Some of my younger friends are freaking out about Trump, wondering how we’ll get through his presidency. For those of us of a certain age though this is déjà vu, a return to the days of Ronald Reagan. Though many people lionize him in retrospect, he was a train wreck through and through.
I was young when he came into office and my only memory of his first term is being interrupted in gym class to an announcement he had been shot in an assassination attempt. My first inkling of him as a politician came from a high school social studies teacher Roy Buri who constantly made fun of Reagan’s statements and policies. I laughed at Buri’s characterizations but I also began to internalized them. He was a legend at the school and had reportedly provided a safe haven in the 1970s for students organizing against the Vietnam War. Retro bonus: he even looked a bit like Bernie Sanders!
When I graduated and moved onto a mostly conservative college, I would stay late at nights in a basement lounge talking with friends in about how we could deal with the era we were living. I remember an epiphany that even though the media were telling us to believe certain things because that was the mainstream national discourse, we didn’t have to. We could be independent in our actions and convictions. Yes, that seems obvious now but it was a major realization then.
So what did we do? We protested. We spoke out. We knew government wasn’t on our side. For those losing friends to AIDS, there was deep mourning and righteous anger. There was a melancholy. A lot of my world felt underground and gritty. I started writing, editing a underground weekly paper on campus (really the start of my career). I figured out that the geography department was full of lefties and spent enough time there to earn a minor. Most of all, I worked to de-normalize the Reagan and Bush St Administrations – the deep corruption of many of its officials and the heartlessness of its policies.