Before the start of the Trump Era, Ronald Reagan was venerated by the Republican Party as one of the fathers of the conservative movement. A former Democrat, Reagan became Barry Goldwater’s protégé during the 1960s and switched to the Republican Party. Although Reagan would continue supporting various big-government policies during his tenure as Governor of California, Reagan would later adopt more conservative policies, and he eventually led a rebirth of Americanism that has been renowned and appreciated by many Americans for over 30 years. Today, Donald Trump has been seen as Reagan’s inheritor, and in many ways, he certainly is. In other ways, however, the two presidents are complete opposites. Let’s take a look at what these two have in common, how they differ, and what makes them great.
God and the Patriots
Both Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump were Hollywood men who led celebrity lifestyles before embracing Christianity. In fact, Reagan and Trump are, thus far, the only presidents in American history to have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Reagan had been previously married before meeting his second spouse, Nancy, with whom he would spend the rest of his life with. Likewise, Trump has also been divorced, not once, but twice. Divorce, as described in the bible, is only spoken of as being acceptable to God when adultery is involved.
Despite their celebrity lifestyle, both men would eventually lead a large evangelical base to restore patriotism and Americanism to its Godly roots. In his book, God and Ronald Reagan, Paul Kengor states that Reagan became a Christian as early as 1922. Trump, on the other hand, has been described by many pastors and evangelical leaders, including James Dobson, as a “baby Christian,” meaning that he has only recently converted to Christ. Trump also openly welcomes prayer, and he is on record making the famous statement, “In America, we don’t worship government, we worship God.” Although Reagan and Trump chose God at different stages in their life, it is clear that God has used them in a mighty way. Both presidents came along at a time when our nation was in turmoil, and both used God and Christianity to inspire a rebirth of American values.
Figure 1: Ronald and Nancy Reagan with Reverend Billy Graham
The MAGA Candidates
Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president in June 2015. His slogan, “Make America Great Again,” soon captured the eyes and hearts of millions. The original use of MAGA, however, goes to Ronald Reagan, who used the slogan during his run for the presidency in 1980. As stated earlier, both Reagan and Trump entered the presidential arena at a time when America was at a low point. Under four years of Jimmy Carter, the economy had entered a large recession, the Cold War had escalated, and 52 American citizens were captured and being held hostage by Iranian revolutionaries, following the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Carter made an attempt to rescue the hostages, but the attempt was botched, and resulted in the deaths of eight American service members and one Iranian civilian.
Figure 2: Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign poster
When Reagan entered the arena, Iran knew that the days of riding America’s back were close to an end, and shortly following Reagan’s inauguration, it was announced that Iran had released their hostages. In just four years, Reagan would restore pride and hope to America, and he laid the groundwork for ending the Cold War while issuing a new philosophy: “Trust but verify.” Reagan also revitalized the economy and won the largest landslide election in American history in 1984, securing 49 states with 525 electoral votes. On top of this, he also gave God credit for much of his dream for America.
Flash forward to 2016 and we see America in a similar state of decline. Our economy was in the dumps, our nation had taken a back seat through Barack Obama’s “Lead from behind” strategy, radical Islam was taking over the Middle East, and tensions in the Korean Peninsula were escalating. In short, the world was becoming a giant powder keg with numerous fuses. Just during his first term, Donald Trump has revitalized our economy to record heights, destroyed radical Islam in the Middle East, and brought peace to the Korean Peninsula. Trump has modeled his vision of MAGA off of Reagan’s vision, and Trump has restored a sense of patriotism in the hearts of many Americans.
Figure 3: Donald Trump’s famous red hat
How do they differ?
Although Reagan and Trump are similar in many ways, they are also very contrastable. Reagan was the president who ushered in the famous line, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Trump, in an effort to significantly decrease illegal immigration, wants to see a wall built on the southern border. It must be importantly recognized, however, that the two walls are different. The Berlin Wall was built to prevent victims of communism from escaping to capitalism and freedom. Trump’s wall is meant to keep illegal immigrants from flooding into the country. Though they have significantly different meanings, it is doubted by many that Reagan would have supported Trump’s wall.
Ronald Reagan was also a proponent of free trade, whereas Trump is a supporter of tariffs, when he feels they are necessary. Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on China has sparked outrage from members of both parties. His support for particular tariffs is nothing new among the Right, however, as the Federalist Party (the ancestor of the Republican Party) supported tariffs.
Ronald Reagan adopted a personal philosophy called the “Reagan Rule.” Also known as the Eleventh Commandment, it states, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Reagan was a charmer, and he used his charm to win debates with metaphors and other phrases, rather than insults. When asked if his age would be a liability to his presidency during the 1984 debate with Democratic candidate Walter Mondale, Reagan responded in classic fashion, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I refuse to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
Donald Trump, on the other hand, has been a proponent of using insults toward various members of both parties. Although many times, it seems as though these Republicans or Democrats on the receiving end of the insult may have initiated the reaction (or even at times deserved it), it certainly shows that Reagan and Trump are contrastable on how they have handled political opponents.
Ronald Reagan has been the face of Americanism and patriotism for over three decades. Today, Donald Trump has followed suit. Although their pasts were shrouded in a celebrity lifestyle, both presidents eventually began to lead a large Christian base in seeking and reclaiming America from those who wish to degrade it. Both used MAGA as a rallying cry, and both are famous for their successful efforts in revitalizing America’s economy and restoring peace to certain hotspots in the world. Although they are contrastable in many ways, Reagan and Trump are comparable in many others, and they deserve to hold their place as the faces of American greatness.