Nancy Reagan, Pat Conroy Embodied ’80s Aspirations

Nancy Reagan, Pat Conroy Embodied ’80s Aspirations

By Jordan Barkin

Two gracious figures of the prosperous 1980s, Nancy Reagan and Pat Conroy, died over the first weekend of March. Their calm public demeanors and thoughtful approaches will be missed.

On CNN early Sunday afternoon, Larry King told host Wolf Blitzer that Reagan disapproved of the way Donald Trump is running his Republican campaign for president. I can see how the former first lady, who was deliberate and proper, would be offended by Trump’s vulgarity and lack of professionalism.

Trump taps into ’80s nostalgia when he says he wants to make America great again. But he doesn’t realize he is part of the problem.

The ’80s were a period of growth for the American economy. It was a decade when baby boomers raised with suburban values of politeness and decorum came to power. Leaders from both parties were able to set aside their differences and extol the virtues of American capitalism and democracy.

It was not a perfect time: The Cold War was still winding down, and the new scourges of crack and AIDS arrived. But politics was still considered a respectable profession.

President Reagan famously had drinks after work with Tip O’Neill, the feisty Democratic speaker of the House. The atmosphere may have been clubby, but productive meetings were taking place.

Approximately 30 years ago, in January 1986, Ronald Reagan reassured the nation after the space shuttle Challenger disaster.

Schoolchildren (including myself) were reassured by this grandfatherly figure with a soft, slightly gravelly voice and a gentle smile. Reagan was an actor, but at least he knew the role we needed him to play.

If only the Trump campaign would realize this and wake up: Americans need a calm figure to unite them, not a petulant reality star.

The civics classes of yesteryear may need to return to teach a new generation about our system of government. It is based on compromise and deliberation, not brash one-liners. There are qualified leaders and decent human beings in both parties.

Nancy Reagan was strong and graceful, with a sense of mission. She was, by all accounts, a loyal and adoring spouse.

Like “Prince of Tides” author Conroy, Nancy Reagan believed that words and hospitality can be used to make a better world.

I hope these two figures, who epitomized 1980s American high culture, rest in peace.


Jordan Barkin, a freelance writer who has had 30 articles published in Southern publications, is a former associate editor of Veranda, a Hearst magazine. He lives in Buckhead.

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