Every day I have reason to thank Ronald Reagan and the generations of Americans who sacrificed and fought for the freedom of those of us trapped behind the Iron Curtain.
Today, 25 years after the fall of the USSR, the American values that won the Cold War are considered nostalgic and corny at best, cruel or imperialistic at worst. The ideals of individual freedom, risk-taking, competition and sacrifice have been supplanted by the fake values of safety, complacency and moral relativism.
To my horror, Reagan himself has become a campaign cliché even as his legacy of optimism and American exceptionalism has been trampled on. Reagan’s America was a shining beacon to those of us living in the unfree world. He brought down the Soviet Union by refusing to concede an inch to Gorbachev. Trump compares himself to Reagan while expressing his admiration for Putin and the brutality of China’s Communist dictatorship. He would abandon the Middle East and Israel and discard NATO and nuclear non-proliferation, making the world, and America, far less secure. America needs leadership that will restore confidence in its allies and fear in its enemies, not the other way around.
Still, I understand the attraction. Seven years of the Obama White House’s never-ending campaign of insisting that everything is just fine has sown frustration and confusion among the many Americans for whom things aren’t fine at all. It has contributed to the feeling that our elected leaders care only for perception and posterity, not reality, and set the stage for a reality TV star who has made a career out of faking authenticity.
After Obama’s soothing and sophisticated spin, Trump’s incoherent fury and outlandish promises can feel like a welcome change.
Unfocused anger makes people vulnerable to political snake-oil salesmen touting simple solutions and utopian outcomes. It opens the door to the aggressively uninformed authoritarianism of Trump as well as to Bernie Sanders and his siren song of socialism. (I’m sorry, Bernie fans, but I lived it, and the failures of capitalism are still better than the successes of socialism.)
Trump represents the worst of it all. He is an Angry Bird instead of an Apollo mission. He is a symptom of fake values who trades in false promises and divisiveness. He attacks the immigrants that built this great city and this great country, dodges the taxes the working class can’t avoid and claims to represent the hard-working New Yorkers he exploits. Most alarmingly, he imitates Putin and other dictators by conjuring enemies against whom only he can protect us, the most dangerous type of fascist propaganda.
That Trump rightly boasts of the courage of New Yorkers after 9/11, only to then say we must be afraid of everything, is the height of cynicism.
I believe in good and evil. I believe that the values of the free world are indeed under attack and must be defended. But the greatest threat comes from profiteers of fear, ignorance and hatred like Trump.
He believes that the rights and ideals expressed by the American Constitution are expendable. He tells us that the American experiment of freedom and inclusiveness is over. New Yorkers should tell him that he is very wrong on both counts.