Ask Americans who ranks as their greatest president, and Ronald Reagan will often rank as a top choice. Many cite his sweeping 1984 victory as a sign that the country united behind him; others cite that Reagan was an unparalleled communicator who was able to bring an end to the multi-decade Cold War.
Yet when touting Reagan’s accomplishments, many ignore that Reagan’s economic policies have exacerbated wealth inequality; they fail to mention that Reagan failed to effectively respond to one of the greatest pandemics of the United States’s short history: HIV/AIDS.
Reagan was ultimately a performer with a deep suspicion of folks left-of-center. When people ask how our country got so divided between Republican and Democratic, between conservative and liberal, they might want to study our fortieth president. Between the lines of the “great communicator” lay a message of distrust and division.
He first became familiar to Americans in the 1930s when he took a job as an announcer for the Chicago Cubs. He acted in dozens of films before General Electric hired him as host for General Electric Theater, in which he toured about the country delivering pro-business speeches to GE employees.
Subsequently he embarked upon a full-time career in politics. His biographer H.W. Brands claims that an interest in policy did not guide Reagan’s career shift: rather
“Reagan wanted an audience. He wanted the notice and the applause he had learned to crave as a youth. He wanted a stage. He always wanted a stage.”