No one in her right mind would make the case that government programs are models of efficiency, and I won’t do that now. But the idea that we should therefore conclude that good governance is impossible and that we should place all hopes for improving our lives in the hands of beneficent and loving corporations is absurd. It was absurd then, and it’s absurd today.
For the life of me I have never been able to understand how so many Republicans talk about their patriotism and their love of the flag and at the same time despise the very government the Constitution created. Is that what patriotism means now — hating governance, but getting all teary-eyed and sentimental about Exxon Mobil?
It’s this enduring frame of mind that still eats away at us. It explains, just to pick one example, Republicans’ hatred of the Affordable Care Act — and why they’ve been trying to repeal it for all these years, even while swearing that they’ll protect so many of its provisions.
Because since Mr. Reagan, it’s been apostasy to suggest that good governance could ever do anything to improve people’s lives. Even the resistance to mask-wearing can arguably be traced back to November 1980: Just look at all the people who find that a mandate to wear a mask to keep other people from actually dying is somehow suppression of their freedom.
Sure, blame Donald Trump for his inept pandemic response. But blame Ronald Reagan for encouraging people to hate their own government, or to view an individual sacrifice for the common good as some kind of tyranny. The pending erasure of Mr. Trump from the White House means that the tone will change in January, from cruelty to kindness, from narcissism to empathy. But Joe Biden will find it a greater challenge to alter the core belief, now held by so many Americans, that their government is the gravest threat to their freedom.
Forty years ago today, Veterans Day 1980, I left my parents’ home and moved to New York City to — I think the phrase is — “seek my fortune.” By the end of that week, I had a new roommate, a young filmmaker named Charlie Kaufman. In months to come, Charlie and I would work on novels and films, each of us at our respective desks, and then head out into the night to close down the bars of Morningside Heights. A very different world had begun — for the country and for me.
The day I left home, I had packed up a U-Haul, filled with all of my junk. Suitcases of clothes. Boxes of books and records. My childhood bed. A little plastic bag containing the ashes of a volcano.