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Echoes of Reagan in Trump's Clashes With Allies

Take a look at what The New York Times and others were saying about The Gipper in 1982 before you judge The Trumpster in 2018.

The French foreign minister accuses the American president of furthering a "divorce" between the United States and its European allies.

"Deep Trade Rift With Allies Seen," is a headline at The New York Times. "The Roots of Western Disunity" is the headline over another Times piece observing, "Over the last few years, trans-Atlantic differences on foreign policy have become so frequent that most of us regard them as the normal state of affairs."

"Rising Trade Barriers Stir Memories of U.S. Depression," is another Times headline, over an article that begins, "A surge of aggressive economic nationalism, as strong as any in the last half century, threatens to overwhelm the free trade policies that have underwritten the postwar prosperity of industrialized nations." It quotes a House staffer who called the situation "the most dangerous since 1930," which the Times reminded readers referred to "the Smoot-Hawley tariffs, which some say triggered the Great Depression."

The Times also writes about the president's "killing off of top foreign-policy officials," noting that so far the president "has had three national security advisers and two Secretaries of State."

That may all sound like it is recent press coverage of the Trump administration. Actually, though, it was all coverage of President Ronald Reagan, from back in 1982 and 1983.

One of the Times' columnists assured readers last week—that is, here in June 2018—that "Trump isn't Reagan. Reagan generally acted in concert with allies. Trump brazenly acts against them."

The word "generally" does a lot of work there. It's true, in retrospect, that we remember Reagan and the prime minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher, or Reagan and the prime minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney, working together rather than quarreling. But it didn't always seem that way at the time, especially to those relying on a press that loves to emphasize conflict and to portray every minor disagreement as an unprecedented crisis.

What Reagan and the Europeans were squabbling about now seems obscure. "Europe-U.S. Gluten Dispute," was a headline on the front of The New York Times business page from May 1982, over a story reporting, "A fast-selling animal feed known as corn gluten, a byproduct of fructose, the sugar substitute, has emerged as a cause of serious trade tensions with Europe."

A June 1982 Times news article was headlined, "Allies' View of U.S. Pipeline Policy: A Stunning Act That Is Self-Defeating." It reported, "The damage done to allied relations by the Reagan Administration's extension of sanctions involving the Soviet-West European natural gas pipeline project is apparently real. It appears to go beyond the dimensions of yet another trans-Atlantic squabble." The Times had covered the development at the top of the front page, in a news article that began, "President Reagan, in a major rebuff to West European allies…"

Thatcher's complaint about Reagan's decision generated another front-page Times story, headlined, "Mrs. Thatcher Faults U.S. on Siberia Pipeline."

European foreign ministers in June 1982 expressed "grave concern" about the Reagan administration's steel tariffs, explaining that they "should be viewed against the general background of escalating trade disputes between the United States and the community, not just in relation to steel, but also to agriculture, export credits and textiles."

Nor was Europe the only place Reagan was accused of straining relations with friends. Times news coverage of Central America quoted a former American ambassador to El Salvador who claimed Reagan's policy there "alienates our allies in the region."

The Times described a December 1981 clash between Reagan and Israel's prime minister, Menachem Begin, as "what was widely regarded as the worst crisis in relations between the two allies." It said American-Israeli relations had "been deteriorating for months over such issues as the sale of United States AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System] radar planes to Saudi Arabia and the Israeli bombings of a nuclear reactor in Iraq and of Palestinian guerrilla positions in Lebanon."

None of this is to say that Trump will emerge in the end, as Reagan eventually did, as a popular and successful president. Maybe Trump will, maybe he won't. But knowing the history accurately sure helps put things in perspective.

The minority leader in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), faults Trump for "alienating our allies." The minority leader in the Senate, Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), complains, "President Trump is turning our foreign policy into an international joke." The New York Times editorial writers complain that "Mr. Trump would so outrageously, destructively and thoroughly alienate America's closest neighbors and allies."

Reagan came under basically the same criticism 36 years ago, at about the same juncture in his administration. So, at one time or another, has virtually every other successful president. Europe, Canada, and Mexico complained about President Bill Clinton's Iran-Libya Sanctions Act and his Helms-Burton Act imposing secondary sanctions on countries that traded with Cuba. George W. Bush was accused of alienating France and Germany over the Iraq War.

I'm not advocating tariffs, trade tensions, or clashes with allies. But the thing to remember about them is that they are a standard feature of modern American presidencies—as conventional, predictable, and expected as are the attempts by the press to exaggerate their importance.

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of JFK, Conservative.

Photo Credit: Roland Scheidemann/picture-alliance / dpa/Newscom

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    But it didn't always seem that way at the time, especially to those relying on a press that loves to emphasize conflict and to portray every minor disagreement as an unprecedented crisis.

    Thank God that's over. Now we can shoot past the gatekeepers in the Fourth Estate and get our information directly from social media which loves to emphasize conflict and portray every minor disagreement as an unprecedented crisis.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Twitter is the new man-on-the-street, allowing the pulse-taking of America without the messy business of leaving a cubicle.

  • creech||

    Think of how the shit would hit the fan if President Trump actually came out and sent a bill to NATO countries for the disproportionate cost of defense? And that isn't even the hard-core libertarian position of pulling all the troops out of Europe and letting them defend themselves.

  • Yellow Tony||

    Holy shit I have a fantastic idea that'll solve our illegal immigration issues: we retract all of our currently stationed soldiers in Europe and place the brown people in their stead.

  • MJBinAL||

    Except Autralia won't take them.

  • ||

    /On a boat. Official removes blind fold from person.

    Illegal immigrant (looks down at brochure): HEY! This doesn't look like Pismo Beach!

  • Jerryskids||

    Take a look at what The New York Times and others were saying about The Gipper in 1982 before you judge The Trumpster in 2018.

    I must have missed the link that was anything other than the NYT. And you know, a cynical observer might suggest that the commonality of the attacks on Reagan and Trump say less about Reagan and Trump than about the NYT.

  • BigT||

    "the attacks on Reagan and Trump say less about Reagan and Trump than about the NYT"

    Are you insane!? The NYT is THE paper of record. They are absolutely impartial and objective!

    Is the /s necessary for anyone?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    It's pretty fucked up to see someone just walk in here and insult the Gray Lady.

  • NashTiger||

    Duranty and Stalin agree

  • CptNerd||

    Depends on what the definition of "is" is.

  • Cyto||

    Uh, as noted below, "and others" includes Reason.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "I'm not advocating tariffs, trade tensions, or clashes with allies. But the thing to remember about them is that they are a standard feature of modern American presidencies—as conventional, predictable, and expected as are the attempts by the press to exaggerate their importance."

    Haven't you been reading Reason, lately, Mr. Stoll?

    What you're writing here, it's . . . heresy.

  • sarcasmic||

    It's an observation, not a value judgement.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Exactly!

    That's what makes it unpardonable.

    It's almost . . . reasonable.

    And it's about Trump.

    At Reason.

    It's like a post from a parallel dimension where Reason staff hasn't all succumbed to TDS.

  • NashTiger||

    I know, I no longer feel the need to reflexively defend Trump. Or Reagan. Feels weird
    Reagan was too Nationalist on trade. I think Trump may be better, given that he gave away the end game at the G7 - proposing TRUE free trade, with no tarriffs or restrictions at all. Kinda like Reagan on arms control. Strength as a negotiating position.

  • MJBinAL||

    What you're writing here, it's . . . TRUE!

  • I can't even||

    Heresy in more ways than one.

    He is openly suggesting that following the lead of socialist western Europeans - defending them, engaging in their shitty trade deals, etc... - may not be in the best interests of the United States.

  • BYODB||


    What you're writing here, it's . . . heresy.


    Indeed, and it's also to date the most reasoned article regarding Trump that I've read on this website. There's a whole lot of daylight between Trump and Reagan, but even I've noticed some pretty bizarre parallels that few (if any) publications have even mentioned.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Thanks for the article. Stuff like this should be published every day to put our times in better perspective.

  • Yellow Tony||

    I want fewer articles about the POTUS and more articles on, for example, our many ugly and unjust conflicts at home and abroad and incels.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Sex workers and whatever some snowflake said on a college campus last weekend.

    We need more stuff about that, too.

  • Eidde||

    "Not if you had your Daddy's bankroll and Long Dong Silver's dick."

  • Eidde||

    "I mean, I gotta have *some* standards."

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    And we could really use some more articles talking about what racist, "deplorable" people we are for having borders and immigration laws and not just allowing every cholo into the country with no questions asked.

  • MJBinAL||

    I, personally, and eager to see an article from a TRUE libertarian (maybe Shitma?) explaining what a nation is. Then, I will be eager to see an article from one of the TRUE libertarians explaining what leads that libertarian moment where all the socialists and fascists of the world move to the US and vote, to the perfect libertarian society.

    You know, just so the rest of us wildly flawed libertarians can appreciate "The Plan".

  • Sevo||

    "The Trumpster"
    TDS is pernicious beyond the obvious symptoms.
    Ira, put a sock in it. "brock yommama" is no worse than "the trumpster". Do you like posting like some adolescent basement-dweller?

  • Eidde||

    The Trump-man? Trumperino? Donald not Ronald? Trumperooni?

  • MyCroftxXx||

    So… you're not into the whole brevity thing?

  • ||

    I recent saw Trumpolini.

    The person who used it is a far leftist male in his 50s.

  • Iheartskeet||

    "The Trumpster" is the new "The Gipper" I guess.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Well well, well. An article about Trump that flirts with, dare I say gets to 3rd base with, sobriety and perspective.

    More please.

    Unlike other TDS infused nonsesense on this site, this article actual aids in understanding the world.

  • The Iconoclast||

    If you're a Reason columnist and you want to eventually write for more mainstream sites you need to thread the needle between being marginally libertarian and fiercely anti-Trump.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Not to mention get invited to parties, etc.

  • Stilgar||

    1. The first linked story concerns a rift over western europe desires to increase trade with the Soviets after Brezhnev died.
    2. Reagan had sanctions on companies supply parts and tech for the Soviet's oil and gas industry that crimped some euro companies.
    3. Unlike Trump, Reagan had a coherent vision both economically and in for. policy, even if you may have disagreed with it.
    4. Unlike Trump, Reagan did not change his mind publicly or privately multiple times a day/week/month
    5. Unlike Trump, Reagan spoke in full sentences that conveyed complete thoughts.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Those are fair criticisms. He's no Reagan, but nobody is. For better or worse, Trump is our first citizen president in a long long time, and he says stuff that your uncle from Queens might say at a backyard BBQ. Its off the cuff, emotional, and raw. If he was a D would the media be cutting him all kinds of slack ? Magic 8 ball says yes.

    One can either look at his communication style as cunningly manipulative or blithley naive, or both. Beats me, but for sure the reaction of the press is often far far out of proportion to what he says, in particular the actual policies he puts out, which are fairly mainstream.

    On Reagan, I think there was an all but non-stop media narrative that he was a doddering old fool with a seance-attending dimwit of a wife. His rep didn't really take off until after he left office.

  • JoeBlow123||

    There is no arguing Trump is a champion of incoherence.

  • Dana||

    Wow. Finally, a recent reason article that doesn't advocate the extreme.

  • ||

    THIS TIME IT'S DIFFERENT! TRUMP IS MENTALLY ILL!!

  • NoVaNick||

    At 47, I Am old enough to remember the Reagan years pretty well. Especially since my leftist parents didn't let a day get by without claiming that we were on the brink of Armageddon because of something he said or did, much like today.

    Then again, Reagan at least knew when to keep his mouth shut and never openly insulted anyone, he also didn't hook up with pornstars either (that we know of).

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