The Reagans (2020) Dec 12, 2020 15:08:24 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Dec 12, 2020 15:08:24 GMT -5
The Reagans (2020)
Directed by: Matt Tyrnauer
Directed by: Matt Tyrnauer
Matt Tyrnauer's four-part Showtime docuseries closely examines both Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
At four hours long, you'd think The Reagans was comprehensive enough. Yet when it ends, it feels like it's just getting started. There's so much to unpack in the realm of Ronald Reagan's flawed and simplistic generalizations of government and people that persist today, coupled with stereotypes of Americans that still find themselves entrenched in the public lexicon. Coming off the most divisive presidency in American history, the topicality of it all is the most readily apparently. Reagan's ignorance towards racial tensions/AIDS looks a lot like what we've witnessed in America during this godforsaken year.
Matt Tyrnauer's linear and informative four-part miniseries dives deep into the life and career of Ronald Reagan, and its thesis is predicated on the idea of the "mythmaking" that surrounds the 40th President of the United States. In the present, Reagan is still a figure who summons great adoration from the masses thanks to his fatherly cadence and populist sentiment of getting the government off the backs of working people. Aided by accomplished voices such as Lesley Stahl, Maya Wiley, and Reagan's own son, it unpacks the misguided reverence many of us heap onto a man whose policies helped set the stage for the problems we face as a nation today; including but not limited to income inequality and American resembling that of an oligarchy.
Episode one takes us through Reagan's acting career, which began in the 1930s and saw him rise the ranks as a darling of the gossip magazines. According to Reagan Jr, his grandparents were Roosevelt Democrats, and his family directly benefited from work program grants brought on by the New Deal; a handout from big government in crude terms. Considering as president, Reagan would go on to make sweeping cuts to social and mental health programs, it seems like a glaring hypocrisy. One of many, actually. Almost as bad as the same man going from being the President of the Screen Actors Guild only to undercut and shortchange unions as soon as he entered the Oval Office.
Episode two does a phenomenal job at exploring the rhetoric that would define Reagan's Republican political ideology. Throughout his rise in politics, which culminated in him becoming Governor of California, Reagan called federal aid "a tool of tyranny" and warned Americans that "welfare queens" are leaching off their hard-earned dollars. The coded language greatly appealed to a voter base who didn't want to see their lives hindered by integration, and Reagan and his lackeys knew that sector was large enough to galvanize and propel him to power. Debatably the most telling sequence in episode two is Reagan's persistent fallback answer to integration, which was waxing poetic about how Jackie Robinson broke down barriers and allowed African-Americans into the sport. Beyond his blatant ignorance of the experience of black Americans, Reagan's reliance on a one-in-a-million-situation for black people was emblematic of the blind infatuation people still have with America; one that's so crystalized and infallible that so much as criticizing the country or its practices comes off as traitorous. It's a notion that's done far more harm than good.
Meanwhile, episode three chronicles Reagan's first term in office, which was defined by infusing optimism and patriotism during the recession of the early 1980s. Furthermore, Reagan's policy of lower taxes and more defensive spending in conjunction with a "smaller government" appealed to many Americans. What it ultimately did was signal to the wealthy that they'd be financially set with fewer regulations and intervention. Where Roosevelt's New Deal invested in the middle class with the introduction of social security, mortgage lending, and labor unions, Reagan helped defund and undo much of that to create leaner taxes and more take-home pay for working individuals. When his sweeping tax cuts put the government in a tremendous hole, Reagan did have to raise taxes several times, something you still can't tell a Republican to this day, according to Lesley Stahl.
Throughout the miniseries, and especially in the latter two episodes, Nancy Reagan is shown as a strategic force behind the president. Where Reagan stroked the fears of Americans with a comforting, reassuring voice, Nancy was the quiet one who held a lot of power over her husband's schedules and policies. Nancy is most famous for her "just say no" response to drug use, yet when her husband was actively gutting drug rehabilitation programs and locking up drug users (some for minor offenses), the message rings hollow, no? Almost like Melania Trump spearheading an anti-bullying campaign while her husband spends his days on Twitter calling out those who don't agree with him with intense vitriol. You can't make this stuff up.
Finally, episode four brings into focus Reagan's rocky second term, which was greatly offset by him snitching on himself and his cabinet regarding the Nicaraguan contraband scandal during a press conference, along with his complete mishandling of the AIDS epidemic. None other than 2020 Man of the Year Dr. Anthony Fauci — who Reagan appointed as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — makes an appearance saying that AIDS was "an emerging catastrophe [Reagan] wanted nothing to do with." His base of evangelicals and family-minded Americans saw it as God's revenge, and he believes Reagan did as well. Rather than express concern with the virus, Reagan's silence went on to demonize the gay community, who were seen as unsavory and victims of their own sexual perversions.
Maybe the most damning discovery in The Reagans was Nancy Reagan's dependence on astrology, which guided her life to the point that it ruled her and her husband's schedules. Nancy would find herself talking to Joan Quigley, a famous astrologer, sometimes ten times a day. Considering that these were the people running the country at the time, it's nothing short of utterly asinine that something like the president's press conference schedule was dictated by pseudoscience and comfort food for the soul.
The Reagans amounts to what is ultimately a talking-head documentary, but one with great linearity and directness that more casual viewers will appreciate. I was taken by the way Tyrnauer and company commit to unraveling the mythmaking of a man who used his movie-star good-looks and charm to captivate and ultimately fool a nation into thinking what was best for them was a system that bled the poor and fueled the rich. The insidiousness of Reagan's messaging is one that reminds you how politics makes you watch the hand that's moving as opposed to the one that isn't. It's a world full of green and we all want a bite, although some of us don't even have directions to the nearest dinner-table. That's the America in which we reside whether we like it or not.
NOTE: The Reagans is now available to stream in its entirety via Showtime.
Directed by: Matt Tyrnauer.