How Reagan paved the way for Trump

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"Reagan Trump" Art by Mr. Fish.

Those who compare Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan, two Republican presidents with some of the most fiercely loyal followings in recent U.S. history, often bring up the most obvious parallel: they both showed up on our screens as a reality TV star and an actor long before they got into politics. Many, however, are quick to argue that the similarities end there, largely based on the notion that Reagan played a more polished president than Trump ever could. That’s a mistake, according to Matt Tyrnauer, the director of the Showtime documentary television series, “The Reagans.” On this week’s installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” the documentarian joins Robert Scheer to discuss why the presidents’ roles as performers are far from the only links to be made between the two Republicans.  

“I would argue that Reagan and the Republican Party that he owned really was foundational for the Trump Republican Party,” says Tyrnauer. “It’s a mistake, in my opinion, to confuse their divergent styles with an analysis that one could not be more different than the other because substantively, they were really singing from the same songbook.”

Scheer and Tyranuer identify the racist ideas that both politicians peddled with their nearly identical slogans about “making America great again,” and discuss how these mythical notions of America were reinforced and mass-produced by the Hollywood from which Reagan emerged. “The Reagans” director argues that Trump benefited immensely from how Reagan shaped both corporate media’s and the American public’s ideas about the presidency. Scheer, who appears in Tyrnauer’s documentary and  also interviewed Reagan extensively throughout his career, tells Tyranuer that he found his four-part series illuminating in explaining Reagan’s hold on the American imagination.

The two also discuss another parallel that may escape observers of American democracy: both presidents abysmally mishandled pandemics on their watch. While Trump’s atrocious mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed more than 300,000 lives to date, it is no less significant that Reagan essentially ignored the AIDS crisis while nearly 90,000 Americans died from what he called the “gay plague.” Listen to the full conversation between Tyranuer and Scheer as they discuss “The Reagans,” and consider Scheer’s difficult question posed to the director and listeners: Is America systemically doomed to forever fall into the hands of manipulative charlatans like Reagan and Trump?



Joshua Scheer