He brought back black and white
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Wayne would have been so at home at the fair because he, like Reagan, represented a "younger" America. In a 1971 Playboy interview, Wayne said: "We can't all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks. I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don't believe in giving authority and positions of leadership to irresponsible people." Wayne was also asked his opinion of Indians after wasting so many of them in the movies. He said: "I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country from them, if that's what you're asking. Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival."
Morning in America became nightfall for civil rights. Once in office, Reagan accelerated the systematic erosion of affirmative action. He made William Rehnquist chief justice of the Supreme Court even though Rehnquist opposed integration in the 1960s. He chose an Interior secretary, James Watt, who bragged that he had appointed to an advisory group "a black . . . a woman, two Jews, and a cripple." Reagan wanted to cut the school lunch program, calling ketchup a vegetable, and spun lies about "welfare queens."
Reagan was silent for years on AIDS. He tried to get tax exemptions for racist Bob Jones University. He originally opposed the Martin Luther King holiday before signing it into law. He did veto an extension of the Civil Rights Act in 1988 and defanged the US Civil Rights Commission. He exchanged schools for the prison boom. Reagan's legacy is still alive. The senior President Bush vetoed a major civil rights bill in 1990 and vetoed an increase in the minimum wage. President Clinton slashed welfare. The junior President Bush campaigned at Bob Jones and sided with the white students who wanted to destroy affirmative action at the University of Michigan.
That is not an "All-American" legacy. Reagan projected the sun to mask a scowl. His presidency is indeed extraordinary. It is extraordinary for how easily Americans hail his "optimism." For African-Americans, and all Americans who were targets of his policies, it was open season.
Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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