Inauguration Day

August Kleinzahler

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As King Ubu from Queens makes ready to take the presidential oath of office, assuming the ‘leadership of the free world’ and the computer codes that unlock America’s nuclear arsenal, the Pollyanna in me would like to remind those hiding in their basements with an eight-year supply of protein powder and Green Giant corn niblets that when Ronald Reagan took office at noon on 20 January 1981, the prospect of an extremely right-wing B-movie actor and longtime shill for General Electric entering the White House was hardly less surreal and unnerving than what we face now. True, Reagan had served two terms as governor of California (1967-75), but we here in the Golden State are still digging ourselves out from under them 42 years later, during which time vast sums of money have been transferred from the state’s resources for health, infrastructure, education etc. to the wealthiest 5 per cent of individuals.

Reagan was sworn in as governor on 2 June 1967 at 10 minutes past midnight, because Carroll Righter, ‘astrologer to the stars’, had insisted that was the most propitious moment. Ron and Nancy’s faith in astrology persisted through his presidency. According to Donald Regan’s memoir, ‘virtually every move and decision the Reagans made during my time as the White House chief of staff was cleared in advance by a woman in San Francisco’ – Joan Quigley – ‘who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favourable alignment for the enterprise.’

Reagan was an inveterately lazy character, which no doubt saved us from extermination, though he nearly precipitated a nuclear ‘event’ with a throwaway joke during a radio sound check on 11 August 1984: ‘My fellow Americans. I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia for ever. We begin bombing in five minutes.’ The Russians were not amused. The president possibly already had dementia at this time.

He was a conspicuous delegator of responsibility, and a number of competent, or at least not crazy, advisers served under him, which doesn’t look to be the case with Ubu. Reagan’s favoured way of spending his time while serving as president was sharing Hollywood stories and off-colour jokes with whomever chanced to be in the Oval Office: the secretary of defence, the speaker of the House of Representatives, the emir of Kuwait, no matter. Best of all he liked to be photographed chopping wood or riding his horse at his ranch in Santa Barbara, always in a flannel shirt open at the throat, while on ‘holiday’.

Young Ubu, ever on the make, tried to ingratiate himself with the Reagans throughout the 1980s, inviting them to Mar-a-Lago and various events, but they continually rebuffed his advances, finding his ‘large ego’ objectionable, not to mention his pushiness. Trump, during his run for the presidency, claimed that Ronald Reagan ‘liked me a lot’.

And then there were those eight years of that sinister craze-bag Dick Cheney running the American government.

Barack Obama seems to have greatly admired Ronald Reagan and freely admitted to seeking to emulate him, at least as regards the scale of his ‘vision’. He repeatedly described Reagan as a ‘transformational figure’ who changed the way Americans saw their government – which, as Reagan and Ubu would have it, ought to be designed to serve Goldman Sachs, the military, the petroleum industry and individuals worth over $5 million. But that can’t really be what Obama meant about ‘transformational’.


  • 20 January 2017 at 8:13am
    Delaide says:
    I was taken aback by Obama's praise for Reagan. Did he really mean it, or was he just trying to convince conservatives that he wasn't the anti-Christ?

  • 20 January 2017 at 9:12am
    IPFreely says:
    Yes, Reagan used to doze through cabinet meetings, which was probably a sign of his unflappability.

  • 20 January 2017 at 9:57am
    Graucho says:
    In a just world the Iran Contra affair would have had Reagan impeached and imprisoned, but it isn't a just world.

  • 20 January 2017 at 6:42pm
    ikallicrates says:
    I've heard that somewhere there is someone who still believe Obama is a progressive. I didn't believe it, until now. Yes, Delaide, Obama really meant his praise for Reagan. It may be the only thing he said that he really meant.

    • 20 January 2017 at 9:59pm
      suetonius says: @ ikallicrates
      Right on.

    • 21 January 2017 at 8:16am
      Delaide says: @ ikallicrates
      I know it's not cool to praise Obama, or HRC for that matter. But in the context of what's possible in American politics, I think he did a remarkable job.

  • 20 January 2017 at 9:00pm
    Eamonn Shanahan says:
    Thank you, Mr Kleinzahler, for your perspective, not to mention your economy and elegance. I was beginning to lose faith, and therein lies, if not madness, extreme eccentricity. One caveat, though. King Ubu will operate in a much faster world than Reagan or Cheney. Our not irrational fear is that this will be one great step back for mankind.

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