Our television is droning in the background. As we read our home-delivered dead-tree print edition of the news, we can hear in the background that the president is delivering yet another of his “Make America Great Again” speeches.
But glancing at the screen, we discover the president who is speaking isn’t Donald Trump, it is Ronald Reagan. It is a 38-year-old snippet from a classically Reaganesque made-for-TV moment: not-yet-president Reagan, kicking off his autumn 1980 campaign for president.
On the screen, Reagan is looking like the best-ever blend of John Wayne and John F. Kennedy. He is standing beside a large, waving American flag, jacketless and tieless in the sunshine, dark hair blowing in the wind, gleaming white shirt rippling and open at the top two buttons. In the expertly arranged backdrop, we see an expanse of blue sea and the Statue of Liberty, welcoming torch held high.
“Through this golden door has (sic) come millions of men and women,” Reagan is saying. “These families came here to work. Others came to America in often harrowing conditions… “
Our screen’s images change repeatedly as he speaks: old black and white photos of construction workers atop a New York City skyscraper; workers picking crops; a young girl wearing a babushka over her hair; kids in the early 1900s waving small American flags.
“They didn’t ask what this country could do for them, but what they could do to make this refuge the greatest home of freedom in history.” As an old black-and-white photo shows a man in a workman’s cap holding a baby, we hear: “They brought with them courage and the values of family, work and freedom.” Suddenly the black and white image comes to life (it is really an old silent film) — the man is bouncing the baby up and down, cheering and joyously waving a small American flag, as Reagan’s voice concludes:
“Let us pledge to each other that we can make America great again.”
But this week, as we relived that hopeful Reagan Republican moment from almost four decades ago on our screens, we have been deluged by news of how America has reversed its course, not to mention its values, under the latest president who was elected as the standard-bearer of what has become of Reagan’s Republican Party.
And it is no typo to observe that the result of the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies has been to Make America Grate Again.
For weeks we have seen the irreparable and inhumane harm that Trump officials inflicted by implementing the transparently anti-family values policy of separating children (and even babies) from their undocumented migrating parents at the U.S. southern border.
As we are celebrating America’s Independence Day, we have seen the shameful result. Trump officials reportedly have lost track of just where many of the children and parents are and cannot agree to reunite them, even when ordered by U.S. courts.
All of that is what led up to the Reagan reflection we saw on our screens this week. It was a commercial that was aired during the cable TV newscasts by a conservative organization, Becoming American Initiative, which is headed by the Reagan White House’s director of Public Liaison, Linda Chavez.
As the organization’s website explains: “Becoming American Initiative exists to counter the popular misconceptions about immigrants, both documented and undocumented, and provide evidence of their positive contributions to American society and the economy.”
The organization lists a lot of numbers to buttress their assertion:
• $21 billion — the amount immigrants pay in federal, state and local taxes.
• 912,472 — the number of undocumented entrepreneurs who had started businesses in the United States by 2014.
• 90 percent — percentage of individuals eligible for Dreamer Act inclusion and over age 16 who are employed.
But the real conundrum the Republican Party’s leaders face today is the one they see each morning, staring at them from their bathroom mirrors. They alone must explain to the face that stares back at them why they have been so lacking in compassion and courage that they have not confronted their party’s own president and demanded that he return to the family values, principles and deeds that were the foundation of conservatism and their Republican Party.
The failures of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders to confront what they know are Trump’s failures, lies, bullying and shameful misdeeds confounds the greats, ex-greats, near-greats and even the ingrates of what was once their Grand Old Party.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at [email protected].