The Republican Party of the District of Columbia sent a startling (in the current context) Happy 4th of July message to its supporter base this morning, quoting a passage from Ronald Reagan’s televised Farewell Address from the Oval Office in January, 1989. The extended 100 word passage makes up nearly the entirety of the DC GOP email’s message, and illustrates the enormous shift in Republican party rhetoric on immigration between the Reagan and Trump administrations.
DC GOP quotes the Gipper
Although the DC GOP has confirmed to News Growl that the quote is not meant as a rebuke to Trump administration policy, the contrast in tone and substance between America’s 40th President and its 45th is remarkable.
The quote reads:
“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. 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. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”
The quote is taken from the final moments of Reagan’s televised Farewell Address to the Nation, made from the Oval Office just days before President George HW Bush was to take his place. As some of the very last publicly uttered words by Reagan in office, the statement was intended as a summary of his beliefs and hopes for America. The entire speech has been preserved by the Reagan Foundation and is available to watch on YouTube (see below).
The concept of America as a Shining City, as explained in an earlier part of the speech, was first conceived by Pilgrim Father John Winthrop. In Reagan’s words, Winthrop “journeyed here on what we would call today a little wooden boat, and like the other Pilgirms, he was looking for a home that would be free.”
Meanwhile, the current Oval Office occupant is publicly denouncing both legal and illegal immigrants. In tweets yesterday he complained both about legal Iranian immigrants (with claims that are being widely questioned) and referred to the presence of the Salvadoran gang MS-13 gang as an “infestation.”
Just out that the Obama Administration granted citizenship, during the terrible Iran Deal negotiation, to 2,500 Iranians – including to government officials. How big (and bad) is that?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2018
When we have an “infestation” of MS-13 GANGS in certain parts of our country, who do we send to get them out? ICE! They are tougher and smarter than these rough criminal elelments that bad immigration laws allow into our country. Dems do not appreciate the great job they do! Nov.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2018
DC GOP: “Not a rebuke”
Coming at a time of heightened tension over immigration, the email’s inclusion of the phrase “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” could seem like an attempt to question current administration policy. The DC GOP was at pains to stress that this was not the case, however.
Speaking to News Growl this morning, a DC GOP spokesperson said, “Our message this 4th of July is absolutely not a rebuke. America has always been and will always be a shining light on the hill for all of those who seek a better life. Our party is supportive of President Trump’s desire for stronger borders with a ‘big door’ for those who want to come to the United State legally.”
Part of a Reaganite resurgence?
It should be noted, the DC GOP email is only one of several prominent uses of Reagan quotes on immigration made by Republicans and conservatives this week.
Writing on the Fox News website this morning, regular Fox contributor Liz Peek also mentioned the Shining City metaphor, although not with the full quote about the need for “doors” to be open.
But Peek did stress a version of American patriotism that celebrates immigration, and has been noticeably less prominent in Republican rhetoric in recent years. Referring to an immigrant who himself had arrived at the end of the Reagan presidency, she wrote:
“It is possible to arrive in this country broke and jobless, and end up sending your kids to medical school, as a taxi driver I recently met had done. He has been in the U.S. for thirty years and has worked hard, often carrying two jobs at once, so that his children would flourish. And they have.”
And the most blatant attempt to use Reagan’s words to shift current policy was made yesterday by the conservative Becoming America Initiative.
In a commercial paid for by the group, Reagan can be seen refering to immigrants saying:
“They didn’t ask what this country could do for them, but what they could do to make this refuge the greatest home of freedom in history. They brought with them courage and the values of family, work and freedom. Let us pledge to each other that we can make America great again.”
The advertisement ends with the message, “Immigrants have always made America great.”
On the 4th of July as Americans celebrate our liberty, it is crucial to remember our ancestors who are a fundamental part of building that story. pic.twitter.com/FIzFjY1iT4
— Becoming American Initiative (@becomeamerican) July 3, 2018
Gap in substance or just style?
The DC GOP is is adamant that there is no difference between the policies of Presidents Reagan and Trump, but it is hard to imagine Donald Trump uttering any of the words quoted in today’s email.
It may be one of the smaller “state” level Republican organizations (fielding only one candidate, Michael Bekesha, in the recent DC primary), but what the DC GOP says publicly is significant. And today’s 4th of July message appears to illustrate the growing gap in tone and style (at least) between the President who founded the modern Republican Party, and the President who leads it today.