Commemorating the Wrong Man: Reagan Day Established in California

Max Elias, Scarlet Staff

Recently, the governor of California, Jerry Brown, declared that Feb. 6 would be officially recognized as Ronald Reagan Day in the state.  California is new to the party; as of now, 40 governors have declared Reagan Day a holiday. Never before has a President been so universally admired, it seems—since not all of the states that have declared it are red states.

             Before considering whether or not Reagan is worthy of this honor, it is important to note that no President has ever been awarded a personal commemorative holiday. There is President’s Day and Week in February, but they are non-specific celebrations of the office of President of the United States.

             The concept of honoring Reagan above other presidents in implies a political bias towards conservatism that is out of place in a democracy. The United States was founded on the idea that all people have an opportunity to express their voices, and all viewpoints receive consideration. This is difficult to believe when a monument to the father of the far right is the only presidential acknowledgement around.

             This is not to say that honoring Ronald Reagan is wrong (although there is plenty of evidence to support that viewpoint), but rather to say that only honoring one president by name, and having that honor spread across to over 75 percent of the United States, undermines equitable democracy. For example, it would make sense to honor Franklin Roosevelt as well, a figure as instantly recognizable as Reagan and certainly as influential in American history. It is imperative to either privilege no ideologies or acknowledge that all are welcome. It’s the same reason the Supreme Court prohibits massive crosses from being erected on public land.

             Governor Brown said his reasons for declaring the holiday in California were to “remember…his most celebrated achievements—his successful diplomacy with Mikhail Gorbachev and the economic recovery that occurred under his presidency.” These justifications are nebulous at best.

             Mikhail Gorbachev was not exactly difficult to negotiate with; he was certainly not as dictatorial as Stalin or Khrushchev, and was less interested in maintaining the iron fist of control than his predecessors were. He’s known for policies of openness and restructuring, which made dealing with Russia much easier than it was for previous administrations.

Essentially, the brokering of peace between the United States and the Soviet Union had less to do with Reagan’s efforts than Gorbachev’s radical departure from past Soviet leaders. Even if Gorbachev had remained uninterested in diplomacy with the U.S, the Soviet Union was winding down by the time he took power—an inevitable consequence of over-ambitious five-year plans, spreading itself too thin, and making uninformed decisions, such as invading Afghanistan.

             Speaking of Afghanistan, not only was it an ill-advised war from the Soviet perspective, but through Reagan-initiated funding of Mujahideen guerilla fighters —which was unnecessary because the invasion had no chance of affecting any change—we wound up arming and training Osama Bin Laden.

             He also embroiled himself in the Iran-Contra scandal later on, securing the release of seven American prisoners for the low price of destabilizing the Middle East for decades. Even moving away from foreign policy issues, Reagan’s presidential actions tended towards disregarding long-term implications. He is famous for the concept of “trickle-down economics,” which involved deregulating the government as much as legally possible. This was most likely a reaction to the stagflation of the Carter presidency, but it was a short-term solution; the economy was moving again, but between the Reagan presidency and 2017 the wage gap has widened astronomically.

             For example, in the service of his economic philosophy, Reagan once ended a labor strike by passing a law that allowed companies to hire temporary workers if their employees went on strike. This ended up undermining workers’ rights and giving even more privilege to the rich over the middle and lower classes. Workers now had no choice but to accept whatever wages or benefits their employers set for them, keeping them beholden to corporate executives.

             Reagan’s social policies were the ancestors of the Trump administration’s vision for the United States. He refused to fund AIDS research and cut off state funding for mental institutions, resulting in the release of people who were not yet adjusted to the outside world, increasing the homeless population. He also slashed federal housing programs, making it more difficult for people to find affordable housing and increasing the homeless population in a different manner.

             A charitable view of Reagan maintains that his decisions were motivated by fear of economic stagnation rather than a result of outright reckless. Reagan was only short-sighted and unable to anticipate the resulting near-stagnant social mobility. But in the context of a proposed Ronald Reagan Day, neither view is especially comforting.

             At best, by declaring Ronald Reagan Day, especially across such a broad spectrum of states, we place ourselves in alignment with short-sighted decision-making motivated heavily by fear, when we should be learning from the consequences of such things. And at worst, the celebration of Ronald Reagan denotes an embracing of the intolerant social politics, tied together with religion and corporate pandering that sprung forth from the policies of his  administration.