November 11, 2019


Bigotry. Fascism. A threat to women’s rights. Alliances with foreign dictators. A president as entertainer, trampling labor and the environment.

It sounds like the contemporary complaints against President Trump.

Actually, it’s a 1984 newspaper advertisement from “Scholars Against the Escalating Danger of the Far Right.”

“With Ronald Reagan as its performing star in the White House, the Far Right is attempting to take over the Republican Party,” says the ad, published in the November 2, 1984, New York Times and signed by, among others, Carl Sagan, Linus Pauling, Corliss Lamont, Stephen Jay Gould, John Hope Franklin, Gloria Steinem, and Frances Fox Piven.

“Four more years of Reaganism…would see a sweeping attack on civil liberties. Four more years of Reaganism would also bring us closer to a nuclear Holocaust. Unlawful intervention in Central America threatens us with a new Vietnam,” the ad claims.

It says Reagan sought “to stifle women’s rights, including the right to legal abortion.” The ad says that under Reagan, “The Civil Rights Commission is anti-civil rights, the NLRB is anti-labor, the EPA is anti-environment. The Administration champions special privileges for the elite while life for the working people, the poor and minorities deteriorates.”

“There is a scent of fascism in the air,” the ad pronounces, warning that a second Reagan term would unleash “more bigots and chauvinists.”

Fortunately, the Gipper could give as good as he got, appearing in 1981 on the PBS series Ben Wattenberg at Large and saying:

I have known [FDR’s] sons for years. I know their own conversations about what he believed. I think [FDR] always thought that the things that were being done were in the nature of medicine for a sick patient. But people attracted to government and to government positions in those years, in many instances, did not view the medicine as temporary. If you remember, I was assailed during the campaign for saying that many of the New Dealers actually espoused what today has become an epithet–fascism–in that they spoke of how Mussolini had made the trains run on time. They saw in what he said he was doing—a planned economy. Harold lckes [FDR’s secretary of the interior] said that what we are striving for was a kind of modified form of communism. I don’t really believe that was really in Roosevelt’s mind. I think that, had he lived, and with the war over, we would have seen him using government the other way.

Or as the Washington Post paraphrased, “Reagan Still Sure Some in New Deal Espoused Fascism.”

He wasn’t wrong.

* You’d have a much shorter list referring to which Republican president or candidate starting with Coolidge who wasn’t called a fascist. With the possible exception of Gerry Ford — but to use a word popular with all the kids now, he certainly triggered the cast, writers, and producer of the first season of Saturday Night Live because of the (R) after his name.

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