Recently unearthed recordings of former President Ronald Reagan calling Africans "monkeys" made the point that Trump is Reagan's ideological heir harder to deny.
The October 1971 comments, which were revealed Tuesday by historian Tim Naftali in an article for The Atlantic, concerned Reagan's anger that the United Nations voted to recognize the People's Republic of China.
"Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did," said Reagan to then-President Richard Nixon. "To see those, those monkeys from those African countries—damn them, they're still uncomfortable wearing shoes!"
Nixon laughed—but took Reagan's representation of the more racist members of the Republican Party seriously enough to bring the then-California governor's concerns to his Secretary of State William Rogers:
The president wanted his patrician secretary of state to understand that Reagan spoke for racist Americans, and they needed to be listened to.
"Tell me again how Donald Trump's Republican party isn't the Republican party you remember," said Slate journalist Ashley Feinberg.
Tell me again how Donald Trump's Republican party isn't the Republican party you remember https://t.co/IV6cheZVYR
— Ashley Feinberg (@ashleyfeinberg) July 30, 2019
Historian Bob Spitz, whose years of research into the 40th president generated the book "Reagan: An American Journey," told The Washington Post that he was stunned at the revelations.
"In all of my very careful research into his private papers, I never found an instance where I felt that Reagan was racist," Spitz said.
Spitz wasn't alone. The Never Trump group known as the Reagan Battalion, which regularly equates critics of Israel with anti-Semites and criticizes left-leaning Democrats for their embrace of "socialism," refused on Wednesday to call Reagan's decades-old comments racist despite this reporter's repeated requests for clarification both on Twitter and in private messages.
Instead, the Reagan Battalion digressed into two rambling diatribes on communism and then accused critics of the former president of trying to divide Americans by describing Reagan's remarks as racist.
"Our statement is out there for everyone to read, we understand that your life mission is to divide Americans along racial lines, we will never be part of your game," the group told this reporter in a tweet. "We strive to make ours a better country for every American, regardless of skin color, religion, or race."
The group did at one point on Wednesday acknowledge that Reagan's remarks were "wrong."
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But the remarks appeared to be clearly racist to a number of observers who pointed out that the racism on display in the tapes correlated with the 40th president's policies in office.
"Reagan also legislated racism and demonized the poor," said journalist Ameshia Cross. "This is par for the course."
Writer Jon Bershad noted that Reagan's racism was not out of character for a man whose homophobia led to the deaths of, at minimum, thousands of Americans from AIDS.
"I can't believe that recording of Ronald Reagan being racist," tweeted Bershad. "Who would have guessed that a noble patriot who let tons of gay people die of AIDS was a bigot?!"
The message of Reagan's remarks, journalist Tom Kludt said on Twitter, appeared easy to understand.
"Everyone say it together, with feeling," said Kludt. "Ronald Reagan was racist as shit!"
Techno legend Derrick Carter, in a tweet, expressed his vindication over his childhood critiques of Reagan that were frowned upon by teachers.
"He didn't like blacks, he didn’t like gays," Carter said. "My grammar school principle admonished me for drawing devil horns on a picture of him...talking about respect our leaders."
"I laughed," said Carter. "I knew."
He didn’t like blacks, he didn’t like gays.
My grammar school principle admonished me for drawing devil horns on a picture of him...talking about respect our leaders.
Ronald Reagan's Racist Conversation With Richard Nixon - The Atlantic https://t.co/WNAGZAiMQ8
— Ninja Simone (@blucu) July 31, 2019
In an opinion piece Wednesday, FAIR editor Jim Naureckas said that ahistorical readings of the past, like in Reagan's case, can have major damage for the future—something the U.S. is seeing today in Trump.
"The historical amnesia that allows people to be surprised that Ronald Reagan was a racist does more than sanitize the image of a historical figure," wrote Naureckas. "If you imagine that Donald Trump invented the political technique of appealing to white supremacy, you're going to have a hard time figuring out an effective way to overcome it."