The rotten fruit of the Reagan Revolution

by | Apr 1, 2020 | coronavirus, Editor's Blog | 16 comments

April will be the most devastating month our country has suffered in decades. Tens of thousands of Americans will die in the coming weeks and there’s very little we can do about it. We’ll read stories of hospitals overwhelmed, people dying alone on stretchers in hallways, and shortages of ventilators and basic medical supplies like masks and gloves. Through it all, Donald Trump will tell us what a great job he’s done and that nobody could have seen it coming. It’s the Big Lie. 

The pandemic we face was not only predictable, globalization made it virtually inevitable. It was just ignored. The response by the United States will likely lag that of almost every other developed country. It will certainly fall woefully behind places like South Korea that not only recognized the threat, but prepared for it. 

We got in this predicament because forty years ago Ronald Reagan and his free marketeers told us that government was the problem, not the solution. “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” he told the country. He began slashing government programs and demonizing anything designed to help the American people, regardless of its necessity or success. 

Reagan and the free marketeers used poor people as scapegoats, deriding them as lazy and telling the American people that their tax dollars were going to support “welfare queens.” They crowed about tax cuts that gave hundreds of dollars a year to average families while taking billions out of the treasury to give millionaires. They restructured the tax code to protect people who make money from investments and shifted the tax burden onto people who make their living as wage earners. As the price of education and health care rose because of less government investment, Republicans told us we couldn’t afford to help people or prepare for disasters because we needed to live within our means. 

As the Reagan Revolution gained steam and the free marketeers hawked their Randian view of the world, a right-wing media industry rose to promote it. Rush Limbaugh and talk radio kept the heat on godless liberals and worthless layabouts looking for a government handout. Republican political consultant Roger Ailes upped the distortion game with Fox News. Today, the network has morphed into the propaganda wing of the Trump administration, spreading disinformation and praising the president in ways that would make North Korean media blush. 

The devastation awaiting us in the next few weeks was not only predictable but largely preventable. Countries that prepared for a pandemic are minimizing its impact. Here in America, we couldn’t afford to spend that type of money for something that hadn’t even happened. The market didn’t demand it, so the private sector didn’t prepare for it. 

Trump didn’t systematically dismantle government. He slashed it with broad strokes and put political hacks in positions that demanded expertise. Republicans sat back and cheered, ignoring everything from his moral failings to his grifting family because the stock market kept going up. When the pandemic was looming and the impact became obvious, they claimed Democrats were irresponsibly hyping a crisis to hurt the president. Now that the looming disaster is upon us, they’re blaming Democrats for distracting the golf-playing president with impeachment hearings.

Today’s crisis wasn’t unexpected. It was forty years in the making. Demonizing government has left essential services from schools to hospitals pitifully underfunded. Our $20 trillion deficit is the result of underfunding government, not overfunding programs. In April, we’ll see the results of putting the efficiency of the market above the well-being of the people. It’s the rotten fruit of the Reagan Revolution.


  1. Rick High

    Another Righteous Truth from Thomas. Thanks.

  2. Sam Kittner

    So glad I saw this Thomas. You are so right.
    You nailed it.
    To run a good government you need people who believe in good government. Not destroyers. While there will always be stories of waste in “normal times” and plenty of blame to go around in any crisis situation, we need good government run by people who work and have experience in government.
    The “private sector” is for people making money and that’s fine…no problem…I do that too…but don’t bring private sector selfishness to managing/dismantling the public sector, please. It’s destroying (if not destroyed) our government being responsive to the people.

    • Thomas Mills

      Thanks, Sam. I hope you are well and that everyone is safe.

  3. Jesse White

    This may be my favorite column ever from you. I have felt this way for years, and you did a great job of outlining this sordid trajectory. I posted it to Face Book.

  4. cocodog

    Saint Ronnie, as he was known among California Republicans, was first introduced to politics by a combination of political movers and shakers. Walter Knott founder of “Knott’s Berry Farm” and the late Senator Berry Goldwater acting together, they facilitated Ronnie’s raise to political fame. Prior to their intervention, he was a second-rate cowboy actor who hosted a few TV series. In addition to being a snitch (informant) for the Feds, he was president of the screen actors guild and host of the TV series “Death Valley Days”.

    His cowboy style coupled with the acting ability to quickly learn lines catapulted him into political fame. Paying close attention to his more memorable statements, like “tear down this wall”, had its origin in one of his B westerns addressing the need to remove a range fence.

    A great thinker and statesman, Ronnie was not. Nor is this orange clown with the 50s “duck tail” hairstyle who is attempting to build a following. Hopefully, come November we will see the end of his less than competent leadership.

    Ronnie was known to tell a few tall tales, like his so-called welfare queen, but he was nowhere near the class of Trump when it comes to prevarication.

  5. Rick Gunter

    This is one of your best columns. Thank you!

    For decades, the Republican Party has not been a governing party. They don’t know how to do it. President Eisenhower in my youth knew how to do it. Even Nixon had his moments until Watergate tore down his playhouse. The Bushes? The Trump administration makes the father and son president look like Mount Rushmore material.

    Look, when Trump was elected, I really, really believed somehow there would be hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by his recklessness and ignorance. I thought it might come from, say, a nuke “accident” or some such. But we, tragically, are on our way to such carnage, which he, ironically, spoke about from the earliest days of his presidency. I am not smart enough to think the deaths would come from a virus. But the result is much the same.

  6. Norma Munn

    I can’t disagree that Reagan and those who supported and cheered him on bear a great responsibility for the past 40 years of catering to Wall Street and corporate America, nor do I disagree that our incredibly large debt made larger by an insane tax cut early in the Trump years made it more difficult for us to spend the money needed to put policies and processes in place to diminish the impact of this virus.

    However, somehow Trump and the GOP Senate managed to spend whatever they wanted to when in control for two years. The bottom line problem behind our lack of preparedness for this virus is not money; it is stupidity and incompetence, a cruel indifference to ordinary people’s lives, and a president whose ego is most charitably described as narcissistic.

  7. John Higgins

    Why does anyone with any sense believe that a political party that hates government can do it well?

  8. Glenn Tetterton-Opheim

    Reagan waged class warfare on the middle class, the working class, as well as the war. The war has continued unabated since before he came into power in 1981, with some pauses during the Clinton and Obama administrations. Trump has taken this to an even more disturbing level, so that now with a crisis, and a failed response hundreds of thousands or even millions of Americans will die. This is a bitter fruit indeed.

  9. Daryl Bowman

    After Reagan started cutting taxes at the federal level, the states followed suit resulting in college tuition going up and current graduates carrying huge loans. Read the book ‘Dark Money’ and see the horror of Reagan’s revolution.

  10. James Trovato

    The botched management of this Pandemic should make the electorate comes out like never before to make sure POTUS does not get to wreak havoc on our nation for another term. If it doesn’t, we get what we deserve!

  11. Mike Leonard

    Long before the Cult of Trump there was the Cult of Reagan. I lived in the DC area when he died and those cultists went like lemmings to his funeral and built little altars in their homes with photos and books celebrating their false god.

  12. Siobhan Millen

    Amen and amen.

  13. Shel W. Anderson

    I’m a fan of your writing, TC Mills, and it was a double take to see the ad in the middle of this article – a Trump campaign ad.

  14. Ed Harrison

    Reagan wasn’t slashing programs in April 1980, because he wasn’t in office yet. But his nasty attitude about government had been out there for many years, and he was certainly saying it daily as a candidate.

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