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Reagan – Lessons on Truth and Power


Thirty-six years ago, Ronald Reagan gave a speech in July – this time of year. It was empowering, eminently hopeful. His words are timeless. Twelve years later, a collection of tributes included one by a great American historian, author of The Icon and the Axe, former Librarian of Congress, 42 honorary degrees, James H. Billington. Their words are timely.

On that hot July day, Reagan spoke with conviction. One paragraph stands out, should be read – or seen again – by all who aim to divide America, who fail to appreciate our greatness, who misunderstand that we are rightly proud, and unique in all human history.

Reagan said, Nancy beside him, the wind in his hair: “Believe me, if there is one impression I carry with me after the privilege of holding for five-and-a-half years the office held by Adams, Jefferson, and Lincoln, it is this – that the things that unite us, America’s past of which we are so proud, our hopes and aspirations for the future of the world, and this much-loved country, these things far outweigh what little divides us…”

He continued: “So tonight, we reaffirm that Jew and gentile, we are one nation under God, that black and white, we are one nation indivisible, that Republican and Democrat, we are all Americans. Tonight, with heart in hand, through whatever trial and travail, we pledge ourselves to each other and to the cause of human freedom, the cause that has given light to this land and hope to the world…”

The entire speech is poignant, but this bit makes Reagan’s point. We are what we believe, understand, and appreciate about ourselves and what we aspire to be. At our best, the entire world pivots to our beacon, follows the light, and understands real leadership and freedom’s call.

In less than two years, Reagan would talk Gorbachev down from a crumbling communist ledge, humbly giving credit to him and the Russian people for freedom’s hard advance – ending 70 years of brutal Soviet rule.

Billington, who wrote incisive books on the Soviet Union and Russian people, would write a moving tribute to Reagan in 1998.  In it, Billington celebrates the magic of Reagan and America.

Said Billington: “Ronald Reagan was the single most important person in ending the Cold War, without either major loss of human life or serious concessions. It was an astonishing accomplishment…I had the privilege of observing some of the special magic …”

He is incisive. “The first part of the strategy was to make it absolutely clear at the beginning of his administration that tokenism in arms reduction…would no longer do. By pressing ahead, despite an intimidating chorus of negative criticism, with significant military strengthening, by introducing the wild card of strategic defense, by going beyond normal diplomatic language…Reagan raised the ante to a level the strained Soviet system could not meet.

But more. “His support for human rights encouraged the forces of moral reconstruction…challenging from within the legitimacy of the Soviet rule…”

“The second part of his strategy…was his ability to be a gracious winner. He eased the transition away from communism in a way that did not humiliate, but…honored his opponent who was moving things,” and Reagan instinctively reached out “to the Russian people.”

How did Reagan do that, take what was best about America and use it to leverage freedom for hundreds of millions, not a shot fired? Fortifying our own believe, he exported freedom. How?

“He presented the values of freedom and democracy not just as American exports, but with universal appeal that could draw on the deep religious and cultural traditions of Russia, just as they drew on such traditions in America.” Reagan knew that respect and universal values work.

In short, what did Reagan do – that we might incorporate now into our time? “In the deadly world of high diplomacy, trying to diffuse the potentially most dangerous conflict in history, President Reagan brought into play both inner serenity and an outgoing ability to spread contagious pleasure through a shared story.”

In sum, he channeled America. At our best, we see the world as it is, envision it better, ignore critics and danger, and consciously leverage what we know and the lessons we learned to shape the future.

This month, that many years ago, Reagan captured the essence of who we are – when we are at our best.  He applied it in his time to the biggest challenges we faced as a nation – and he won, with faith and fortitude, grace and graciousness, humor and resolve, patience and persistence.

When we wake up, the burden is on us not to groan at the world, hide, or become snide, but to make of the day what we know it should be, do what he did, turn into the wind, speak truth, and know we can prevail. That was true, is true, works at home and abroad. So, are we ready?

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James Filippello
8 months ago

With the single stroke of a pen, one of my hero’s, President Reagan signed into law the windfall provision to social security that has hurt cops, firefighters and teachers for the last 39 years. Finally, HR 82 seeks to repeal this law. Gone will be the $512 penalty each month that effects over two million retired teachers, cops and firefighters. A great president—Yes, but this one 1983 policy hurt so many for so long, its hard to explain. I’m happy it is being fixed.

8 months ago

President Reagan was a great leader, compassionate, caring, courageous and decisive, No doubt we will never see the likes of him again!????????

8 months ago

Reagan wasn’t power hungry! He was a true leader who valued everyone around him! He loved this country and it’s people, never looking down on anyone. He had a way of helping others see their potential and rising to that potential! Best president in my lifetime!

8 months ago

Thanks for this article, Ronald Reagan was by far the best POTUS in my lifetime. And he recognized the important task of all citizens equal & united as one nation. I do not recall Reagan ever trying to divide us into separate citizens. Pray with me that another Reagan comes along to serve as our POTUS before it is too late. We are not Red/Blue as we are all Americans.

8 months ago

“When we wake up, the burden is on us not to groan at the world, hide, or become snide, but to make of the day what we know it should be, do what he did, turn into the wind, speak truth, and know we can prevail. That was true, is true, works at home and abroad. So, are we ready?”

We had a President like that in the White House a short time ago. Every day he would go about trying to improve our economy, the living standards of the American people, our place in the world, create better relations with both allies and enemies of the United States to prevent wars, etc. He always talked of a better, stronger United States and succeeded to a degree that far exceeded anyone’s expectations given the constant obstructions that were thrown in his path from all directions. He warned us what would happen if Biden became POTUS and he was right. He was right on a lot of things. From a results perspective, he was easily the best President in the last 50 years. However, some folks decided instead to focus on some tweets. The silly stuff that is ultimately truly inconsequencial in the grand scheme of things given all the issues that exist in the world. So Trump was replaced with Biden and its been a steep downhill ride ever since. We have at least another 2.5 years of this “fun” (I would use another description, but that would get me censored here) before we have the prospect of potentially improving things.

So now 18 months later we have the worst inflation in 40 years, our energy independence is gone, we are rapidly depleting the SPR and will soon have to spend tens of billions to fully replenish it at much higher prices. We have shortages of everything popping up as new government regulations are stangling the economy. We’re already in a recession of the government’s own making. Soon we will have rolling brown-outs and black-outs, just like Europe has, because we are intentionally destroying our energy industry and power grid to adopt “green solutions” that are NOT up to the task of providing baseload power to a first world nation. We are currently led by an administration that doesn’t have the best interests of the American people as its central focus, but at least don’t have any silly tweets to complain about. Instead we now have a POTUS who can’t even read a teleprompter without making a fool of himself and who doesn’t know where he is at least half the time. We don’t need to look all the way to Reagan for a Republican President that delivered for the American people!

8 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

Again, thanks for your comment, on target.

Bill on the Hill
8 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

Thanks Paul, Trump is the man for today’s time as his first term accomplishments as president bare this out clearly & most Americans already realize this now, race, creed, religion matters not, everyone had an equal opportunity for a brighter future under President Trump…
A shoutout to RBC as well for an excellent historical reckoning on arguably one of America’s greater presidents, Ronald Reagan & the lovely First Lady, Nancy Reagan…
Bill… :~)

Philip Hammersley
8 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

I do NOT care about “mean tweets” or any window dressing. Trump, like Reagan, loves the country and kept his word. Trump, like Reagan, was HATED by the liberals because he loves the country. The #1 reason to vote for Trump is that he loves the country and the common people. The SWAMP regularly tried to pull Reagan their direction. Examples: they cut out “evil empire” and “tear down this wall” but Reagan said it anyway because it was RIGHT. Reagan and Trump know who the ENEMY is! If you vote for ANY Dimm in ’24, you deserve NO freedom.

8 months ago

Here’s the reality of what will happen if Trump decides not to run and DeSantis declares his candidacy based on the MAGA agenda:

The second that President Trump says he won’t run in 2024 and Ron DeSantis declares his candidacy and says he will adopt Trump’s MAGA agenda, all the very same people who all complained and fought so hard against Trump will IMMMEDIATELY turn their sights on DeSantis. They will all unleash the same tidal wave of non-stop obstruction and lies. The only difference being it will now be targeted at DeSantis 24x7x365, because he would represent the same unacceptable threat to the status quo of how Washington has worked for decades. In less than 5 minutes, the MSM will all be calling DeSantis a “divisive” figure that has to be stopped at all costs. Guaranteed.

Your definition of “reasonable voters” seems to center around a Republican President acting more like your typical establishment Republican. Someone who lets the media and Democrats call him every name in the book, run over him politically at every turn and he just stands there like an idiot hoping to get one mention on the nightly news where he is NOT called Hitler, racist, or a slew of other derogatives. Someone who won’t stand up for either himself or the values he ran on as the country decays more and more due to horrible deals and policies of past administration. The lose with dignity type. Someone who will essentially help manage the decline of the country, while being content to be marginalized by the Democrats and the MSM at every turn. In short, completely ineffective and accomplishes maybe 1/10 of what President Trump accomplished.

Frankly, that type of empty suit but overly polite and deferential type with an (R) after his name would NOT be worth electing, because he wouldn’t accomplish much of anything worth mentioning. Almost every other business execuitve I’ve ever dealt with in my career would consider Trump extremely polite and cordial in comparison to how they would have dealt with some of the people attacking him on a regular basis. Effective business people don’t tolerate open attacks and obstruction without pushing back.

8 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

I have paid attention to DeSantis and he is the only Republican, besides Trump, that I would vote for in 2024. Everyone else currently testing the waters, and there are a lot of them, are all weak tea.

My point was that the second Trump drops out and says the field is wide open, DeSantis will announce his candidacy. Literally 5 seconds after that, both the entire MSM and the entire Democrat party will turn their attention from non-stop bashing of Trump to non-stop bashing of DeSantis. Like flipping a light switch. DeSantis will be labeled as devisive, a racist, the second coming of Hitler and whatever other BS they can dream up.

What you and everyone else have to watch out for is the Republican candidates aside from DeSantis, that the MSM and the Democrats don’t try to smear too much. The so called “moderate” or “reasonable Republicans”, who can supposedly fashion bi-partisan coalitions. The Graham, Rubio, Murkowski types that alternate between saying conservative things and then racing to lend their support to get destructive Democrat legislation over the line. Those are the trojan horses within the party, the RINOs, that they know will go along to get along and pose no real threat to the Democrat progressive agenda.

As for Romney, from what I’ve seen of the mindset of the deep thinkers of the establishment wing of the Republican party since the 1970s, he or someone just like him is exactly what they want sitting in the Oval Office to keep the seat warm between Democrat presidents. A glorified placeholder, who accomplishes next to nothing of any real significance. I remember how Romney was as Governor of Mass for his single term there. What a smoking hole in the ground. He campaigned as a reformer and once in office he governed just like a liberal Democrat. He increased regulations on everything, loved to spend taxpayer money with abandon and was constantly enacting new or higher fees on anything that moved in the state. A total zero!

8 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

Trump would have been better POTUS if he had quit throwing out TWEETS & some of his close WH advisors advised him to quit doing this during his term. And I wonder if Trump ever realized that his TWEETS were being seen & analyzed all over the world.

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