I feel like I should make an obligatory Ronald Reagan post today, when many people are celebrating his 100th birthday. I am not sure I have much that is readably coherent at the moment. Sojourners has a good piece about Ronald Reagan’s legacy both in the United States and abroad. My old room mate, Korla has been in El Salvador, living among people who have directly suffered because of the Reagan doctrine.
Much of what I want to reflect upon, even if it is briefly, is Reagan and AIDs. In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler mentions Simon Watney’s discussion of ‘the polluting person’ and AIDS. Butler states,
Not only is this illness figured as the “gay disease,” but throught the media’s hysterical and homophobic response to the illness there is a tactical construction of a continuity between the polluted status of the homosexual by the boundary-trespass that is homosexuality and the disease as a specific modality of homosexual pollution (186).
This quote does not deal specifically with the Reagan administration. However, it illustrates well the lack of the administration’s response to the virus, especially him preventing his Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop from speaking out about the epidemic. Reagan’s lack of response was related to both his attempts to retain a conservative image as well as his wooing of the religious right. Perhaps that’s the legacy we have, especially since the religious right still has a stronghold on our public discourse in the contemporary.
The administration’s response to the AIDS pandemic was nothing short of homophobia and heterosexism. We still face the consequences for the Reagan administration’s response. We lost so many queer men and activists to the disease, all while Reagan was raising taxes and spending billions on a military buildup (i.e. Star Wars and first-strike-capable nuclear weapons). True, Reagan was simply part of the heterosexual matrix, something much greater than one individual.
Then again, the President of the United States has very real power. Reagan knew that the epidemic was real and his response came too late.
What is my response?A rededication to creating a culture of life, a culture of openness and enlargement, helping to reinforce agency and cultural intelligibility for queers (as well as others) who do not feel embraced in our society. It means reshaping the hegemonic order. It means supporting ideals such as a sustainable, effective, and regulated healthcare system that is affordable for all citizens of the United States (or even a universal healthcare system).
It means the critique of existing norms. Let’s conclude again with Butler culture of life means, “the capacity, invariably collective, to articulate an alternative, minority version of sustaining norms or ideals that enable me to act… [the goal is] not to celebrate difference as such but to establish more inclusive conditions for sheltering and maintaining life that resists modes of assimilation” (Undoing Gender 3-4). There needs to be more that is said. All I know is that rather than simply vilifying Reagan, I would like to attempt to articulate ideals that contrast that of Reagan and those who idealize him as a conservative messiah.