I have on my studio wall a Tony Auth cartoon. It shows Ronald Reagan right after Inauguration Day, 1981, dressed as Betsy Ross sitting in a rocking chair with the American flag draped across his lap. A sign on the wall that looks like a sampler says “The New Federalism.” He seems to be sewing the flag, but in fact he’s removing the stars; they lay on the floor at his feet as Reagan is saying, “At last...finished.” In other words, Reagan is undoing all the gains Pres. Jimmy Carter made in progressive social issues and politics. The cartoon drips with irony, but Reagan’s politics did not. As Rosalynn Carter put it, “He makes us feel comfortable with our prejudices.” Sound familiar?
I can’t compare Trump to Pres. Reagan. Reagan was a classy campaigner and a gentleman to all, even his enemies. But that Republican ethos was the same then as it is now. I guess this will be the pattern in American politics for the foreseeable future, the seesaw struggle between progress and retrenchment while the country slowly advances in the middle. I expect we’ll be smoking in workplaces, airplanes, restaurants, bars and nightclubs again. No? Well, maybe that’s one thing we’ve progressed beyond that we can keep.