Ronald Reagan warned in 1964 that “freedom is never more than a generation away from extinction”. It was two years after he became a Republican. He then backed Barry Goldwater for president. It was the year Donald Trump entered college, eventually graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968, and was elected president in 2016.
Two Republican presidents. One warned of the fragility of democracy. The other has done all it can to undermine it, with the tacit, sometimes overt, support of prominent party leaders.
Reagan, in his January 1981 inaugural address, also said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; the government is the problem. He added, “I’m not asking you just to trust me, but to trust your values - our values - and hold me accountable for upholding them.”
Public confidence in government rose under Reagan from less than 30% to over 40%. Today, public confidence is just 20% after a low of 17% during the Trump years.
Trump attacks institutions. Apparently, by design, public confidence has plummeted. It has recovered a bit, but the Biden administration faces headwinds — inflation, climate, Supreme Court rulings on guns and abortion, Ukraine, immigration, and more. – that make trust a hard sell.
Trump’s efforts to undermine the government are in the spotlight during the Jan. 6 committee hearings. and Republicans, not Democrats, hold the light.
On June 23, three former top Justice Department officials — all appointed by Trump — testified about how the former president tried in a meeting at the White House on December 18 to take control of the department. They testified how they and other officials threatened widespread resignations if Trump went through with his plan. Only then did Trump back down on appointing as acting chief justice someone who would do whatever Trump asked. A witness called Trump’s choice “incompetent”. Trump’s former White House attorney, Pat Cipollone, called the White House meeting “unbalanced.”
Peter Drucker, whom BusinessWeek called “the man who invented management,” wrote that “The leaders who work most effectively…never say ‘I.’ … They think ‘we’; they think “team”. … They accept responsibility and don’t shirk it. … It’s what creates trust, what allows you to get the job done. For Trump, trust and accountability do not exist and there is no “we” or team. “Only I can fix it,” he boasted in 2016.
Maybe some Republican leaders and some conservative media are finally coming to terms with the fact that Trump is “unfit for power again.” The Washington Examiner’s conservative editorial board wrote that Trump “is never fit to be near power again” on June 29. It was written in the wake of scathing testimony by a former aide to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Cassidy Hutchinson, before the House Select Committee on the January 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol.
The Examiner’s Editorial Board concluded that Hutchinson’s “testimony confirmed a damning portrayal of Trump as unstable, unmoored, and utterly reckless of his sworn duty to effect a peaceful transition of presidential power.”
Hutchinson provided perhaps the most dramatic and impactful testimony to date. But she is just one of a growing list of Republicans providing damaging testimony before the committee that points to a president who has done everything he can to undermine democracy.
Trump may still think “only I can fix it,” even if it apparently requires witness tampering. But he’s not good at fixing things, he just breaks them and never sees himself as responsible. Rep. Liz Cheney, co-chair of the Jan. 6 committee, reminded the public at a recent hearing that “he’s not an impressionable kid. Like everyone in our country, he is responsible for his own actions and his own choices.
Management guru Drucker said, “…responsible management is the alternative to tyranny and our only protection against it.
At that 1964 Republican National Convention, Reagan reminded attendees that “we do not pass (freedom) to our children in blood. It must be fought, protected and transmitted so that they do the same. and if we don’t, we’ll spend our last years telling our children, and our children’s children, how it was once in America to be free.
Reagan was certainly not thinking of a coup, sedition or insurrection. He understood his duty to the Constitution. Donald Trump clearly does not.
Carl Gustin is a resident and columnist of the North Shore.