And then Ronald Reagan died.
What a relief! Now the awful present could be buried under two thick layers of the idealized past. The lies they're feeding us about Reagan, about his alleged kind-heartedness, his alleged defeat of the Soviet Union, the allegedly wonderful 80s, and his alleged resolute fight against terrorism (in fact no single president was a greater fool, liar and coward when it came to the fight against terrorism)... It was strange to watch because I WAS THERE. I was alive during the Reagan years, I know what went on!
The lies about Reagan weren't just offensive. They were desperate. They were a sign of profound weakness that I haven't seen here, and quite frankly, watching them really depressed the shit out of me. I realized watching the bizarre stories they spun about a mythical Ronald Reagan served the same purpose as the D-Day glorification. The point is to promote a mythical past over a depressing present.
We're already dead, folks. As dead as Ronald Reagan. Russia, China, you guys can stick a fork in our asses. The meat is so well-cooked that it falls off the bone.
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I took Kanan Road through the dry, jagged desert coastal mountains, out to Simi Valley, to pay my last respects to Reagan's body. It is fitting that Reagan wanted to be buried in Simi Valley, site of the all-white jury that acquitted the LA cops who pulled an Abu Ghraib on Rodney King, a verdict that set off the greatest riots in America this century.
Nearly all of the thousands who gathered to say goodbye to the Gipper were white, aging and lumpy. The networks still won't report this factoid about the racial makeup of the "throngs" visiting his coffin -- instead, they run rigged polls showing that most Americans believe Reagan was "one of the two greatest presidents of the 20th century" or that he's "on my short list of the greatest presidents in U.S. history."
I parked in the lot and took the shuttle bus to the library. The TV networks spoke of crushing crowds, but I didn't see them. Ah well, if that's the only lie that they can get away with now, let 'em have it. On the way to the library, the passengers laughed and spoke about their diets.
The line outside of the Reagan Library moved slowly. It was hot and dry, not a cloud in the sky. We inched forward, into the high-ceilinged anteroom where Reagan's coffin lay. As we got closer, I noticed that each person leaned down into the coffin. I was surprised that this was an open-casket wake. The mourners paused briefly at the coffin, leaned down, and seemed to be saying some last words to the president. An arm moved -- and they leaned up again. When they were through, each passed something that looked like a pen to the person behind them -- the next mourner leaned down, appeared to write something, say some last words, then walk away in tears.
It wasn't until I was two people away from the coffin that I understood what was happening. A lumpy old man with large glasses took the "pen" from the last mourner -- it was a long, thin ice pick with a makeshift cloth handle -- and he leaned into Reagan's casket, and stabbed the corpse in the neck repeatedly, like Joe Pesci in Casino. "Who's the tough guy now?! Huh motherfucker?!" When the man was through jabbing Reagan's corpse, he stood up, tears running down his face. "The bastard...ruined my life..." He handed it to the old woman in front of me, who took the pick and jabbed Reagan's throat, which was now just a torn mesh of dried tendon meat. Incredibly enough, Reagan's corpse kept his famous charming smile. When it was my turn, I saw the Gipper's smile and thought, "Gosh, it's hard to hate the guy." Then I stabbed his neck with the pick, and handed it to the weeping yuppie behind me, who cried about his 80 hour workweeks as he jabbed away.
When Ronald Reagan took power in 1981, Americans lived completely different lives. Health care insurance was a given for nearly all working Americans. Downsizing -- the concept of mass layoffs in order to boost a CEO's bonus -- hadn't entered the vocabulary. Neither had outsourcing. Working parents came home from work before sundown and ate dinners with their families. Unions were strong, and the industrialists felt a social responsibility to ensuring their workers' well-being. This was all reflected in the income differential: in 1979, the average CEO earned 30 times his average employees' wage. For some reason no one wants to remember this part of the past -- because it's too depressing, and speaks too obviously to the real decline in America.