would take Ronald Reagan as President again in a heartbeat. I would take the USA of 1984 any time. People forget how lame Jimmy Carter was, and how bad inflation was, and 52 hostages in Iran.

    Happy 100th, President Reagan! I miss you.

  7. Chuck Williams Says:


    Yours is certainly a valid point of view but I too have been in construction all my life and I don’t remember the 80s as being a picnic. Perhaps 84 to 89 we good years but before that was horrible and after that was the aftermath of the market crash. But now is different than then and it is far worse. I have friends accross the country who have been in construction for 30 years and who have no work at all. Their equipment is sitting there rusting. It didn’t have to come to this.

    But the point of my article was the legacy Reagan left and the division it has created in this country. If we were a divided but prosperous country (prosperous at all levels but especially the middle class) we could be having ideological debates while we were going along swimmingly as long as those debates and their outcomes didn’t hamper our progress. But that is not the case. We are a divided country but we aren’t prosperous in the way that we were 40 years ago and the debates ARE hampering our progress. And the issues that divide us (that I say we inherited from Reagan) aren’t even relevant anymore. Lowering the taxes on the rich only makes sense if there is a strong middle class to pick up the slack; but there isn’t. Leaving health care to the insurance companies only makes sense if they have the interest of the country and its people at heart; but they don’t.

    Over the past 40 years we seem to have developed a “Titanic” mentality; that we are too big to fail or too well designed to fail. But we are failing and the ideological divide that exists and has existed for a generation is preventing us from “going below” and fixing the leaks.

  8. Jim Bridges Says:

    The one thing that I think is most pernicious of all is how Reagan was able to inculcate the belief that government by default is bad. Paying taxes is not a virtue but is instead a sign of oppression of the individual by the government. The result has been a sort of popularized nihilism in which any action destructive of government, with perhaps the exception of the military, is viewed as an understandable reaction and often as a positive social response to the evil government.

    That viewpoint has become an almost mandatory creed among Republicans, and it poisons the body politic, helping solidify America’s setting sun.

  9. Edward B. Godwin Says:

    Perceptive article and responses! I remember Reagan as abandoning all the alternative energy as we drove past a coal gasification plant near my wife’s hometown in Pennsylvania, as the man who reduced aid to the programs assisting the blind as I saw my blind mother have to return her audio-tape machine, as the defiant union buster of the air controllers, as the star wars technology propagantist, as the wanderer from focus in the Mondale–Reagan debate (an early warning that age does matter as he reportedly napped in cabinet meetings), the bank closures that even tainted McCain, as the man who railed against debt using an analogy of stacking money of debt to go to the moon and then pouring money into the military weapontry leaving us further in debt

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