America Is Still Haunted by the Ghost of Ronald Reagan’s Corruption

Brian Karem/Salon

America Is Still Haunted by the Ghost of Ronald Reagan's CorruptionRonald Reagan and Donald Trump. (photo: Salon)

21 june 24 (

For the last 40 years, it has been a slide down a slippery slope into authoritarianism and ignorance

America has always been corrupt.

A nation “discovered” by those seeking fame and fortune at any cost and colonized by religious fanatics who were kicked out of every decent country in Europe. When the early European settlers became entrenched on this continent, they displaced or killed indigenous people and brought with them enslaved human beings whose only sin was being born a different color than their captors.

Our revolution was based on a democracy where conceptually all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The trick was that the Declaration of Independence wasn’t about universal suffrage. Women, enslaved people and indigenous people were left out of the equation.

While some believe that stating that we are a government that “derives its just powers from the consent of the governed” is hypocritical coming from slave-owning, misogynistic forefathers who engaged in a genocidal “Trail of Tears,” they would be in error. Our forefathers, flawed as they were, tried to build a “more perfect union.” The words of the revolution and our Constitution, which guaranteed our rights, were not set in stone and did not pass off a flawed culture as a perfect one. The Constitution is a living document and our forefathers were smart enough to see they weren’t all that smart. Their wisdom is seen in their creating of a government that can evolve as our knowledge evolves.

Thus, individual colonies came together for a common cause – to fight the King of England – a monarch. In doing so, each colony had to compromise, but the leaders struggled to move forward toward a more enlightened future. Some of them could see beyond the horizon of hate and divisiveness to a time when all people participated in government – working together toward a common goal. The progress we’ve made in women’s suffrage, equal rights, civil rights, the separation of church and state along with the freedom to worship as you choose speak to the progress we’ve made.

The Civil War, the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Jim Crow segregation, anti-semitism, Christian Nationalism, book banning, Japanese internment camps, and burning Beatle records speak to the entrenched ignorance that keeps us divided.

Famed science fiction author Isaac Asimov spoke about the cult of ignorance and the undercurrent of anti-intellectualism that has been a part of the corrupting fabric of this country since its beginning – the false notion “that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” Thus, disinformation and misinformation have always flourished. It is why many Southerners to this day tell us the Civil War was about “state’s rights” without mentioning that the right they wanted to protect was the ability to own other human beings. It is why today’s far right speaks about the freedom of worship, but really means they want to be free to tell us all how to worship. Our generation’s ignorance leads some to say that we are a Christian nation while it leads others to scream the hoary old cliché, “Separate but Equal.”

When asked by a journalist what he thought of Western civilization, Mahatma Gandhi quipped “I think it would be a good idea,” cementing the notion that America has rarely lived up to its ideals. We have often been called a nation of the “Ugly Americans” but we have tried over our history to do better. Martin Luther King reminded us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” He was killed for such radical thoughts.

Bobby Kennedy, who eulogized King in Indianapolis at a speech before a mostly Black crowd during the height of the Vietnam War quoted the Greek playwright Aeschylus, “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” And then he delivered words we should all live by; “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country.” He was assassinated less than two months after that speech.

In short, America has always been caught between its ideals and its reality. As T.S. Eliot in his poem “The Hollow Men,” reminded us, “between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act falls the shadow.” The shadow is the difference between our darkest actions and desires and our belief in justice.

There isn’t one part of our government untouched by scandal and corruption. When your nation is founded upon greed and religion, this is to be expected. Nor is any political party free from corruption. When it costs an inordinate amount of money to launch a viable campaign, political candidates must depend upon a donor class that is going to demand something for that money – thus we have trickle-down economics, tax cuts for the rich, a two-tiered justice system and a dissolution of business guard rails which leads to monopolies. The days of trust-busters like Teddy Roosevelt? They’re in our rearview mirror.

Today we have the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025, which would destroy the federal labor force, concentrate power into the hands of the few and guarantee authoritarianism in our democracy – think of a King with the power to pull the atomic trigger and you’ll understand. Worse, we have a convicted felon running for president in one political party, a convicted son of a president in another political party. Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Menendez is under indictment for bribery and Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar is under indictment for bribery, money laundering and unlawful foreign influence. Investigations into Republican congressmen with ties to Jan. 6, meanwhile, appear to have stalled out.

All of this could lead you to believe America is a failed state. There are those like Steve Bannon who desperately need you to believe that. They want you to lose hope. Those who preach this the loudest are among those who need it to be true in order to wrestle authority from the people. Those people include a variety of politicians who claimed the January 6 insurrection was a “peaceful” demonstration, those who swear a “Deep State” exists inside the federal workforce and those who believe that despite 60 court cases proving otherwise that the 2020 election was rigged.

We are at a moment in history where many of us simply cannot fathom what is factual information because of the extreme amount of corruption. Thus, many don’t believe the 2020 election results were real. Others, preening for the Apocalypse and the Rapture, choose the way of disinformation and corruption because it suits their needs.

But listen carefully. If someone is telling you that “only I can solve our problems,” then they are lying. Why? Because they didn’t cause all of our problems. We all did. It will take all of us to solve them.

The closest we’ve come, in my lifetime, to living up to our ideals was after Richard Nixon was hounded from office. In the Bicentennial year of our country, we spoke of togetherness. We listened to the same music. We all wore the same wide ties and platform shoes. We practiced civil rights. During the four years of the Jimmy Carter administration, no one burned records, there was no emphasis on banning books, and the Roe vs. Wade decision meant women were empowered to be responsible for their own healthcare. While Carter was a devout Christian, the Christian Nationalists ran for cover. Then came the dark times ushered in by Ronald Reagan and his allies Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch.

For the last 40 years, it has been a slide down a slippery slope into authoritarianism and ignorance. Yet, I naively cling to hope.

Look at it logically. Don’t associate any names to the following statement: The presidential nominee of one party is a convicted felon, a business failure, an adjudicated rapist in civil court who paid off a porn star and advocated grabbing women by their pu**y if you’re a celebrity because you can get away with it and like it. Is there any condition under which such a candidate should be taken seriously for the office of president? That someone is speaks volumes about the corruption inherent in our system.

At the end of the day, you have to listen to the voices of hope, because otherwise you’re giving into the hollow men. Between the conception and the creation and the emotion and the response, the shadow is long and dark – but it is also deceitful and carnivorous. And that way lies madness.


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