cover image Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980's

Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980's

Gil Troy. Princeton University Press, $46 (417pp) ISBN 978-0-691-09645-2

Entering the realm of the proverbial chicken-and-egg problem, historian Troy examines the relationship between Ronald Reagan's presidency and the materialistic and politically vibrant culture of the 1980s. In chapters organized by year from 1980 to 1990, Troy weaves his narrative of Reagan's presidency into an impressionistic portrait of the cultural and political phenomena that defined the decade-from network shows Dynasty and the Cosby Show, through the rise of MTV, CNN, yuppies, Madonna and Donald Trump, to the culture wars of race, gender and political correctness. The effort makes for a lively read, packed with insightful comments about the decade and its legacies. Dubbing Reagan's era ""the Great Reconciliation,"" ""where the sixties met the eighties culturally and politically,"" Troy dismantles the myth of a politically passive mainstream. Treading a line between lionizing Reagan and disparaging him as ""airhead,"" he highlights the contradictions of Reagan's conservatism, with its emphasis on wealth and glamour on the one hand and, on the other, ""an ascetic streak that recoiled at such excess."" Beside Reagan's vision of a ""morning in America,"" manifested in a soaring economy, surging patriotism and faltering Soviet Communism, Reagan presided over ""mourning in America"" with spiking crime, drugs, family breakdowns and AIDS. Troy avers that Reagan ""dominated, and defined, the times"" and ""remains the greatest president since Franklin Roosevelt."" But the Reagan that emerges from his analysis is less the captain steering American culture than a symbol of the 1980s whose greatest strength lay in placing his finger on the pulse of ""the American id."" As Troy writes, Reagan projected a vision that ""was the vision of themselves most Americans wanted to see."" Whether Reagan consciously sought to do so, however, remains an open question. 15 pages of b&w photos.