A small number of commentators have pointed out some similarities between Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. The actor, Chuck Norris, provided “Top 8 Similarities between Trump and Reagan,” and, at the other end of the pundit perspective, Josh Zeitz, attempted to answer the question, “Is Donald Trump Like Ronald Reagan?” Zeitz has taught at Cambridge University and Princeton and Chuck Norris is, well, Chuck Norris. Both published their pieces during the past campaign, Zeitz in March and Norris in July.
One similarity that Norris leaves out is all the race baiting, dog-whistle tactics, that both successful candidates employed, the fact that Reagan held one of his first large campaign events at the Neshoba County Fair, some seven miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, a town notorious for the killing of three civil rights workers. But race-baiting long has been a staple in American elections and both Trump and Reagan weren’t pioneers in that muddy field.
But what interests me is the flip-side similarities between Reagan and Trump, the 180 degree comparisons. Similar but different. Reagan the optimist, Trump the pessimist, Reagan the civilized, Trump the barbarian, that sort of thing. Ronald Reagan strove to be a picture of decorum, the modest superstar, humble with his successes as well as his failures. His televised apology for lying to Americans during the Iran-Contra scandal is a model of the latter.
Indeed, when Reagan began his campaign in 1980, as I have written before, most of the coverage treated him, if not as a clown, as an amusement. It was only during the summer of that year that reporters realized that he might actually win, given all of Jimmy Carter’s accumulating troubles. Ditto Trump. It wasn’t necessarily Obama’s troubles, but Hillary Clinton’s, that were piling up, thanks to the usual suspects, the Russians, the head of the FBI, etc. But, earlier on, it was the fecklessness of Trump’s primary competitors that let him emerge, and then Hillary became the likely villain and victim. Crooked Hillary.
I had heard from a reliable source in early 2016 that the CIA would not let Trump become president. I wasn’t necessarily picturing drones over the Trump Tower (which, ironically, may now happen, military drones that is), and didn’t take the prediction seriously till the former head of the KGB entered the fray. Putin must have heard the same thing and it became a stimulus, a challenge, to his institutional pride. Hence, all the email hacks.
Some observers wonder why the emails interested journalists so much, whereas all of the Trump scandals - Trump University, charities, foreign entanglements, etc. - didn’t seem to hold the same allure, or promote the same daily coverage. Well, unfortunately, journalists read and send emails all the time, whereas very few, almost none, attend bogus universities, or fly around the world to luxurious hotels and golf resorts. They write what they know.
But, as the old Ted Kennedy joke goes, they’ll drive off that bridge when they come to it.
Two other presidents have the same, numerically, assortment of similarities: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. I still can’t get over the fact that the last two Democratic presidents who served two terms didn’t have their biological fathers in their lives. That grandparents played a role in their early upbringing. That both are left handed and both made very strategic marriage choices, breaking their earlier - and in Bill Clinton’s case, continuous - dating patterns and history.
And, of course, both saw their two terms as president almost go for naught. Clinton being replaced by his opposite, George W. Bush, the scion of an entitled family, a man reckless and oblivious to the responsibilities of the job. And now Obama, leaving everything at risk to another heir, a ludicrous choice foisted on the American public by less than a hundred thousand disgruntled voters distributed in three states, a man who seems more devoted to his twitter account than the presidency.
Both Clinton and Obama were children of the meritocracy. Bush and Trump not so much. But both Democrats failed, leaving office with their annulled presidencies, insofar as they had eight years to encourage successors and neither seemed to find that important, crucial, to everything they stood for. And it’s small comfort that in both elections that followed their terms the popular vote went to the losers. Another bothersome similarity that could have been predicted.
The Huffington Post version, which ran on December 31, 2016 (uncorrected version), can be found here: Huffington Post version