Patrick: Let’s make America great again

The phrase “Make America great again” is a reprise. Ronald Reagan used it in his 1980 presidential campaign. So did Bill Clinton 12 years later.

Reagan and Clinton were different in some ways, alike in others, and more like each other than either is like the current president.

Both were great communicators. They were personable, unpretentious and talked to people without talking down to them. They were effective because they were willing to work with members of the other party and respect them.

In his July 17, 1980, acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Reagan said that, more than anything, he wanted his candidacy to unify the country, and his message of shared values and renewed sense of purpose was one for “every American, regardless of party affiliation.”

Compare that to the approach of our current president, who vilifies Democrats, moderate Republicans, the press, Hispanics, Muslims …

The current president, in his acceptance speech two years ago, portrayed himself as the “only one” who could save us.

In 1976, Americans chose another would-be savior and were disappointed. Jimmy Carter was a good man, but not a good leader because he was self-righteous, vindictive and refused to work with his adversaries except on his own terms.

In his convention speech, Reagan referenced Carter’s plea to trust him to fix everything wrong.

“ ‘Trust me’ government asks that we concentrate our hopes and dreams on one man; that we trust him to do what’s best for us,” Reagan said. “My view of government places trust not in one person or one party, but in those values that transcend persons and parties. The trust is where it belongs, in the people. The responsibility to live up to that trust is where it belongs, in their elected leaders. That kind of relationship, between the people and their elected leaders, is a special kind of compact, an agreement among themselves to build a community and abide by its laws.”

What a contrast to our current president, who trusts no one, has no idea of the meaning of servant leadership, but sees himself as the strong man and those who follow him as sheep who would be with him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue.

His base is a cult of personality who have abandoned traditional conservative beliefs.

What the Republican Party believed before 2016 was poles apart from where it is now.

The party of Reagan believed in free trade, not protectionism, in fiscal responsibility, not profligate spending. They believed in NATO and other strong alliances against common enemies, including Russia, which has again become an evil empire, and Islamist terrorism. They were not “America First” isolationists who refused to stand up to totalitarianism, but internationalists, who believed in peace through strength — the strength of a republic that was strong because it was good.

The most striking difference between then and now is how the party’s approach to immigrants and refugees has changed.

Reagan believed America was a “shining city on a hill,” and if there had to be city walls, “the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here,” as he said in his farewell address.

In his 1980 acceptance speech, Reagan departed from his script to affirm the image of America as a promised land and a people blessed by God to be a blessing to others.

“Can we doubt that only a Divine Providence placed this land, this island of freedom, here as a refuge for all those people in the world who yearn to breathe freely: Jews and Christians enduring persecution behind the Iron Curtain, the boat people of Southeast Asia, of Cuba and of Haiti, the victims of drought and famine in Africa, the freedom fighters of Afghanistan and our own countrymen held in savage captivity?” he asked before requesting that his listeners join him in prayer.

What a contrast that great and humble leader’s sense of purpose was to that of a lesser man who ridicules those yearning to breathe free as people from “sh—— countries.”

If we want to make America great again, we should return to the values that made it great and reject the “trust me” demagoguery and despotism of a narcissist who worships only himself. We should again understand that unity, civility, mutual respect, moderation and compromise are at the heart of what it means to be the Great Republic.

Randy Patrick is a reporter and columnist at The Kentucky Standard in Bardstown. He is a Winchester native and former editor of The Sun.