For more than a few on the left, the Reagan administration represented a regressive force bent on glutting the wealthy with capital. The current administration has experienced criticism coming from a similar perspective.
From the right, Trump has been portrayed as an innovative bringer of unity. His first congressional address was even praised as “Reaganesque.”
The 2016 Trump campaign ran on a “Make American Great Again” platform. This was also a Reagan campaign slogan. Coincidence? I think not.
There are most certainly similarities between Trump and Reagan. For example, neither were career politicians and both were pop culture figures. Both were also mercilessly criticized as ignorant buffoons by the opposition while they campaigned for the White House.
While there are certainly similarities between these two men, there are also glaring distinctions to be noted. These two men presented themselves to the public and to other world leaders in very different ways. They also diverge in their approaches to policy making.
Reagan was not a career politician, but he held public office for multiple terms as governor of California before becoming president. Reagan also understood the value that experienced advisers can offer.
Donald Trump has chosen to surround himself with political outsiders. This is something that he promised to do on the campaign trail, specifically to “drain the swamp in Washington.” The idea behind this catchphrase seems quite simple. Once special interests have been denied a safe haven, things can begin to work efficiently again (assuming that there ever was a time that they did work this way).
Reagan was consistently conservative as a republican, although he was forced to negotiate with a Democrat-controlled congress throughout his presidency. Donald Trump falls on both sides of the aisle and is likely to change his mind over the course of his tenure as president.
Trump has taken a markedly different approach to international relations. He has repeatedly asserted an “America first” priority and it could be argued that he has damaged America’s reputation around the world.
On Sunday, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, actually may have suggested that the United States might not be as reliable as it once was, possibly owing to opinions recently expressed by the new American president. “The times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over,” she said. In particular, she has taken issue with Trump’s approach to the issue of climate change.
Reagan was known as the great communicator for a reason. He strengthened ties with American allies and strove for cooperation, openness, and understanding.
Furthermore, during the campaign, Trump basically promised that he would attempt to solve, once and for all, the illegal immigration problem. He won’t, but that’s a topic for another time.
His administration has dramatically accelerated the rate of deportations and this sits at the core of this problem. The crackdown not only threatens to tear families apart and to snatch economic opportunities from millions, but also to hurt American agriculture, which thrives off of immigrant labor.
In 1986, Reagan signed into law one of the most influential immigration laws ever enacted. Under the Immigration Reform and Control act of 1986 (also known simply as “Amnesty”) residents who were able to demonstrate that they had resided in the U.S. for at least four years were offered citizenship, provided that they satisfied other citizenship criteria. The law also significantly bolstered border security.
Trump has also been highly critical of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It is important to remember that Ronald Reagan’s administration laid the groundwork for this agreement to come into being.
The fundamental difference between these two presidents is evident in their chosen methods of communication. Reagan was known for his unflappable optimism and positivity. He, more often than not, used words that were uplifting rather than divisive. It was for this reason, among others, that he was able to reach the level of influence that he did.
Reagan successfully made himself into a unifying figure for many Americans. While this was not true for everyone, his administration will continue to be known for its instrumental role in bringing an end to the Cold War. Donald Trump, disappointingly, appears to have chosen paranoid aggression, recalcitrance, and finger pointing over universal optimism and this choice seems to have made all the difference.