Ronald Reagan’s Lesson For Donald Trump On Responding To Hate And Bigotry

Thirty-seven years ago, Ronald Reagan spoke out against hatred and bigotry in a way that the current President refuses to do.

With last week’s news about the bomber who sent at least fourteen devices to critics of President Trump and Saturday’s horrible attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh, many people have criticized President Trump for not only the rhetoric that has appeared to give succor to the bigots of the world, but also for his largely tone-deaf response to both events. By way of contrast, many people have been pointing to remarks that President Reagan made back in 1981 that struck a far different tone:

Former President Ronald Reagan spoke to the NAACP’s annual convention in 1981 when he was commander in chief, and his comments stand in sharp contrast to Trump’s tepid response to racist violence.

“A few isolated groups in the backwater of American life still hold perverted notions of what America is all about,” he said in a clip going viral. ”Recently in some places in the nation there’s been a disturbing reoccurrence of bigotry and violence.”

Then, Reagan sent a direct message to those ”who still adhere to senseless racism and religious prejudice.”

“You are the ones who are out of step with our society. You are the ones who willfully violate the meaning of the dream that is America. And this country, because of what it stands for, will not stand for your conduct.”

“My administration will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who, by violence or intimidation, would attempt to deny Americans their constitutional rights,” he promised.

Here’s the video:

This video also made the rounds after Trump’s tone-deaf response to the events last year in Charlottesville, and the words ring as true now as they do then. And the contrast could not be more apparent.

Also of note is a letter that America’s first President, George Washington, wrote to the worshipers at a synagogue in Rhode Island:


While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.

If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.

G. Washington

We don’t have a Washington or a Reagan, though, we have Trump.

FILED UNDER: Race and Politics, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. SKI says:

    It is not just Trump. We have a Steve King, and a Chuck Grassley and a Kevin McCarthy. We have a party that has sold its soul to bigots in exchange for power – and a population of supporters that have gone along.

    Elie Weisel said that we must take sides. The GOP has taken sides – and they sided with the oppressors and the hate mongers and the tormentors.

  2. Kathy says:

    We don’t even have a W. Bush.

  3. Mister Bluster says:

    Is this the same guy?

    Governor of California Ronald Reagan
    Reagan was involved in several high-profile conflicts with the protest movements of the era, including his public criticism of university administrators for tolerating student demonstrations at the University of California, Berkeley campus. On May 15, 1969, during the People’s Park protests at the university’s campus (the original purpose of which was to discuss the Arab–Israeli conflict), Reagan sent the California Highway Patrol and other officers to quell the protests. This led to an incident that became known as “Bloody Thursday,” resulting in the death of student James Rector and the blinding of carpenter Alan Blanchard.[88][89] In addition, 111 police officers were injured in the conflict, including one who was knifed in the chest. Reagan then called out 2,200 state National Guard troops to occupy the city of Berkeley for two weeks to crack down on the protesters.[88] The Guard remained in Berkeley for 17 days, camping in People’s Park, and demonstrations subsided as the university removed cordoned-off fencing and placed all development plans for People’s Park on hold.
    One year after “Bloody Thursday,” Reagan responded to questions about campus protest movements saying, “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with. No more appeasement.”

  4. An Interested Party says:

    Ironic that the remarks made in 1981 to the NAACP were given by the same person who spoke here…still, Reagan seems like one of the founding fathers compared to the current trash in the White House…

  5. CSK says:

    Washington’s letter brought tears to my eyes. From that, to a semi-literate oaf who tweets out excreta…

  6. gVOR08 says:

    The security and prosperity of the United States are threatened by global warming, Russia, wealth concentration, and the emergence of China. Except, perhaps, for China, these could be dealt with fairly easily without the Republican Party in the way. The Republican Party is the only existential threat to the United States. Reagan’s legacy is having put an avuncular voice and smiling face on that.

  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    George Washington.
    Can you imagine if the losers running this Government today were tasked with forming this Union?
    Dennison, Pence, Ryan, McConnell, McCarthy, Meadows, Nunes?
    I don’t think they could come up with anything more than a corrupt version of Gilligan’s Island.

  8. Moosebreath says:

    More evidence that Reagan would be viewed as a RINO today…

  9. Jake says:

    “Don’t you dare insult me as a rabbi by blaming your perceived political enemies for some dirtbag Jew-hater. This President could not be a better friend of Jewish concerns and causes. He supports Israel and moved America’s Israel embassy to Jerusalem. His daughter and son-in-law are Orthodox Jews, and he treats them lovingly and respectfully, as he does their Orthodox Jewish children, his grandchildren. He ended Obama’s vicious anti-Israel animus, and he has supported Israel strongly in the United Nations. No wonder that Jews throughout the world love him, support him. In Israel, among Israeli Jews, he is wildly popular with a 67% approval rating. They hated Obama — and for great reason. In England, the Jews have gone conservative, while the British Labour Party has chosen an outright anti-Semite, Jeremy Corbyn, as their leader. Jews from the former Soviet Union are the most conservative of people. As are Orthodox Jews in America. Jews throughout the world — except for those in America influenced by Hollywood and the Left Media — have become increasingly and intensively conservative. And we enthusiastically support President Trump. President Trump has condemned anti-Semitism as forthrightly as has any President in American history. When the people were murdered at the Pittsburgh temple, he ordered all American flags to be flown at half-staff for three days. Compare that to Obama who responded to Arab terrorists murdering Jews in a kosher-food store in France by saying blithely that they randomly had been killed at some random delicatessen.”

  10. An Interested Party says:

    @Jake: Uh huh

    No amount of pro-Israel policies—no embassy in Jerusalem, no encouragement of settlements, no increased aid—outweighs the existential danger to Jews of the Trump movement’s coddling, or even overt encouragement, of anti-Semitism, racism, and nativism. Even those Jews not motivated by solidarity with Muslims, Mexicans, the media, and others singled out by Trump for opprobrium must now recognize that we Jews, ourselves, are at risk.

    Nor, finally, does it matter whether Trump himself is anti-Semitic, which he almost certainly is not (even beyond his family, many of his longtime business associates, as well as his chief mentor, Roy Cohn, are Jewish). He is either unwilling or unable to see how his vicious rhetoric against immigrants and Muslims supports a right-wing movement that also hates Jews. He is unwilling or unable to see how his furious midnight tweets and shouted insults at rallies encourage tens of millions of Americans to be enraged at the media, Hollywood, and ‘elites’—all of which, in anti-Semitic imagination, are disproportionately Jewish.

    He may not get it, but he is responsible. And even if Trump himself can’t see that, we American Jews must.

  11. the Q says:

    “First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for all the wingnut, white supremacist lunatic Trump supporters –
    And I said, “well, make sure you go to the corner house, a bunch of birthers and racist freaks live there…and of course, don’t forget the Bowers shack, a kook with Nazi flags and regalia just waiting to start a race war…and then there’s the local born again Jew hater stockpiling dynamite and assault rifles…..”

    With apologies to Pastor Niemoller…..

    I now live in a country where Jewish worshipers are gunned down praying during temple services….

    Trump, like Putin and Prince Salman, has given a free space for the lunatics to run wild and commit atrocities as a sacrament, then Trump offers them absolution via “it’s the media’s fault” or “there’s good people on both sides” to “enemy of the people” so its ok to body slam them, abuse them, bomb them and soon, I have no doubt, kill them.

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: If I could give this a thousand thumbs up…

  13. mattbernius says:

    Congratulations. You’ve discovered that a prominent Conservative Jewish Supporter of Trump still supports him.

    I look forward to your updates as to whether or not Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity still think the president is doing a good job and whether or not water is still wet.

    In the meantime, I’d love to get your thoughts on well known Republican firebrand Steve King’s Holocaust-questioning Polish adventure after which he announced that if the anti-semitic European far-right parties were in the US they’d be Republicans (btw, I opted for an Isreali paper so that you can get a Jewish perspective on the matter since you’re clearly really concerned about that).

    Or perhaps you’d like to comment on noted right-wing advocacy site Judicial Watch’s director of research and investigation deciding to invoke the Protocols of Zion on Lou Dobbs? I mean, even Fox News decided that was a bit too much. If Judicial Watch doesn’t cut ties with him, is that tacit support for anti-semitism?

  14. mattbernius says:


    Steve King’s Holocaust-questioning Polish adventure after which he announced that if the anti-semitic European far-right parties were in the US they’d be Republicans

    Lest anyone think I’m being hyperbolic here:

    Oh for the halcyon days when lots of our favorite right-wing commenters used to carefully explain how Steve King wasn’t a racist despite his obsession with the calves of young Latinos.

  15. Kylopod says:

    In the 1970s there was a rabbi named Baruch Korff, dubbed “Nixon’s rabbi,” a close friend and associate of the president and one of his most ardent defenders to the end. Korff’s position was simple. He was well aware of the fact that Nixon was personally an anti-Semite. But he felt Jews needed to stick by Nixon because of his strong support for Israel.

    It wasn’t just conservative Jews who took this position. This was pretty much the assessment of Nixon from the Labor government in Israel at the time.

    There were some important differences with the Jewish Trump defenders of today, however. First of all, Nixon really did protect Israel from imminent destruction during the Yom Kippur War. Even then, he was no Zionist hardliner who did whatever the Israeli government wanted. He exerted considerable pressure on them in the hopes of bringing them to the table for peace talks. It’s a world apart from moving the Israeli embassy–a largely symbolic act that does nothing either to protect Israeli security or advance the cause of peace. It’s a sugar rush for hardliners–the Jewish equivalent of blue-collar whites in West Virginia who vote for Republicans who will take away their health-care because of their hatred for “coastal elites.”

    But there’s another big difference between Nixon’s and Trump’s Jewish defenders. Nixon’s Jewish defenders were not in any way whatsoever in denial about Nixon’s anti-Semitism. They were troubled by it; they just made a cost-benefit analysis that he was doing more good than ill for the Jews. It’s nothing like today’s Jewish Trumpists, who allow themselves to be drawn fully into the cult where they will admit no flaws in their dear leader, where they feel compelled to always talk about him in the same glowing superlatives that he himself uses: they don’t simply argue he’s a defender of Israel, they claim he’s the best president the Jews have ever had in all of US history.

    In doing so, they end up implicitly embracing the anti-Semitic ideas coming from the administration, down to the bizarre, conspiratorial obsession with George Soros which was partly behind Saturday’s attack. But they don’t see it that way, because they don’t see liberal Jews who constitute the bulk of the Jewish people as worthy of respect; it is similar to the way some right-wing African Americans accuse the majority of their own people of being on the “Democrat plantation.” It is essentially self-hatred disguised as ethnocentrism, where they accept bigotry against themselves while acting like their people’s ultimate defenders against the ignorant masses.

  16. Guarneri says:

    That darned Trump.

    Nothing says “Murder Jews” like moving the embassy to Jerusalem and ending the Iran deal.

    You people are certifiably crazy.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    Quite the contrast between the current occupant of the White House and his predecessors…

    Previous presidents have won wide approval from Americans following tragedies, even at moments when their own public standing was low: President George W. Bush famously grabbed a bullhorn during his visit to ground zero following the Sept. 11 attacks and told first responders that the nation stood by their side. President Ronald Reagan drew on poetry to mourn with the nation after the space Shuttle Challenger blew up. President Bill Clinton used the power of his empathy to sit with survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing. President Barack Obama sang “Amazing Grace” in a Charleston, S.C., church after nine African-Americans were killed.

    And what does the trash in the White House do after last week’s tragedies? He continues to call the press the “enemy of the people” and fearmongers about Central Americans trying to escape deplorable conditions in their own countries by calling them an “invasion” and lying about alleged “unknown Middle Easterners” being in their group…his supporters must be so proud of him…

  18. mattbernius says:

    Thanks again for clearly demonstrating that for a certain section of Republicans and conservatives the is no daylight between Isreal’s interests as a state and the notion of Jewishness.

  19. Leonard says:

    Reagan was good, but I prefer Churchill: “The scourge of anti-Semitism cannot be ignored, cannot be tolerated and cannot be allowed to continue.”

  20. Pylon says:

    I’d lean more heavily on Reagan’s speech if not for his actual deeds on civil rights, both prior to and during his presidency. He opposed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, gave States Rights speeches in his campaign, opposed MLK Day and vetoed the Civil Right Restoration Act (his veto was overridden) . In addition, his treatment of gays was not good (especially on AIDS).

    His statement in the video is fantastic of course, but I wonder if he followed up with his prosecution promise. In any event, I suppose, his compassion in certain circumstances (like the Challenger disaster) was real and showed. Trump seems incapable of emotion of that sort.

  21. Not the IT Dept. says:

    The only problem the GOP establishment has or had with Trump is that he’s saying out loud what should be kept under the radar. St. Reagan had all his pious slogans down pat but there were a lot of disgusting ratf**kers who got their start in those years.

    Let’s be clear: Trump didn’t fall out of the sky onto an unsuspecting and innocent GOP. He was the logical extension of all their anti-ism over the past four decades.