“Make America Great Again,” piles of supposed proposals suggesting a formative policy agenda, right-wing Christians in the spotlight pushing hard for a thinner line between church and state, calls for government deregulation, a pandemic haunting the nation and the world. Do these things define the presidency of Donald Trump? Yes. But there was a precursor to the era in which we are currently living; that is the presidency of Ronald Reagan some four decades ago.
In a four part — four hour — miniseries, The Reagans, recently screened on Showtime TV (and now available On Demand for Showtime subscribers), director Matt Trynauer makes the connection between the so-called Great Communicator and the self-described “Stable Genius” evident and undeniable. Reagan lived in a world of movie-made fantasy while Trump governed like a reality show emcee. Both approaches are a bridge too far from fact-based actuality.
A lineup of Reagan-era talking heads — such as James Baker, Ed Rollins, George Shultz among other political luminaries of the 1980s — give personal accounts of their relationship to the Reagans (both Ronald and First Lady Nancy). For example, former White House Chief of Staff James Baker speaks of Reagan’s affability trumping the facts of any given circumstance on which Reagan may have been speaking.
Ron Reagan Jr. makes several appearances in the documentary. His authenticity is convincing, as when he tells of being in various issue-oriented discussions with his father. At a certain point the senior Reagan would raise both hands, as if he were pushing away any unfamiliar information and declare “All I know is…” Ron Jr. took this to mean that his father didn’t want to know any more than what he already thought he knew.
A stunning revelation is that astrologer Jane Quigley was contacted by telephone sometimes several times daily by Mrs. Reagan for stargazing advice as to policy moves and the president’s itinerary. Schedules, announcements, and decisions were often made only after receiving astrological advice from Quigley.
Ron Jr. said that it became evident in President Reagan’s second term in office that the president was experiencing a steep cognitive decline. Only later was Reagan’s condition diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease. Not only was this the beginning of the end for Ronald Reagan; it was the end of a beginning in American presidential politics that resulted in the 2016 election of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America.
The Reagans is available to Showtime subscribers On Demand.