More than those connections between Reagan and Trump, however, the biggest takeaway from the Showtime documentary is how Reagan’s drastic transformation of the GOP from a restrained party devoted to limited — but effective — government into a rabid political movement turned against the notion of government itself laid the foundation for Trump’s direct assault on American democracy and his complete dereliction of duty as president. As Tyrnauer said to me on a recent call from his home in Los Angeles, “This is a story about our current political situation.”
In Reagan, the cult of rugged individualism overtook the Republican Party and remade American politics. Now, 40 years later amid a global pandemic, that unbridled individualism has shown its deadly dimensions in Trump and the Republicans’ lack of response to COVID-19. Their dismissal of a coordinated government response in favor of encouraging Americans to decide what they think best, including whether or not to wear masks, has spelled catastrophe. And it’s evident in the millions of Americans who — in refusing to wear masks, practice social distance, and momentarily deny their self-gratification — have selfishly exploited the language of “individual responsibility” as license for their own recklessness.