Reagan as John Wayne in 1980s America

My blogger pal from down under, Greg Maybury, has a new post on his site: Pox Amerikana. It’s about the influence of Reagan on America and the world in the ’80s. I highly recommend it. You can read it at
. I quote a passage here, with my reply below it.

Maybury writes, “As far as The Gipper was concerned, once inaugurated he was the new Marshall in town, and like all good Marshalls do, when the bad guys drink the saloon dry, break the piano player’s fingers, trash the local whorehouse and rob the town bank, then the only thing he can do is form a posse, pack the saddle-bags and go after them in true John Wayne tradition. In character, political mindset and ideology, and in the timing of his ascension to power, Ronnie was ideally positioned to do just that — bring the bad guys to justice and clean up the town. For Reagan the bad guys were the Keynesians and the Communists, wherever they might be found. More than any other modern president, Reagan walked into the White House with cow-shit on his boots, evoked the mythology of Old West with effortless ease, and for better or worse, successfully reinvented some of those myths for the modern world.”

My response: The Gipper-as-John-Wayne analogy works better if we imagine the Duke as the Christian Bale character in “American Psycho,” instead of a cowboy in a simple-minded Howard Hawks’ shoot-em-up. Reagan put the whip to poor people, not the bad guys. And the posse he led out of town were fatcat defense contractors, corporate raiders, savings-and-loan swindlers, and intelligence schemers. It was more of a getaway than a round-up. When the Duke/Gipper rode off into the sunset he left behind a teetering economy, the highest wealth inequity in our history, a cold disdain for poor minorities, an imperialist reputation despised by the rest of the world, and a sick American predilection for the Gordon Gekkos of the world. Reagan was emblematic of conservatives who were engaged in what Galbraith called, “the oldest philosophical sleight-of-hand: a moral justification for greed.”

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