Reagan, as I see it, was responsible for ushering this country into a Fantasyland delusion about its exceptionalism with his "shining city on a hill." What bullshit! He used Hollywood-style charm and smoke-and-mirrors to sell this vision with incredible success to gullible American baby boomers, who wanted nothing better than to believe that they were special. If I have the numbers right, as quoted recently by the conservative NYT columnist David Brooks, when asked if they were "very important people," only 12 percent responded "yes" in the early 1950s. By the 1990s, that number had leaped to 8o-something percent.
It was this naive, Hollywood cowboy vision of America that reached its delusional climax, and for all practical purposes died with the George W. Bush debacle in the Middle East. There are those, of course, who persist in attempting to capitalize on it for political gain, but their voices sound absurdly hollow in a world where fear and respect for America have been replaced by the anger of some, the scorn of others. Here at home, Obama's graver and more modest vision of our responsibilities in the world is used as political bait for right-wing voters, but I believe it will prove to be at once wiser and more realistic than the boastful strutting of his predecessor.
It was also Reagan's vision--and supposed modeling--of rugged individualism that led us into the magical thinking at the root the economic plight in which we find ourselves today. On the one hand, his mass firing of air traffic controllers provided the model needed by his corporate sponsors to start out on the anti-labor, union busting orgy we have seen in recent days. On the other, catering to the merely human greed of the American middle class, Reagan's voice was used to persuade them that they could continue to enjoy the excellent government services that supported their unprecedented standard of living--education being the most important amongst them--without paying for them with their taxes.
Reagan, Reaganism and Reagan idolatry have been used by exploitative powers as the fairy dust that clouds the vision of the American electorate. In the long view of history, I predict, they will be seen as the toxins that allowed us to destroy what became, in the 20th century, the most powerful political entity in the history of the world; and perhaps, in its wake--and without exaggeration, if we don't soon wake up to reality--the planet itself. Not an enviable legacy.