Attack of ‘Fascism’ Used Against Trump Was Made Against Reagan

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Bigotry. Fascism. A threat to women’s rights. Alliances with foreign dictators. A president as entertainer, trampling labor and the environment.

It sounds like the contemporary complaints against President Donald Trump.

Actually, it’s a 1984 newspaper advertisement from “Scholars Against the Escalating Danger of the Far Right.”

“With Ronald Reagan as its performing star in the White House, the Far Right is attempting to take over the Republican Party,” says the ad, published in the November 2, 1984 issue of the New York Times and signed by, among others, Carl Sagan, Linus Pauling, Corliss Lamont, Stephen Jay Gould, John Hope Franklin, Gloria Steinem, and Frances Fox Piven.

“Four more years of Reaganism … would see a sweeping attack on civil liberties. Four more years of Reaganism would also bring us closer to a nuclear Holocaust. Unlawful intervention in Central America threatens us with a new Vietnam,” the ad claims.

It says Reagan sought “to stifle women’s rights, including the right to legal abortion.” The ad says that under Reagan, “The Civil Rights Commission is anti-civil rights, the NLRB is anti-labor, the EPA is anti-environment. The Administration champions special privileges for the elite while life for the working people, the poor and minorities deteriorates.”

“There is a scent of fascism in the air,” the ad pronounces, warning that a second Reagan term would unleash “more bigots and chauvinists.”

As we now know, Reagan’s second term led not to either a “nuclear Holocaust” or “a new Vietnam.” It was followed shortly, rather, under the presidency of Reagan’s vice president, by the defeat of the Soviet Union and the freeing of the captive nations, a point that was marked earlier this month by the unveiling in Berlin of a statue of Ronald Reagan at the American embassy in Berlin.

In unveiling the statue, the Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, quoted Reagan:  “Freedom is not the sole prerogative of a chosen few.  It is the universal right of all of God’s children.”

Pompeo went on, “Everyone, everywhere is entitled to that freedom. It’s a bold claim, and it’s an idea that our nation was founded on, and one that we work at tirelessly.”

The other predictions and warnings about the supposed dangers of a second Reagan term proved similarly alarmist and unfounded. Abortion remained legal. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for black Americans declined to 11.8% in January 1989, when Reagan left office, from the roughly 15% it had been at when he was elected in November 1980 and when the New York Times ad appeared in November 1984. It’s not that Reagan was perfect; no human is, especially humans of the variety known as politicians. But the claims of fascism and impending nuclear holocaust were so overwrought as to be discrediting.

Voters are now faced with a replay when it comes to President Trump. The New York Observequoted U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and thus a key player in the Trump impeachment inquiry, as saying, “Donald Trump is the first major candidate in American politics, in recent decades, that I think really deserves to be called a fascist.”

Now, just because Democrats falsely warned that a previous Republican president was a fascist doesn’t necessarily mean that the Democrats are wrong when they call the current Republican president a fascist. The risks of having a fascist president are formidable enough that perhaps a few false alarms are a price worth paying for prevention.

It’s also worth remembering that President Barack Obama, too, was likened to a Nazi by his political opponents.

It is an encouraging sign about how far America is from fascism is that calling a politician a fascist is an insult, not a compliment. That is something that applies widely, across the political spectrum, and seems to be as true today as it was during the Reagan administration. Former Vice President Joe Biden is going around flogging the idea that America and its institutions won’t be able to survive another four years of Trump. The Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post is selling Trump-era subscriptions on the idea that “Democracy dies in darkness.”

The reason they are putting up statues of Reagan is that rather than curtailing freedom and prosperity, his leadership vastly expanded it. If a second Trump term yields similar outcomes, it may not entirely eliminate future warnings of fascism, but it will further erode their credibility.


Ira Stoll is editor of and author of JFK, Conservative.