‘Make America Great Again’: The Overlooked Parallels Between Trump and Reagan

By Daphne Bugler

In the past year, the phrase ‘Make America Great Again!’ has been synonymous with Donald Trump’s Presidential Campaign. Indeed, reliving the days of American glory was clearly what the people wanted, as Trump stormed through the election to be the next President. The slogan was plastered everywhere from hats to billboards in 2016, but it’s surprising how few people realise that this slogan also took Ronald Reagan from the Hollywood lights to the Oval Office. This could provide a sense of safety for those worried about the future of America being placed in Trump’s hands, if he could be just another Reagan. The similarities are in fact numerous, but how much can this say about the type of country Trump will create?

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Both Trump and Reagan entered politics as outsiders. Arguably they had some level of political experience; Reagan had been elected the Governor of California twice however, he had never had any experience serving in Congress. Trump had previously run for Presidential Candidate in the Reform Party, but had yet to be nominated. Yet in reality, Reagan had emerged in the public eye as an actor and Hollywood icon. Trump became known for his business endeavours, including owning hotels, and the Miss Universe pageants before he entered the world of reality TV with The Apprentice, and The Celebrity Apprentice. Some have suggested that Trump’s inexperience in the political world could make him an unfit person to handle the affairs of one of the world’s most powerful nations. Through comparison to Reagan however, being outside of the system could provide an advantage. Both Trump and Reagan were elected on the back of economic crises. Not being part of the political institution which was seen to be to blame for all of American society’s problems, Reagan attracted voters who were desperate for change. Despite being a political outsider Reagan succeeded in stimulating the economy, with over 16 million jobs created. Potentially, this supports Trump’s ability to do the same, and live up to his commitment of creating a staggering 25 million jobs within a decade. Being an outsider doesn’t seem to put him at any disadvantage.

Interestingly, one of the most obvious differences between Reagan and Trump is their stance towards Russia. Trump has been incredibly welcoming to Russian support, which greatly contrasts Reagan’s position as a Cold War President. Hopefully, this could foreshadow that Trump may be a positive influence on the world, if he is capable of developing a strong bond with the Russians. More recent suggestions of an arms race beginning between Trump and Putin however, could suggest a further similarity between the two Presidencies may emerge. For now, it is still too early to tell.

Similarity can also be drawn with regards to policy. Ostensibly, one would expect two Republicans to naturally fall in line regarding political belief. This is not always the case, as is clear when Mitt Romney and Donald Trump are compared. Trump’s radical republicanism could be seen to have diverged from traditional republicans, however on close analysis his similarities to Reagan may have been recently overlooked. As can be expected with a President affiliated with right wing politics, both characters supported tax reduction. In Reagan’s time this was referred to as ‘Reaganomics’.

One of the most interesting parts of the Trump campaign were some of the seemingly unrealistic plans that he suggested. Building a wall on the Mexican border which would be paid for by the Mexicans, and banning Muslims from the United States are just a few of his controversial points. Of course it is unlikely that these bills would be passed by the American government, but arguably Reagan had plans that were just as unrealistic. For example, the ‘Star Wars’ plans announced in 1983 by Reagan, also known as the Strategic Defence Initiative, did have a noble purpose of defending the US from the Soviet Union’s nuclear threat. Research began on the programme which would have laser beams reflecting Soviet attacks, however it was deemed too complex and was viewed by critics as incredibly costly. However, whilst both Trump and Reagan’s policies do share characteristics of being logistically unrealistic and implausible, there are crucial differences. Reagan’s plans pushed the advantage in the Cold War to the side of the Americans, as the Soviets believed that the US were further ahead with the production of the SDI than they were. Normally, this could be used to justify other absurd ideas in politics, but there is a line. Trump’s policies are absurd yes, but they are also unreflective of modern values. They can be classed as racist and unwelcoming, and we therefore cannot draw security from Reagan in this case.

An unexpected similarity between Reagan and Trump is their view on abortion. Both characters have taken pro-life stances, and strongly profess that abortions should not be legal. Reagan’s view can arguably be justified in considering that he was of a different time. Abortion was incredibly controversial in the 1970s and 1980s and it is not as surprising that a President could be against it. In contrast, for a President in the twenty-first century, in the land which believes it is built on the principles of freedom, it is more surprising how much support Trump has gained for his anti-abortion views. Even more surprising, is that he has actually gone further than being against abortion, claiming that women should be punished for abortions. With so many challenges facing our modern values of freedom and equality, it is worrying that the leader of the Western world could be a challenge himself.

Trump’s similarities to Reagan have definitely been overlooked, and with the shared slogan it does appear Trump is attempting to evoke a similar style of Republicanism to his predecessor. This is in some respects reassuring, however the most worrying aspects of Trump’s campaign are where he differs from Reagan. Observers of Trump’s controversial policy ideas can draw no security from Reagan’s presidency, and it is likely that everything will remain unknown and volatile as Trump takes to the Oval Office.


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