When Ronald Reagan spoke about “making America great again” he spoke distinctly about America as an idea that transcends the borders of our country.
In light of President Trump’s recent comments in a closed meeting, that we accept so many people from “sh**hole countries,” it’s a stark delineation from where the standard-bearer of American conservatism in the last 38 years came from.
From the start of his campaign, Trump and his supporters have been more likely to portray immigrants as people who are coming here either to commit crimes or take jobs away from Americans. Yet here was Reagan, not only celebrating the concept of welcoming people from all sorts of places during his kickoff of the fall campaign, but arguing that it was immigrants who helped build the country and it was the dream that they embodied that was what made America great.
Whatever position one takes on immigration, it says a lot about the dramatic transformation of the Republican Party, from Reaganism to Trumpism. Reagan emphasized the importance of the U.S. as an idea that transcends its mere physical space, whereas Trump is more focused on it as a distinct land mass. To Trumpists, Reagan’s vision was a naive Hollywood portrait of immigration, as demonstrated by the aftermath of the amnesty he signed in 1986, whereas Trump is being more realistic and protective of Americans. To NeverTrumpers, Reagan’s vision was inspiring and hopeful and optimistic and inclusive, whereas Trump has taken things to a much darker place.
He’s absolutely right. And what we will see in 2018 is whether Trumpism versus traditional conservatism is palatable in the same places we saw Trump win or lose.
Reagan didn’t villainize immigrants from poor countries to make his appeal. Indeed, he went to Hudson County, the home of the Statue of Liberty, on Labor Day 1980 to speak to those who knew the value of America’s greatness was what made it so desirable to immigrants. And those immigrants, of which most of us are, understood the American idea.
Here it is in two parts. Watch: