Philadelphia Stories: From Reagan to Trump to the DNC

So Donald Trump Jr. went to the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi this week, where he said, vis-a-vis the Mississippi state flag, which is the only state flag that still invokes the Confederacy, “I believe in tradition.” (h/t Ellen Tremper)

Those Neshoba County fairgrounds are just a few miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi. The place indelibly associated with the murder of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner in 1964.

So that tells you a lot about Donald Trump. Junior and Senior.

But it also tells you a lot about the Republican Party.

Thirty-six years ago, almost to the day, Ronald Reagan, then a candidate for the presidency, also went to the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi. There, he said, “I believe in states’ rights.” That, of course, had been the slogan for decades of racial segregation and Jim Crow.

And it also tells you something about the Democratic Party.

For Ronald Reagan is the man whose name improbably electrified the Democratic National Convention meeting this week. In another Philadelphia.

On Wednesday night, President Obama said:

Ronald Reagan called America “a shining city on a hill.” Donald Trump calls it “a divided crime scene” that only he can fix.

And on the final night of the Convention, a former Reagan official enchanted a crowd of cheering Democrats with this one-liner (itself a nod to another DNC one-liner; there’s more intertextuality at a political convention than there is in a grad school seminar):

Donald Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan.


  1. fosforos17 July 30, 2016 at 1:50 am | #

    “Donald Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan.”

    The slogan we need to dedemonize a lesser evil to Clinton the neocon!

  2. s. wallerstein July 30, 2016 at 9:54 am | #

    Ask the people of Nicaragua how wonderful Reagan was.

    • Bill Michtom August 7, 2016 at 3:44 pm | #

      And ask the people of Honduras how wonderful Obama and HRC are.

  3. kwp July 30, 2016 at 2:34 pm | #

    I’m not sure this is more relevant to today’s post or this one (perhaps neither), but I want to suggest some complications (though not contradictions) to your view:
    1) For most of my (political) life, Republicans have laid sole claim to concepts of patriotism, opportunity, optimism, etc., and Democrats have conceded, as if to suggest there is something implicitly anti-American about concern for the poor, government intervention, environmental regulation, etc. It was gratifying to see those symbols and concepts turned to a different use this past week, with an inspirational vision that was more pluralistic.
    2) The resonance of symbols (e.g., cities on a hill) changes over time, so the use of those may have had an ironic element as well. Obama may have been speaking of a very different city.
    3) Most of the prominent speakers this week were neoliberal Democrats, so they would repudiate Reagan, but rather attempt to claim him. The new boss will likely be very similar to the old boss.
    4) Nonetheless, there has been undeniable progress in both the party platform and in the rhetoric. I know neither of those things are guarantors of change, but I suspect they are preconditions. What Sanders spoke to and motivated will not be completed with the election of Clinton. If it does indeed represent a fundamental shift, and I believe (and hope) it does, I think it will be apparent in more “local” manifestations first.

    My biggest fear is that this election leaves every Republican for themselves and, after some initial victories (federal spending on infrastructure, GHG emission reductions, Supreme Court nominations), Clinton and other neoliberals will side with “moderate” Republicans against any legislation that significantly shifts power away from elites. Sanders may need to challenge her again in ’20.

  4. Joshua S July 30, 2016 at 6:10 pm | #

    The fact that Ronald Reagan can indeed pass for a “liberal” in the year 2016 indicates clearly that the Overton Window works. This to me is the worst thing about Trump, regardless if he gets elected or not: His extremism only makes the neoliberal screwing of America by Democrats much more palatable to so-called “liberals.”

    I’m sick of Democrats AND Republicans distracting everyone with social issues so that neither of them bother to address economic issues that affect those who make less than six digit annual income figures. In this context, neoliberal Dems benefit from the Southern Strategy just as much as the Republicans.

    While it may be important to address social issues, to address them to the exclusion of the larger economic issues that underpin them will solve nothing. And he one person that DID try to address economic issues for a change was told to STFU. And so with each election cycle, the Dems will creep further and further to the right, while Republicans become more unhinged, dragging everyone into their capitalist dystopia.

    The plebs asking for a little representation is just asking too much I guess.

  5. Donald Weightman July 31, 2016 at 4:15 pm | #

    During the DNC group of activists (I was one of them) forced the Philadelphia police and DPW to take the Mississippi state flag down from a Broad Street (main drag) lamppost.

    OK, it’s only a symbolic victory, but doesn’t it say something about pressure forcing the Overton window to the left?

    Saunders (mostly) understood this, Clinton does not. Unfortunately Trump does, too. (Obama exploited this kind of power in 2008, and then promptly dissolved it in 2009.)

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