Ronald Reagan continues to be a beloved icon of conservatism even 13 years after his death. What endeared the 40th President to so many is that he was unequivocally, unapologetically pro-American. He loved his country and believed it was something worth fighting for.
A recording of Reagan’s First Inaugural Address is making rounds on the internet as the public debates the issue of national anthem-protesting NFL players. As seen on YouTube, Reagan’s powerful speech declared that the US is exceptional and unique, something to be proud of. He went on to describe the enormous sacrifices so many Americans have made for this nation–including their very lives.
Reagan assumed the presidency at a time of uncertainty and fear, much like today. His predecessor, Jimmy Carter, was often criticized for his tepid handling of international affairs, particularly his response to the Iran hostage crisis.
Carter was also President during a time of high inflation, high interest rates, oil shortages, and slow economic growth. Reagan articulated a powerful point–that the talents and innovation of the people themselves — not the government — are what make America great.
“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”
Reagan’s comments are especially significant in the face of football players who have benefited immensely from America’s free market system, gaining a wealth most people on earth will only ever dream about.
Reagan believed every American has the full capacity to lift himself up to success if he chooses, as long as the government gets out of his way. The NFL players are evidence of that proposition. Yet these same players repeatedly lament “systemic oppression” while basking in millions of dollars.
But Reagan didn’t stop there. Whereas these protesting NFL players see America as a morally corrupt country that is undeserving of their reverence, Reagan said the nation is worth dying for. While these overpaid football players consider themselves heroes for taking a knee during the national anthem, Reagan made it clear who the true heroes are.
“Those who say that we’re in a time when there are not heroes, they just don’t know where to look. … Beyond those monuments to heroism is the Potomac River, and on the far shore the sloping hills of Arlington National Cemetery, with its row upon row of simple white markers bearing crosses or Stars of David. They add up to only a tiny fraction of the price that has been paid for our freedom,” he said.
He continued, “Each one of those markers is a monument to the kind of hero I spoke of earlier. Their lives ended in places called Belleau Wood, The Argonne, Omaha Beach, Salerno, and halfway around the world on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Pork Chop Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, and in a hundred rice paddies and jungles of a place called Vietnam.”
Reagan then told the story of Martin Treptow, a young man who fought and died on the Western Front in World War II. In his diary left behind was his “Pledge,” which included the following immortal words:
“I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone.” That’s heroism. It’s a lesson the NFL players would do well to learn.