Bizarrely, the 2020 U.S. Presidential election is looking more and more like the paradigm shift of 1980 that launched the Reagan Revolution.
The similarities between 1980 and 2020 are strange and fascinating. Those similarities include:
- An unpopular and widely disliked populist president. In 1980 it was James Earl or Jimmy Carter (D-Georgia). In 2020, it is Donald J. Trump (R-Florida). For instance, the 10 to 11 January 2020 Ipsos ABC News Poll estimates 56% of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the Iran crisis.
- A growing and confusing crisis with Iran that is disrupting American politics. In 1980, it was the Hostage Crisis. In 2020, it is the chaos and controversy stemming from the assassination of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani.
- A growing rivalry with an increasingly aggressive superpower. In 1980, it was the Soviet Union. In 2020 it is the People’s Republic of China.
- Widespread unease and displeasure with the economic direction the country is taking. In 1980, Americans were nervous about rising imports, inflation, and unemployment. In 2020, Americans worry about income inequality, technological unemployment, and the retirement crisis.
Is Bernie Sanders the New Ronald Reagan?
Finally, the 2020 presidential race, as it looks in January 2020, has some eerie parallels to 1980.
In particular, the 2020 Democratic Primary reminds me of the 1980 Republican Primary. In 1980, the Grand Old Party’s (GOP) primary was won by a popular candidate who had lost the 1976 Republican primary.
That candidate was Ronald Reagan (R-California) who was opposed by the Republican establishment. Reagan was popular with grassroots Republicans, but party leaders feared him as a dangerous radical.
Party leaders disliked Reagan because he was an idealist dedicated to conservatism. Yet voters loved Reagan for the same reason.
Today, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont); who lost the 2016 Democratic primary, could be leading the 2020 race for the Democratic nomination. Sanders is an idealist who is dedicated to socialism just as Reagan was dedicated to conservatism.
Grassroots voters love Sanders, just as grassroots voters loved Reagan. One reason for this was that voters were tired of corrupt and hypocritical establishment politicians who had no real values or ideals.
The Establishment is Wrong (Again)
In 1980, the Republican establishment was hell-bent to stop Reagan. Establishment Republicans; incorrectly fearing a general election loss, rallied to wishy-washy moderate George H. W. Bush (R-Texas).
Today, the Democratic establishment is against Bernie. Thus, establishment Democrats; and their mouthpieces in the media, are promoting wishy-washy moderate Joe Biden (D-Delaware).
Establishment Democrats oppose Sanders because they think he is “unelectable.” However, in 1980, establishment Republicans thought Reagan was “unelectable.”
In reality, Reagan won an impressive majority in the 1980 Presidential election. For instance, Reagan won 489 Electoral Votes to Carter’s 49. In addition, Reagan won a clear majority of the popular vote; 43.902 million to Carter’s 35.484 million.
Therefore, the Republican establishment in 1980 was dead wrong about Reagan and the beliefs of the American people. However, nobody saw the analysis’s flaws until election day.
Why the Establishment was wrong in 1980 and wrong today
Moreover, in 1980, many establishment Republicans viewed Reagan as a nut and a dangerous extremist. In 2020, many establishment Democrats view Sanders as a nut and a dangerous extremist.
For instance, the establishment feared Reagan’s fervent anti-Communism and criticism of the Soviet Union. The belief was that Reagan’s tough stand against Communism could trigger World War III.
History; however, proved Reagan right, and the establishment wrong. Instead of World War III, the morally and economically bankrupt USSR collapsed over the next decade. In 1991, the supposedly all-powerful Communist Party sneaked of the backdoor of the Kremlin as the Russian people turned on them.
The Sanders Revolution
In today’s world, the establishment seems to be just as wrong about Sanders. The Democratic establishment claims there is no popular support for Sanders’ policies such as Medicare for All.
Yet, Bernie attracts incredible levels of grassroots support. For instance, Sanders raised $96 million from five million individual contributors in 2019, Politico estimates. Additionally, Sanders raised $34.5 million in individual contributions in the last quarter of 2019.
In fact, the supposedly unelectable Bernie is raising more money than mainstream Democrats, Politico notes. Yet Democrat leaders, like Republicans in 1980, refuse to acknowledge the reality.
Thus, we could be seeing a political paradigm shift similar to the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s. Predictably, both the media; and political professionals, fail to see that paradigm shift happening.
Ultimately, however, the Republican establishment embraced Reagan. Notably, George H. W. Bush was Reagan’s running mate in 1980.
Progressives are Coming Out of the Closet
Today, Leftists are coming out of the closet and becoming vocal as Conservatives did in the 1980s.
To explain, before Reagan, Americans conservatives were afraid to admit their beliefs. Back then, conservatives were afraid of being denounced as right-wing nuts or Nazis for their beliefs.
A few years ago, many American progressives were afraid to come out of the closet out of fear of being denounced as left-wing nuts or Communists. Today, American leftists are out, active, vocal, and increasingly aggressive.
In fact, today’s progressives remind me of the vocal and passionate conservatives of my youth. Additionally, today’s conservatives remind me of the spineless and timid Democrats of the 1980s and 1990s.
It is too early to tell if today’s progressive activism will lead to a serious and sustainable political movement. However, the similarities between today’s unrest and unease and the anti-establishment mood of 1980 are interesting.
Notably, the country was in an anti-establishment mood in 1980 and it is in an anti-establishment mood today. In addition, we are repeating the bizarre situation of 1980.
That situation is a populist outsider politician becoming the face of the establishment. In 1980, Southern leftist populist Jimmy Carter (D-Georgia) was the face of an unpopular liberal establishment. In 2020, populist and white nationalist Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) is the face of an unpopular conservative establishment.
In 1980, the anti-establishment conservative populist Reagan was able to defeat the progressive populist Carter, by calling Carter an establishment tool. Today, I think the anti-establishment leftist populist Sanders could defeat Trump by portraying the Donald as an establishment puppet.
1980 vs. 2020
There are vast differences between 1980 and 2020 we must examine.
There was little chance of war between the United States and Iran in 1980; for instance. To explain, in 1980, neither side wanted to start a war out of fear of Soviet intervention. The Ayatollahs ultimately behaved themselves because they were afraid of the Red Army.
Today, with little chance of Chinese or Russian intervention. American and Iranian hawks are free to beat the war drums and take extreme actions that could trigger fighting.
In 2020, the economy is superficially better with a booming stock market and low unemployment. In 1980, the economy was terrible with high unemployment, a dreadful equities markets, and inflation. However, as in 1980, the economic situation of average Americans is getting worse.
In 1980, the Soviet Union was a declining power with a dysfunctional economy and stagnant technology. Today, the People’s Republic of China is a rising power with a growing economy and increasing technological might.
Finally, in 2020, the American Left seems to be on the ascent while the American Right is declining. In 1980, the Left was in Decline as the Right rose. Only time will tell if the American Left can repeat the Right’s successes of 1980, in 2020.