Imagine the Worst

In 1984, <i>Mother Jones</i> asked writers and artists to imagine what another four years would be like under Ronald Reagan.

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If Ronald Reagan gets re-elected, which I think will
happen, he will continue to be an actor who pretends
to steer the United States of America. He will go on
spinning a great ship’s wheel this way and that, although it
is connected to nothing but the floor of the set. He will go
on issuing orders to a nonexistent engine room, “Full speed
ahead” or “Half speed ahead” or whatever, which will,
then as now, be solemnly reported on the front page of The
New York Times

His compass might as well be a bowl of goldfish and his
barometer a cuckoo clock, for the real power in this country
now resides entirely elsewhere, in the hands of anarchist
money managers and militarists and so on. When Mr.
Reagan performs, I am reminded of a seafaring drama
written for radio by the late comedian “Archie” Ed
Gardner. He cast himself as the captain of a ship in terrible
trouble, and he electrified his crew with this salty command:
“Scuttle the barnacles!”

Mr. Reagan never wanted real power anyway. No actor
ever does. He wanted an acting job, and he got it, and he
will get it again. An actor will do anything to get on stage,
to pretend before an audience to be this or that, while real
lives are being led in some other part of town. It is a credit
to the majority of the American people who vote that they
understand the powerlessness of the presidency, realize
that their function, for the fun of it, really, is to approve or
disapprove hams sent over by Central Casting. Who, for
example, could exhibit the truer grit while guiding a team
of malamutes through a blizzard of soap flakes driven by a
wind machine—Fritz Mondale or Ronald Reagan?

No contest.

A personal note: I made a lot of money, a lot for me,
about 12 years ago—and my publisher took me over to the
Chase Manhattan Bank to meet a money manager. I decided
not to sign up with him, but he promised to do his best to
make my money grow, even as the planet became poorer.
It would keep pace with inflation and then some. As though
to reassure me, he declared that he would not, in effect,
allow his judgment to be addled by patriotism. If the
United States turned out to be a relatively inhospitable
place for my money, with workers getting high wages and
expensive social benefits and so on, he would send it
overseas. How fast could he do this? In two shakes of a
lamb’s tail.

So long, Youngstown, Ohio. Hello, Seoul.

As for militarist anarchy: Nobody, obviously, can prevent
the Pentagon from spending our children’s and grandchildren’s
money however it likes—no matter how foolishly
or wastefully or crookedly. No braking mechanism
exists. I remember The Atlantic reporting years ago that
getting officers of the Army Corps of Engineers to testify
before Congress about where all the money was going was
like “rounding up the Vietcong for an appearance on the
Lawrence Welk Show.” Things have gotten a lot worse
since then, and Caspar Willard Weinberger, who can’t act
for sour apples, has a little steering wheel all his own. He
grabs for the emergency brake, which comes off in his
hand, and the gorilla in the rumble seat wraps it around his
neck, and so on.

It goes without saying that this uncontrolled militarism,
based as it is on the powerlessness of the presidency, is not
only ruinous financially for our heirs but bloody as well. I
read in the Encyclopedia Britannica (1971) about the
Japanese militarism during the early 1930s, which in turn
militarized this country and led to World War II in the
Pacific. The Japanese Army, of its own volition, engaged
regularly in battles on the Chinese mainland. “The civilian
government in Tokyo,” I read, “found itself powerless to
stop the army, and even army headquarters was not always
in full control of the field commanders.” Later on it says,
“Each advance by the military extremists resulted in a new
compromise concession to them by more moderate elements
in the government, and each of these in turn brought
greater foreign hostility and distrust.”

I think to myself, “Gee—that sounds a lot like the CIA
and all those other patriots of ours down in Central America

Reef the spanker and spank the reefer, me hearties.
Open the seacocks! Full speed ahead!

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