No post-war US president, including John F. Kennedy, holds a tighter grip of America’s political imagination than Ronald Reagan. Republicans and Democrats agree that Reagan’s presidency was ‘transformative’. For Republicans, Reagan rescued the country from decline after the disaster of Vietnam and at a time of flagging economic growth. For Democrats, he stacked the deck against ordinary Americans by cutting taxes for the richest, deregulating the labour market and liberating Wall Street.
Driving this summer from the home of a friend in Madison, Wisconsin to Brooklyn, New York, I encountered first hand the diverse effects of Reaganism. Pittsburgh, for instance, is thriving. Built by and formerly dependent on the Pennsylvania steel industry, the city is now a regional hub for advanced medical research and investment banking. Detroit, Cleveland and Philadelphia, on the other hand, all bear the scars of Reagan’s supply-side reforms. Indeed, some neighbourhoods in south Philadelphia are semi-derelict, their streets lined with gutted factory buildings and abandoned housing blocks.