CARRYING OUT THE SACRIFICE
Actually carrying out the sacrifice would not be an easy task. When Ronald Reagan declared in his first address to the country that “the American economy was in the worst mess in half a century,” real Gross National Product, total industrial output, total jobs and real personal in-come were the highest of any nation in history. The only sense in which America could have been considered to have been in “the worst mess in half a century” was because of our overwhelming guilt from such un-paralleled prosperity. Given the extraordinary vitality of the American economy, Reagan’s main problem was to find ways to halt the growth of this prosperity for a couple of years while sacrificing symbols of our greedy desires in order to cleanse us of our guilt. This would not be a simple task.
What would help Reagan most in slowing down the economy would not be just the power of the government, as important as that was. Even more useful would be the shift to puritanical attitudes by most of the country as he came to office. The resurgence of puritanical strictures against enjoyment could be seen everywhere at the beginning of the Eighties, not just in the extremes of the Moral Majority. “New TV Season: Sex Is Out, Old Values In,” U.S. News accurately proclaimed,(1) and the same was true for the movies, beginning already with Star Wars and Superman, both based on traditional heroic scenarios. The ethos of the Eighties preached hardness and viewed pleasure as weakening, an attitude by itself guaranteed to reduce spending.
To back up the shift to the new Puritanism, new myths had to be invented. For instance, “permissive attitudes toward sex” were held responsible for what was thought to be an “epidemic of teenage pregnancies,” in order that sexual freedom for teenagers could be
|THE FIRST BEGINNING CRACKS||69|
attacked. That the actual statistics showed teenage pregnancies steadily declining since 1957 (from 96 per 1,000 to 53 per 1,000 by 1980) was con-veniently ignored.(2) Even many liberal educators shared this shift to puritan attitudes. As just one example, Dr. Sol Gordon, the founder of National Sex Education Week, whose books had been instrumental in Opening up sex education for teenagers, now proclaimed that the “recent increase” in teenage pregnancies was “a national social disaster.” “I can’t think of any good reason for teenagers to have sex,” he told the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists. “Sex is a health hazard to boys and girls.”(3) The same sort of conservative shift was evident in all areas of American life, as the older psychoclass reacted negatively to the freedom and prosperity of the previous two decades.
|Given this puritanical mood, the people of America were, if anything, ahead of Reagan in his early months in their demands that something be done quickly to reduce American prosperity. When he still hadn’t passed his sacrificial budget by the summer of 1981, his Gallup disapproval rating (poison index) began climbing at a faster rate than any previous president’s in American history. He would have to move fast if he were to prove to us he could be a successful sacrificial leader.By early summer, Reagan’s media imagery had moved from “strong” to “cracking,” months earlier than Carter’s, and he had to admit at his June 16, 1981 press conference that “we are seeing the first beginning cracks”-ostensibly in the Soviet empire, but really in his own image. Something would have to be done soon to assure the people that he was, indeed, determined and ruthless enough to carry out the internal sacrifice. . . and, if necessary, the external sacrifice as well. This “something” took the form of two carefully-staged actions designed to convince the country that he could carry out sacrifices. These actions were (1) the destruction of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), and (2) the shooting down of two Libyan jets.||
Reagan moved to the “cracking” stage earlier than Carter.
We thought that Reagan was weakening
|The firing of the PATCO workers, termed “an ambush” by one neutral observer,(4) was set up by Reagan’s letter of October 20, 1980 to Robert Poli, head of PATCO, promising him, in return for his election support, that he would back PAT-CO’s demands and “will take whatever steps necessary . . . to adjust staff levels and work days commensurate with achieving a maximum degree of public safety.” In the next six months, Reagan’s negotiators encouraged PATCO to believe that they were open to union demands and that a strike could be part of the bargaining process, only then to have Reagan summarily dismiss the 12,000 PATCO members and bankrupt the union because they went out on strike.|
According to one Presidential aide, Reagan “wanted to jut his jaw out . . . He wanted to be tough.” The action was applauded by almost everyone in America, from the whoops of joy in the business community for “finally sticking it to the unions to the two-to-one margin of approval by the public in the Gallup poll and The New York Times editorial which called the firings “a commendable precedent.” Precedent it indeed would be, but mainly for a ruthless attitude toward workers in the recession, not for union-busting.
The carefully-staged destruction of PATCO even impressed the Kremlin. According to Richard Pipes, Reagan’s advisor on Soviet af-fairs, “Seeing photographs of a union leader being taken away in chains-that surprised them and gave them respect for Reagan. It showed them a man who, when aroused, will go the limit.. “(5) Back in 1970, when the postal workers struck, they were rehired. But this was the Eighties. This time, as The New York Times reported it, “the White House leadership team, smiling and joking among themselves, looked on at 11 A.M. Monday as Mr. Reagan announced his deadline and brushed aside suggestions that his first move toward the controllers might have been less severe. ‘What lesser action can there be?’ he said, his face expressing amazement. “(6)
Equally staged was the shooting down of the Libyan jets a few weeks later. Libya’s leader, Muammar al-Qaddafi, played a very special psychological role for the Reagan period-that of Reagan’s “evil double.” When cartoonists and others wished to portray elements of the repressed, “out-of-control” sadistic image of Reagan, they often drew a Qaddafi figure using a familiar Reagan symbol.(7) For instance, Qaddafi was shown swinging a sacrificial sword – Reagan’s most often-used symbol during his first year – with sadistic glee and lots of blood, even
|though the real Qaddafi had no connection with swords. Like all split-off feelings, our attitude toward Qaddafi was thoroughly irrational. He was not just the leader of a small country. He was something very close to our hearts – evil personified, “a cancer which has to be removed,” according to Secretary of State Alexander Haig.(8 )The Qaddafi-devil symbol would play an important role whenever America needed a figure of pure evil for group-fantasy purposes, a place to put our own sadism.||
Qaddafi was pictured as swinging Reagan’s sacrificial sword.
Qaddafi was therefore chosen as an appropriate target for Reagan’s first foreign killing. The Libyan shootdown was as carefully planned as the PATCO firings. Although in 1980 Jimmy Carter had avoided holding Sixth Fleet maneuvers in the disputed Gulf of Sidra waters near the Libyan coastline, Reagan knew that in order to have a shootdown he would have to provoke the Libyan planes patrolling close to the shore. The operation was staged as carefully as a Hollywood movie. First, the exercise was moved from July, when the Defense Department had originally planned it, to August, to avoid media conflict with Reagan’s budget victories. Next, Reagan personally gave instructions for the American planes to shoot down the Libyan planes, since the Navy’s standing rules of engagement often allowed them to ignore confrontations such as these.(9) White House technicians then installed extra media equipment and phones in Los Angeles, where the President would be staying during the shootdown, in order to be able to handle the extra teletype and phone traffic that would result. A week before the exercise, the White House encouraged Newsweek to run a feature article describing the coming “testing” of Qaddafi, giving the Libyan leader plenty of notice that he was being challenged. As the F- 14 Tomcats headed toward the Libyan coast on August 19, they met two Libyan SU-22 jets. Both sides said the other fired first. The superior American Tomcats quickly destroyed the Libyan planes, as planned. At least one of the Libyan pilots died in the shootdown. It couldn’t have been more successful.
Reagan had staged the incident so carefully he wasn’t even awakened when the planes were shot down. Unexpectedly, this led to media speculation that he was not “in control” of the shootdown – whereas he was actually more like the director of a thoroughly – rehearsed stage play who didn’t come to the opening. Reagan laughingly admitted later that
he already knew when he went to bed the battle was going to take place: “If our planes were shot down, yes, they’d wake me up right away. If the other fellows were shot down, why wake me up?”(10) The staged quality of the whole event was so flagrant that, according to one reporter, “When he saw his top assistants for the first time the morning after, Reagan performed a bit of pantomime, impersonating a Western gun-slinger drawing six-shooters from both hips.”(11) Again, he was John Wayne. Finally, as planned, he went to have his picture taken wearing a “Commander-in-Chief’ cap aboard the aircraft carrier Constellation, watching Navy planes being launched, giving the impression in the media that he had been physically present during the Libyan shootdown.
The meaning of the shootdown was understood by everyone in America. As Ed Meese put it, “We’re not going to war. We’re just shooting ’em down.”(12) It was our first taste of blood under Reagan, wholly unnecessary for any diplomatic purposes, but vital as a question put to the American people as to whether it would be allowable to attack small nations in the future in order to make us feel good. The media answered with an exultant “Yes.” Time thought killing Libyans was fun: “A YANKEE DOODLE DAY: Victory In The Air, Fun At Sea.. “(13) The Daily News headlined Reagan’s boast: “RON ON LIBYAN INCIDENT: ‘WE’VE GOT THE MUSCLE.’ “(14) The New York Post saw the attack as having shot down Reagan’s critics:
DOGFIGHT BLASTED REAGAN’S CRITICS
President Reagan’s closest advisers believe last week’s inci-dent off the coast of Libya should quiet those critics who charge the Administration has failed to articulate a foreign policy. “That dogfight did for us what 20 presidential speeches never could,” a high ranking official said.(15)
In the press conference on the shootdown, Secretary of Defense Weinberger and General Gast of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had to lie about the planning for the incident, claiming that “no specific instructions” were given to shoot-but they nevertheless looked so jubilant that one reporter was moved to ask, “You said that they carried out their mission extremely well. It seemed as though you are almost proud of the way. . . ” Weinberger interrupted testily, “I don’t think it’s necessary to try to do any amateur psychoanalysis at this time.”
Like the PATCO firings, the shootdown of the Libyan planes was crucial to our group-fantasy aims. It was the revenge of the old psychoclass for relative American restraint and resulting humiliation in Vietnam and Iran. And it was a promise for the future, accomplished in a meaningful way, through action, “better than 20 presidential
|REVENGE OF THE OLD PSYCHOCLASS||73|
speeches.” The major media carried no protests about the shootdown. Both sides of the political spectrum applauded Reagan for his “decisiveness and strong leadership,” and for his quick action, so different from Carter’s civilized restraint. Time’s Hugh Sidey, a Reagan supporter, reported that “Pollster Richard Wirthlin last week hustled his latest sampling out to Reagan in California. It showed deepening support across the country-a feeling that Reagan’s recent actions, from his vic-tory over the air controllers right up to his air victory over Libya, have clearly been in the national interest.”(16) The Los Angeles Times’ Charles William Maynes, a Reagan critic, agreed it was good to attack small targets: “You don’t have to agree with the Reagan Administration’s overall approach on key issues to admire its tactics . . . It moves decisively when the target is small, unpopular and manageable. Both the con-tinuing conflict with the air controllers and the new crisis with Libya, different as they are, fit this pattern.”(17) Political commentators instinctively connected the PATCO and Libyan shootdowns, as though by those two symbolic actions during the months of August 1981 something im-portant for America had been decided. They were right. Reagan felt it in his body when he impersonated John Wayne the gunslinger, shooting from the hips. Since in politics the most important communications are conveyed in symbolic action rather than in words, the two incidents were questions from Reagan to the American people, and our praise for both actions was our answer, our authorization for more of the same in the future. The destruction of PATCO authorized the internal sacrifice, and the Libyan shootdown authorized the external sacrifice. Now we really were Reagan’s America, united in blood guilt, through our praise and our silence, for the sacrifices to come.
|By September, the internal sacrifice was begun in earnest. “Just about every major economic indicator is now confirming that economic activity fell off a cliff in September,” said one Wall Street broker, “and the magnitude of the drop is much larger than anyone anticipated.”(18) The high interest rates produced by the squeezing of the money supply caused a severe drop in sales of cars and homes and an even more severe drop in exports.(19) As consumer demand dried up and capital equipment investment plummeted, output fell, inventories built up and unemploy-ment began its record climb to an official figure of 10.8 percent, a figure con-||
Reagan was seen as strangling America.
America watched passively as Reagan carried out the bloody sacrifice.
|siderably lower than the reality, if dropouts and the partially employed are counted.The reaction of the Reagan administration to the disastrous news was to increase the pain wherever possible. “The only corrective action the President was con-sidering was further reductions in civilian spending Stockman’s 0MB has prepared a list of $32 billion in bloody new cuts in everything from food stamps to Head Start programs.”(20) The imagery of “bloody cuts” was repeated everywhere in the media.|
As political columnist Joseph Kraft put it, “There has been blood all over the floor and screaming galore,”(21) an apt image for the human sacrifice which was going on all around him. Yet Kraft, like most of us, managed at the same time to deny the real human sacrifice. His phrase “blood all over the floor and screaming galore’ ostensibly referred to government department heads’ budget battles, not to live Americans being killed. Reagan, too, man-aged to acknowledge the bloody sacrifice while at the same time denying it. The problem in America, he told the country in his September 24, 1981 address to the nation, was that we had “hemorrhaged badly and wound up in a sea of red ink.” The imagery was quite accurate, both in terms of government borrowing going on (he was having to borrow a record $14 billion a month to keep the government running) and in terms of the number of deaths Reaganomics was causing (over 3,000 a month at that point). But his denial was so effective that when he spoke of hemorrhaging “a sea of red ink” he was actually referring to previous administrations, while in fact his program was producing double the deficits and victims of any previous administration.
In demanding that the nation undergo even more “sacrifices” for his “crusade,” Reagan consistently voiced our need for human victims while effectively denying our guilt for the sacrifice. One device used by the media in reinforcing this denial was to split the image of the sacrificer from the actual sacrifice. Thus, Reagan would be pictured on one page
|WE ALSO HATED HIM FOR IT||75|
|of a magazine as holding an ax, but without a victim. Then, on the next page, the same ax would be shown cutting off a victim’s head, but Reagan himself would be nowhere in sight. In this manner, we could not only save ourselves the guilt which we would have otherwise felt if we had openly portrayed our leader as a killer of innocent Americans, but we also could hide the anger that we felt toward him for being our hired killer.For even though we had delegated to Reagan the job of chief executioner, we still didn’t like to know he was killing our neighbors. Since at some level we knew precisely what he was doing for us, we also hated him for it, and in several incidents in the fall of 1981 we showed evidence of renewed death wishes toward him. Cartoons showing people wanting Reagan dead began appearing for the first time since his shooting. “Wall Street” was pictured as wanting him to “Jump.” The “Dems” were shown carrying him in a coffin to a cemetery. Yet such open portrayals of death wishes were rare, being too little disguised for comfort. The death cartoons soon stopped, and instead a rumor swept through the Stock Exchange that Reagan had had a heart attack.(22) Obviously our death wishes were not to be denied an outlet of some sort. We therefore constructed a new group-fantasy in order to provide a container for those death wishes: we imagined||
We split Reagan’s image off from the actual killings.
Death wishes toward Reagan briefly appeared again.
that it was the Qaddafi-devil, not us, who wanted to kill Reagan. The CIA, our chief delegate in concocting paranoid threats, produced a list of names and photos of a “Libyan Hit Squad” supposedly hired by Qad-dafi to kill Reagan. It did not matter that there was no proof of any such plot. That several of the informants had peddled phony information previously, that some of those named as part of the “Qaddafi Hit Squad” were actually anti-Qaddafi Amal Shutes, that the “detailed evidence” which Reagan and the CIA promised was never forthcoming and that FBI Director William Webster ended up admitting that no con-firmation of any hit squad was ever made and “acknowledged the infor-mation may have been planted to make U.S. officials look silly”(23) made little difference to our group-fantasy. The Qaddafi-devil and his “Hit Squad” now contained both our death wishes toward Reagan and our death wishes toward our sacrificial victims. The “Hit Squad” had to be real, because it contained an important part of us, our sadism toward both Reagan and toward our fellow Americans, which, as we saw earlier, had been symbolized as deadly insects (boll weevils and gypsy moths).
Qaddafi was pictured as a scorpion containing our rage and poisoning America.
|Qaddafi, too, must therefore be a deadly insect, so he was drawn as a scorpion, ready to poison America. He was a perfect container for all our rage, against Reagan and against our victims. Once again it was our comedians who gave away the motive behind the incident. When a television comedian asked for American donations to a “National Hit Team of Libya,”(24) the audience laughed and cheered wildly. Our death wishes toward Reagan were not very far beneath the surface.For Reagan personally, the “Libyan Hit Squad” filled the important psychological function of splitting off from awareness all these death wishes. He could label Qaddafi “deranged . . . a mad dog,”(25) order U.S. citizens to leave Libya and for a time rest easy that his paranoid fears about “The Most Dangerous Man in the World,” as Time called Qaddafi, were isolated far away from our shores. In a world full of tens of thousands of atomic bombs, where a half trillion dollars a year is spent on arms, for the leader of so impotent a country as Libya to be called “The Most Dangerous Man in the World” reveals the growing irrationality of our group-fantasies during this period. The more we proceeded with our internal sacrifice, the more dangerous the world felt to us. Although actual terrorist activities were not increasing at this time,(26)|
|we began to discuss “the growing international terrorist network” as though there existed a well-organized army, running from Russia through Libya to Cuba and Central America, ready to poison us at any time. When our cartoonists tried to picture this “terrorist network,” they drew a very strange-looking figure, bristling with weapons, spreading across the globe, looking suspiciously feminine for some reason. To understand this feminine imagery, one must first look at the infantile source of paranoid imagery in the political unconscious in somewhat greater detail.For most people, the first few years of life were spent mainly with their mothers, since it has only been in the past decade that very many fathers involved themselves with the daily care of their young children.(27) When the young child feels himself or herself to be bad, it is the mother’s angry look which is most feared and which presages the punishment to come. Therefore, a period of national punishment like that of Reagan’s America, when we imagine we must be punished for being bad and having enjoyed ourselves too much, is visualized as being presided over by disapproving eyes. Sometimes these eyes are seen as those of foreign enemies, but more often they are pictured as simply floating above us, strange, unidentified staring eyes.||
Qaddafi, the alter ego of Reagan, was labeled The Most Dangerous Man in the World.
The “world wide terrorist network” was seen as strangely maternal.
It is this image of persecuting eyes staring at us, demanding punishment, which invariably surfaces during Times of Sacrifice. These
In November 1981, staring eyes burst out everywhere in the media.
paranoid eyes are the same ones as the staring eyes of the wolves in the famous dream of Freud’s patient, the Wolf Man, who then broke out in a full-blown paranoid psychosis after the dream.(28) Staring eyes can be found during times of crisis in every country and every age, from the all-powerful “Eye of Horus” of ancient Egypt to the supposedly “hypnotic eyes” of Adolf Hitler which led Germany to its “great sacrifices.”(29) The same thing happened during Reagan’s Time of Sacrifice. During a two-week period in November of 1981, almost every newsweekly in the nation featured the hypnotic eyes of this imaginary punitive parent who was thought to preside over the nation’s sacrificial punishment. The image of the mother’s staring eyes was also used by many newspapers when report mg on Sandra O’Conner, who was chosen to be the first woman on the Supreme Court. Her manner, reporters said, was “so stern, her stare so penetrating, that some young lawyers call her ‘laser eyes.’ “(30) Thus “laser eyes” became the Supreme Judge of our Time of Sacrifice, and we devoted most of our efforts during her confirmation hearings to ques-tioning her attitudes toward “killing babies,” i.e., her views on abortion, as though these were all that mattered about her.
|If the Supreme Judge of our punishment was often symbolically seen as a stern mother, those punished were usually symbolically seen as children, in accordance with the basic family drama in our unconscious. This could be seen in the choice of political symbols, as when the victims of budget cuts were often portrayed as children or as when the government was shown as killing rather than pro-tecting innocent young animals – Bambi’s head being displayed mounted on the office wall of Secretary of Interior James Watt, who was supposedly hired to protect baby deer. Even when a general symbol for the economic sacrifice had to be portrayed, more often than not the victims were drawn as tiny little figures, as though they were symbolic babies.||
The government was seen as killing instead of protecting the young.
But here again the media metaphor was also carried out in reality, in the deaths of real children. When cuts were proposed by Reagan in Social Security payments to the elderly, the national outcry was so great that he was forced to back down. But when cuts were proposed for Aid to Families with Dependent Children, school lunches, child care food programs, food stamps, child abuse programs and dozens of other government activities directly affecting the welfare and lives of children, few spoke up, and those few who did were puzzled by the impotence of their cries. It was not just that, as one commentator put it, “kids have no constituency  to protest; battered babies don’t vote.”(31)
Those sacrificed were often seen as small as children.
|It was not just that, as one commentator put it, “kids have no constituency to protest; battered babies don’t vote.”(31) Parents vote, and if hurting and killing children had not been essential to our Time of Sacrifice, the outcry of parents would easily have stopped the slaughter of the innocents as quickly as it had stopped the proposed cutback of Social Security checks.Yet article after article was written during the winter of 1981-2 on the rise in infant mortality in areas hardest hit by budget cutbacks and unemployment, on the over one million additional children on the poverty rolls, on the six million children who had lost health coverage because of layoffs of their parents, of the half million children who had lost health services because of the closing by the government of 239 community health centers, of the hundreds of additional children who would be battered to death because of Reagan’s cutback of almost all of the funds for the highly successful National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect-in all, over twenty million children suffering needless pain, hunger and death with barely a mourner in sight.(32)|
During those cold winter nights, we all watched television and saw nightly scenes of children sleeping in the snow under bridges because their parents had been laid off and scenes of newborn infants dying on camera because of lack of funding to the government’s program of diet supplement for poor pregnant and nursing women. Yet we never really felt guilty for the dead and suffering children who passed before our eyes. “The Reagan safety net is a myth,” reported television commentator Bill Moyers. “People are dying as the result of these cuts.”(33) Yet we felt nothing. Nor did Reagan. When attacked by Rep. BoIling for having caused “human suffering,” he retorted: “Look, my program hasn’t resulted in anyone getting thrown out in the snow or dying.”(34) Denial was total. What had happened to the guilt?
The usual answer to this question is that we avoided guilt through use of various rationalizations, by saying it was someone else’s fault, not ours, by blaming everything on “the impersonal forces of the economic system” and so on. Yet rationalizations as transparent as these would not by themselves have been enough to still our conscience when incidents happened which arose to expose them.
|WE WANTED PEOPLE TO BE HUNGRY||81|
As one instance, during the Christmas week at the end of 1981, the government, to show that Reagan was a caring president, released 30 million pounds of cheese to be given to the hungry Americans whom they had previously said did not exist. As millions of people lined up for their five-pound blocks of cheese, it was uncomfortably obvious to all that the government had the means to alleviate hunger during the recession by giving away much of the 2.4 billion pounds of surplus milk, cheese and butter which it had bought and was storing to hold up dairy prices. In fact, the government could give away this food at a cost that turned out to be less than the $1 million a day it cost to store it. With the gigantic stockpile being added to at the rate of $6 million a day, it was obvious that handing out only a tiny portion of our huge growing stockpile of dairy products-a stockpile which grew by two-thirds during the reces-sion years-while warehousing the rest at a higher cost and letting it eventually rot meant we wanted people to be hungry. It was as transparent an act of cruelty as President Roosevelt’s order to plough baby pigs into the ground during the Great Depression (again, to hold up farmers’ prices) rather than giving them to hungry Americans to eat. When one Congressman complained that he could not understand “why food was withheld and destroyed even as people went hungry,” another, who voted to cut back on the distribution, replied that having to deliberately cause people to go hungry was “perhaps the greatest paradox that we face in our country today.”(35) Since such moments of clarity of motive so often revealed the transparency of our economic rationalizations, the question remains: what happens to our guilt? Why do we almost never feel any guilt for the death of innocent people we hurt and kill through political means?
The answer to this question is that we displace our guilt into criminals. Every period in history when we increase our sacrificial victims through economic means also shows a parallel increase in our efforts to punish criminals. Reagan’s Time of Sacrifice was no exception. Even though overall homicide rates were not increasing during 1981,36 Reagan and the media invented a ”crime epidemic” which was purported to be sweeping the country. Reagan himself led the nation in this group-fantasy. In the same speeches in which he asked for “more sacrifices” by the American people, he also decried the new “American crime epidemic” whereby criminals are “quite literally getting away with murder.”(37) Language such as this is the only evidence that Reagan ever dimly recognized that he himself was “quite literally getting away with murder” in his economic program. Combined with his claim that “no one was dying” from Reaganomics, his insistent repetition that “the people of the community are really suffering” from a crime wave reveals the shift of guilt from himself-and ourselves-to criminals.
If Reagan needed criminals into whom he could dump his own guilt, it makes sense that at the same time as he was demanding a “war on crime” he actually was cutting law enforcement funds. For if crime were really to be reduced, his guilt would then return back to him. So law enforcement funds had to be reduced to keep crime high. Only such irrational motives can explain the public’s attitude toward crime, an attitude which includes an addiction toward and fascination with criminals that betrays deeply irrational group-fantasy sources. Since punishment of criminals is the goal of our laws, not reduction of crime, studies are easily ignored which show that therapy and guidance are far more effective and less costly than punishment and incarceration. For instance, during Reagan’s term some states considered new laws mandating ten-year jail terms for people who kill or maim others while driving when drunk. Yet it would have been impossible to get any attention for a proposal to give intensive therapy and guidance to the same people, even though the cost would be a fraction of the $100,000 per year per person cost of jail cells and the results far more effective than punishment by incarceration in assuring that offenders would not drive while drunk in the future. Yet rather than do something which might actually reduce crime, we in Reagan’s America spent most of our time on such emotional issues as the restoration of capital punishment, in order to accomplish our aim of punishing “the criminal in ourselves.”
||The more children Reagan sacrificed, the more local newspapers discovered such group-fantasies as “an epidemic of child abuse sweeping the city.”(38) As the official jobless rate moved past the 9 percent rate early in 1982, Wall Street exulted in the new docility of workers. ”We are thrilled,” said Peter Grace, chairman of W. R. Grace & Co. “We’ve finally turned the country around.”(39) I’m really excited,” of W. J. Sanders, chairman of a Micro Devices, Inc. “We are unshackling the real talent of this country and exposing the inept.”(40) Some of|
these “inept” included the disabled, an early Reagan target even though the Social Security disability fund which supported them had plenty of money in it from workers’ disability contributions.(41) Over 500,000 disability cases were reviewed in Reagan’s first year, and an astounding 45 percent were terminated on flimsy pretexts, “even though both their doctors and the Social Security Administration’s own physicians agree that the individuals cannot perform even ordinary day-to-day functions of living,” according to the Los Angeles Times report on the crackdown.(42) Equally as “inept” were black youths, whose unemployment rate topped 50 percent, several million people who had grown too discouraged to look for work, additional millions who ran out of unemployment benefits – so that, in Detroit, many unemployed purposely drank heavily or took drugs so they could enter alcoholic and drug wards which by law had to house and feed them – and many other helpless or powerless people, all symbolically “inept” children to be punished.
Not included as “inept” were the wealthy, who alone benefited from the three-quarter trillion dollars in tax cuts (over the first five years), the largest tax giveaway in the history of any country, “likely to go down in history as the single most irresponsible fiscal action in modern times,” according to former Budget Director James Schlesinger.(43) The result was a predictable record rise in executive salaries (up 12 percent in recession 1981), a rise in sales of Rolls-Royce, Cadillac and Mercedes cars, a boom in expensive home swimming pools and record purchase prices for Manhattan co-ops, mostly for cash.(44) “We’ve found that the very wealthy are spending more money than normal,” wrote Newsweek, deadpan. U.S. News put it more bluntly on their cover: “FLAUNTING WEALTH: IT’S BACK IN STYLE.”(45) As Stockman had put it, “The hogs were really feeding. The greed level, the level of opportunism, just got out of control.”(46)
Yet this was precisely what we wanted to accomplish, to feed the top while punishing the bottom. Otherwise, there would have been at least a token fight by the Democrats against Reaganomics. Instead, as one commentator put it, “In Washington people remarked on the magical disap-pearance of the Democratic Party.”(47) Initially, Democratic leaders pretended that their acquiescence was only tactical. “Democrats Have a Plan: Sit Back, Relax, Enjoy,” headlined The New York Times, citing a “beaming” Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, Jr. as saying “I think I’ll sit on the sidelines a while.”(48)
Yet he would sit forever if he thought all the pain would turn the country against Reagan. Everyone agreed that Reagan’s image was enhanced by his sacrificial actions, not tarnished. Puzzled, most commentators ascribed this not to the efficacy of sacrifice but to some mysterious quality in Reagan’s personality. “It doesn’t much matter what happens,” said
New York magazine. “The people like Ronald Reagan.”(49) “For the first time in years, Washington has a president it really likes, one who clearly relishes the role and is good at it to boot,” echoed The Washington Post’s Haynes Johnson.(50) “The president is still riding high in the polls,” said another reporter, “because in the domestic area Reagan has acted.”(51) “Just about everybody here thinks Reagan can walk on water,” conceded a Republican politician in Indiana.(52) A Democrat in Houston who had voted for Reagan thought his decisiveness was more important than anything else; sounding like a woman in love with a man who beats her up, she told reporters, “He’ll either make us or break us. He is a leader and I got tired of not having a leader.”(53) As another woman from North Carolina told The Washington Post, even if everyone were worse off because of the recession, she herself felt “better off mentally.”(54)
The media during this period were filled with praise for the beneficial effects of the punishment. “IN PRAISE OF RECESSION,” hymned William Safire in The New York Times, adding, “we must not quit when we are winning.”(55)
We moved into a “collapse” phase.
|If anything, most political commentators considered Reagan not cruel enough for the task we gave him to do for us. “He may be too nice to be president,” said the nation’s foremost expert on the subject, Richard Nixon.(56) Haynes Johnson agreed: “One word springs forward to describe him. Nice.”(54) Those few who disagreed were labeled Reds. “They clearly are militant radicals,” TV announcer Gabe Pressman pronounced as he watched 10,000 very middle-class demonstrators in New York protest the presentation of the humanitarian award to Reagan for “courageous leadership in humanitarian affairs.”(58) Nothing, no note of criticism, no hint of guilt, must be allowed to deter us from cleansing our nation in our mystical sacrificial rebirth. After Reagan moved into his third, or ”collapse,” phase, overt birth images began to appear in the media.|
|PRAYING FOR THE BIRTH||85|
|Reaganomics was pictured as a giant egg, with Reagan praying for the birth to take place soon. The more the recession deepened, the more pain and death inflicted on the sacrificial victims, the more miraculous the rebirth of America would be. “We are on the verge of a recovery like nothing ever seen in this country,” said the Under Secretary of Treasury.(59) Business Week agreed, shouting from its front cover “HERE COMES THE RECOVERY!”||
Reagan prayed for our
rebirth via Reaganomics.
Many Americans even imagined their wishes had come true and Reagan had already accomplished the rebirth. For instance, although the government was borrowing a record $16 billion a month just to meet its bills, pollsters were startled to find two out of every five Americans thought Reagan had in fact already balanced the budget as he had promised.(60) As Reagan himself put it, “There’s a spiritual revival going on in this country.” Like all revivalist movements, it was aimed at a rebirth through the purging of our sinful excesses. Those who were puzzled by the “triumph of faith over evidence,”(61) as economist Lester Thurow called the fantasies that Reaganomics was working, didn’t understand how much Reagan’s America was essentially a religious movement designed to produce an “America Reborn” through sacrifice.
Of course, sometimes reality intruded. Then Reagan and his associates would blame business or Wall Street for not producing the miraculous rebirth. “We gave them more than they ever dreamed,” complained the Republican minority leader, Rep. Robert Michel, “and you’d think there would be more of a quid pro quo. ‘We have carried through our commitments,” agreed Secretary of the Treasury Donald Regan. “But where is the business response? Where are the new research and development initiatives? Where are the new plants? Where are the expansion plans?”(62) That business had no conceivable motive to expand produc-tion when demand had dried up and industrial utilization had been reduced to 67 percent seemed to escape these economic experts. They really believed in the miracles produced by pain. “Reaganomists: Forge Ahead Despite Pain,” headlined The Miami Herald. 63 In a revealing “Freudian slip,” Reagan told a fund-raising dinner, “Now we are trying to get unemployment to go up, and I think we’re going to succeed.” Senator Pressler agreed: “It would not be a good idea to saw him off at the legs at this point.”(64)
A baby boom was imagined
|During the spring of 1982, images of the rebirth group-fantasy multiplied in the media, until they subliminally dominated the feeling-tone of every American’s daily life, though they were not consciously noticed by most people. A “new baby boom” was proclaimed, although the actual birth rate per potential mother was dropping.(65) Pictures of pregnant women were displayed on the front covers of magazines to show what was happening. In fact, everything suddenly seemed to be pregnant that spring, from Reaganomics to the atomic bomb. Phrases associated with birth feelings began to be used with increasing frequency, such as “It’s like waiting for a baby to be born”(66) or “the pressure was building from all sides”(67) or “This Administration believes that life begins at conception and ends at birth.”(68)|
Discussions of abortion multiplied. Reagan even personally endorsed a bizarre plan by anti-abortion advocates in California to hold a fetus funeral for 17,000 aborted fetuses which the group had collected.(69)
Everything seemed to be pregnant in the spring of 1982.
|New legislation also seemed to be stuck in the birth canal that spring. The Washington Post cartoonist drew Reagan as though he were helping Tip O’Neill give birth, and the caption right next to the cartoon quoted Reagan as saying, “You may make me crap a pineapple, but you can’t make me crap a cactus,” as though Reagan himself were the one who felt he was giving birth.(70)|
|THAT DARK BIRTH TUNNEL||87|
As Reagan told the nation, America would “soon emerge from this dark tunnel of recession”-the same dark tunnel which America had hoped to see “the light at the end of” during the Vietnam war. Everything seemed to be going down that dark birth tunnel that spring: the White House, the economy, all of Washington, Reagan himself, the American people. The world was felt to be one giant hole, and we were
We all felt as if we were going down a dark birth tunnel.
Reindustrialization was seen as a fetus in the womb.
|dropping into it, as we felt we did long ago during our own births.(71)Reagan announced in April that we were “approaching a climactic stage,” one in which he began to hear “a drum beat’ ‘-ostensibly of criticism, but equally the loud heart beat of the mother in labor. American revitalization and reindustrialization were imagined to be the prize at the end of the rebirth tunnel, and were pictured as a fetus in the womb awaiting birth.|
Uncle Sam, too, was pictured as standing in the watery womb, looking at a drawing of where we were-in the womb-like belly of a whale, ready to begin our birth travail. It would be terribly painful, but it was unavoidable, and the sooner we got it over with the better.
We felt like we were in the womb, awaiting birth.
|With birth beginning, with the pressures building, it seemed as if “Mother Nature” was “going berserk,” as a U.S. News cover put it. With our faith in the economy collapsing, as our mother’s womb once did, we imagined birth would feel as if the world were ending, as it felt during our own births, when the contraction pressures and hypoxia (lack of oxygen) made us feel as if we were dying. Therefore, newspapers across the country began running articles describing fears of “The End of the World,” supposedly in connection with the chance lining up of the planets which took place that spring, in about the same manner as the previous year, when no notice had been taken of it.(72)|
|OUR APOCALYPTIC FANTASIES||89|
We feared birth would feel like the end of the world.
In fact, our apocalyptic fantasies soon reached such a degree of reality to us that we became newly concerned with the possibility of a nuclear holocaust ending the world. Observers were puzzled at the timing of the new concern over nuclear war. “Why,” asked The New York Times, “37 years into the Atomic Age, the sudden rush of concern? Has last year’s European peace movement crossed the Atlantic?
|Is it that a new generation has grown up ignorant of Strangelove? Have older generations failed fully to appreciate the risks?”(73) Unless one recognized the birth fantasy, the sudden and all – too – temporary attention to atomic apocalypse-climaxing in the massive Freeze rally in New York City on June 12th – was inexplicable.As did Carter’s America during its “collapse” phase, Reagan’s America seemed everywhere to be full of falling and collapsing feelings, which could only be cleansed through some apocalyptic upheaval, some acting out in reality of the powerful fantasies we shared.||
Our apocalyptic fantasies included a renewed interest in nuclear war.
We seemed to be going off a birth cliff.
We were trapped, unable to be born.
|Yet nothing in reality seemed to be available to us which we could use to move the birth fantasy along. No foreign nations threatened, and none seemed to be forthcoming in the near future to accept our challenge and deflect our bad feelings outward. Everything seemed to make us feel trapped in this unborn position. Our economy was still falling. No miraculous rebirth could be found there soon. We were unprepared emotionally to go to war. All seemed increasingly hopeless. Just as the baby feels its birth pains are endless, we, too, felt closed in, without hope, unable to get a breath of relief, stuck in the birth canal forever.This imagery of being stuck in the birth canal dominated the country’s cartoons that April, and the political language reflected the fantasy. “Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan pronounced the national economy ‘dead in the water’ yesterday,” the newspapers reported.(74) We were in fact “in a deep trough,” the White House press secretary confirmed soon after.(75) It seemed as if we might lie in the womb, “dead in the water,” forever. How could the birth be pushed along? Where could we look for help?
The answer to our dilemma came from events even then moving to a climax in the South Atlantic.
We felt “dead in the water.”