The Reagan Revolution

from the book

The Praetorian Guard

by John Stockwell


[The] revolution may have been misunderstood and underestimated by many Americans. President Reagan and his revolutionaries were not mincing words. They intended to effect a permanent revolutionary change to the U.S. system of government. They planned to catch the pendulum as it swung to the right and weld it in place, where it could never swing back to the left. Like committed revolutionaries, they were profoundly irreverent of sacred institutions.

Reagan's first term in office was deliberately provocative. He preached that nuclear war was survivable; that we might drop "demonstration" weapons on Europe to intimidate the Soviets. He joked (once accidentally, on a live radio show) that he had already launched U.S. missiles against the Soviet Union. Jerry Falwell, who preached that nuclear Armageddon might be God's instrument for taking his chosen up on high, was a regular visitor to the White House. Reagan was openly contemptuous of environmental concerns: "If you've seen one redwood you've seen them all." He appointed James Watt, who systematically opened millions of acres of government land to commercial exploitation, to the Interior Department and Ann Burford, who used the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect corporations that were dumping and poisoning.

Reagan willfully assaulted the human services infrastructure in the United States, boasting that he had eliminated over 1000 programs that served lower income groups. He proposed that ketchup and pickle relish would suffice for vegetables in school lunches. He raised taxes for the poor and middle class while slashing them by 60 percent for the ultra-rich.

He put Elliott Abrams into the Human Rights Division of the State Department with orders to dismantle it. The Reagan administration sent the files of confidential testimonials that Pat Derian, under President Jimmy Carter, had accumulated from refugees from repressive countries to the police in those countries. Then the Immigration and Naturalization Services deported the refugees to countries where brutal police were waiting for them at the airports.

President Reagan and his attorney general, Edwin Meese III, whose personal corruption came under investigation, ridiculed the plight of the poor and challenged the Constitution itself, saying that it was only a piece of paper. Meese repeatedly asserted the principle that arrested people were to be considered guilty until proven otherwise. Reagan put his and Meese's California friend Luis Guiffrida in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which laid plans to suspend the Constitution, declare martial law, and intern several hundred thousand people without due process. Secretary of State George Shultz lobbied vigorously (with indirect success) for a pre-emptive strikes bill that would give him authority to list "known and suspected terrorists" within the United States who could be attacked and killed by government agents with impunity. Shultz admitted (in a public address in October 25, 1984) that the strikes would take place on the basis of information that would never stand up in a court of law and that innocent people would be killed in the process. He insisted, however, that people listed would not be permitted to sue in court to have their names taken off that list.

Many other laws were passed in favor of the national security complex at the expense of civil liberties. By the end of his eight years in office, President Reagan was also boasting that he had appointed 45 percent of the sitting federal judges. He tacitly encouraged the corruption and irresponsibility that eventually led to the Savings and Loan scandal and to 200 of Reagan's officials being indicted, investigated, or fired for corruption.

Only Ronald Reagan, the "Great Communicator" (also called, by the Washington Post, the "Great Prevaricator") could have been such an effective point man for an irresponsible "revolution" that assaulted and violated the most profound U.S. traditions and institutions.

Praetorian Guard