Reagan, the Unifier
|Ronald Reagan, White House photo|
“I have read, and I have been questioned since I've been here about certain demonstrations against my coming. And I would like to say just one thing, and to those who demonstrate so. I wonder if they have ever asked themselves that if they should have the kind of government they apparently seek, no one would ever be able to do what they're doing again.”
Did you notice his tone? Reagan criticized the demonstrators in the mildest terms. He reminded them that the democratic values that he supported gave them the freedom to protest against democratic values. He didn’t call them names; he just asked them to think.
In a wonderful speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Reagan acknowledged that the press often attacked him, but he praised them all the same: “I’m especially grateful for all your efforts to provide a vigorous, probing, and unbiased free press.” He also took time to commend the courage of war correspondents.
Trump, the Divider
|Donald Trump, White House photo|
“And I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news. It’s fake, phony, fake. A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people. And they are. They are the enemy of the people.” In fact, while Reagan, like the Founders of our Republic, recognized that a free nation needs a free press, Trump bristles at any criticism, however accurate. He didn't attack any particular reporter; he attacked the entire institution as "fake news." That differs from Reagan’s praise of a “vigorous, probing, and unbiased free press.”
Or consider how Trump described his political opponents in a recent rally speech: “the more America achieves, the more hateful and enraged these crazy Democrats become. Crazy. They’re crazy. They’re crazy.” Hoping to adopt a new foreign trade agreement, Trump called his political opponents names: “We’re replacing the NAFTA disaster. And we have to get this crazy Nancy Pelosi to put this thing up for a vote.” “Crazy Nancy Pelosi?” How rude, how divisive.
Although Reagan criticized hostile demonstrators in thoughtful, courteous terms, Trump lashes out at anyone who crossed him.
But let's remember that, like Reagan, Trump won the presidency as a conservative Republican. My former professor Charles Urban Larson distinguished between the unifying style of persuasion and the more hostile pragmatic style. This raises issues. Can a politician win elections by speaking divisively? Of course. Can a politician govern with a divisive style? Of course. Hitler did it. For all his many faults, Trump isn’t that divisive. But is that the right way?
P.S.: Reagan smiled for his official photo (see above), but Trump scowled. Does that mean anything? Post a comment below.