As conservatism splinters, Reaganism, it seems, is up next for attack. Sectors of the right are deeming it too antiquated, and, by that, they mean “too open to the world.” The late President Reagan’s brand of conservatism is not just socially conservative, it champions free markets at home, free trade with the world, and an America that’s a beacon of hope to the rest of the world and a safe haven to those who seek refuge. Reagan’s “populist” critics would have America isolate itself, shut its doors to new immigrants, and expand government control over vast sectors of the economy. If populists like Tucker Carlson, Ann Coulter, and Oren Cass get a hold of the Republican party as they intend, America would stop being the prosperous, free nation it is today, and the world would become a darker place.
Ronald Reagan changed America and the world for the better. He was pro-life, pro-family, and pro-religion. But what distinguished him from other Republicans is what populists of the American right hate today: He consolidated support for free markets, trade, immigration, and a strong foreign policy.
It’s no secret that Reagan was a fan of tax cuts. On March 13th, 1985, as the Democratic-controlled Congress sought to raise taxes, he said “I have my veto pen drawn and ready for any tax increase … Go ahead, make my day.”
“The best social program is a job” was his mantra, and because he knew that taxes discourage investment and job creation, he sought to reduce them. The two tax bills he negotiated with Congress over his presidency cut taxes for all Americans, and especially for investors and business-owners. Combined with his deregulatory efforts, Reagan’s policies lifted America out of a recession and launched it into one of the longest and strongest economic expansions in history, creating tens of millions of jobs.
Reagan recognized the dangerous influence of an all-powerful government. He understood that government control isn’t something you can opt out of, and that the government will eventually be led by politicians you fear — a warning the populists should heed as they push for government regulation of social media platforms and tech companies. You may want to use the government to protect conservatives on Twitter today, but tomorrow the Left will use that power to actively silence us through government means, too.
Reagan championed free trade with all but America’s enemies. “The freer the flow of world trade, the stronger the tides of human progress and peace among nations” he said in 1986. And he signed many free trade agreements and set the foundations for NAFTA, which, despite all the unfair criticisms it received, was replaced with the USMCA — an only slightly modified version.
Protectionism protects nothing but the profits of a few well-connected companies at the expense of the rest of the country. It’s not hard to understand that America can’t grow bananas or make cheap clothes, but we sure can produce amazing steak, technology, and much more. Free trade recognizes that every country, like every person, has unique talents and that we are better off when we each focus on doing what we do best.
Reagan supported the idea that anyone from any corner of the world should be able to come to America and become an American. He welcomed more refugees than any other U.S. President, in part by allowing Americans to sponsor refugees themselves, and targeted refugee policy to welcome people fleeing socialism. Reagan knew that those who seek to come to America seek freedom, not oppression; so we need not fear cultural change. He understood that immigrants don’t take away jobs from Americans, but rather that they help create even more opportunities through their entrepreneurship and various skill sets.
Rather than continue the failed appeasement policies of his predecessors, Reagan took a strong stance against America’s enemies and established new alliances with other countries to counter them. He won the arms race against the Soviet Union, bankrupting them and leading to the end of oppression for hundreds of millions of people in Eastern Europe. He sought to help freedom-loving people across the world get rid of the murderous regimes that oppressed them. While critics focus on a few failures that every President has, they forget Reagan’s many foreign policy successes. For instance when he saved Grenada from a communist takeover in 1983, an operation so successful that Grenadines started celebrating Thanksgiving day on the anniversary of Reagan’s action. Reagan didn’t just keep America safe, he left the world a safer and freer place, too.
But populists like Oren Cass and Senator Josh Hawley think the Republican party should abandon these long-held principles. They say Reaganism only suited the 1980s. It’s out of fashion. And, they argue, the only way to amass a “multi-ethnic working class coalition” to win elections is to adopt their policies of government control over big companies, tariffs, shutting the door to immigrants, and isolationism.
Ironically, these so-called populists promote policies that aren’t very popular, since free trade and increased or constant immigration are now supported by over 7 in 10 Americans. And the success of Reagan’s policies, economic and otherwise, wasn’t due to timing, but, rather, human nature. Freedom, it turns out, works just fine.
I first heard about Ronald Reagan as a 13-year old student in Venezuela, living through the high inflation, shortages, blackouts, crime and all the disasters caused by the socialist regime of Chavez and Maduro. Among all that darkness, to me and millions of Americans and citizens of the world, Reagan represented hope and everything we loved about America: unashamed support for freedom for everyone, everywhere. That’s what the Right should always stand for. The day they don’t is a dark day for us all.
Daniel Di Martino is a Young Voices Openness Fellow, a PhD in Economics candidate at Columbia University, and a freedom activist who fled Venezuela’s socialist regime. You can follow him on Twitter here.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.