The Problems Reagan Dealt With Are Back

The Problems Reagan Dealt With Are Back September 22, 2023

The new “New Right–that is, National Conservatives, Christian Nationalists, Integralists, and the like–have been mocking what they have called “Zombie Reaganism.” Conservatives who believe in limited government, free market economics, balanced national budgets, and individual liberty are accused of “not knowing what time it is.”  Vivek Ramaswamy says that “old-school Republicans” are stuck in a “bygone era.”

But, as Zach Kessel points out, that bygone era may be coming back.  In his article The Stage Is Set for Zombie Reaganism to Rise from the Grave, he points out some distinct parallels between the problems that Reagan dealt with and the problems we face today:

(1) A disastrous and humiliating withdrawal from a long, drawn out war.  Then: Vietnam.  Now: Afghanistan.

(2) An energy crisis.  Then: soaring gas prices.  Now: soaring gas prices.

(3) Russia invades a neighboring country, which resists with American weaponry.  Then: Afghanistan. Now: Ukraine.

(4) A communist country seeks world domination.  Then:  the Soviet Union.  Now:  China.

(5)  Inflation.  Then: 14% in 1980.  Now: 8.6% in 2022, subsiding to 3.7% today, but still a problem.

I would add that the nation was in the doldrums of a deep “malaise,” as Jimmy Carter called it, a lack of confidence, a sense that everything was going wrong, a depressed feeling about America.  No wonder, what with the Watergate scandal, the defeat in Vietnam, the Iran hostage crisis, and a terrible economy plagued by high unemployment, supply shortages, and “stagflation,” the hitherto contradictory dynamics of stagnation plus runaway inflation.  But we are in a similar malaise today.

I would also add that the late 1970s and early 1980s were also a time of national polarization, with the legacy of opposition to the Vietnam War and the counterculture radicalism of the 1960s still a live issue.  Reagan also brought the working class into the conservative fold, as “Reagan Democrats” and other blue collar workers rallied to the Republican side.

Our problems in the 1980s, prior to Reagan’s election, though similar to today’s, were actually worse then.  And yet Reagan addressed them with great success, including bringing the country together to a large measure and restoring national pride and confidence.  He really did bring out the feeling that, to use the slogan he used in his landslide re-election campaign in 1984, it’s “morning in America.”

On the other hand, of course, there are big differences.  Our national culture has changed.  Back then, Christian political activists formed an organization they named “the Moral Majority,” and though the term was aspirational, there was some truth in the claim that most Americans had a consensus about moral issues.  No more.  Abortion was an issue ever since the Roe v. Wade decision legalized it in 1973.  But same-sex marriage, the acceptance of homosexuality, transgenderism, and the woke agenda in schools and in big corporations were unthinkable back then.

Today’s conservative critics of Reaganism make the point that his style of conservatism did nothing to stop these moral and cultural catastrophes.  They are not wrong.  In fact, they are right.

Then again, National Conservatives like Donald Trump didn’t stop these moral and cultural catastrophes either.

Moral and cultural renewal require something more powerful than government.  Namely, a spiritual revival.  In the meantime, it’s no small task for a political leader to bring the nation together, fix the economy, and protect the nation from its adversaries.

Photo:  Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Portrait, 1981, by Michael Evans –, Public Domain,




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