Stupid, provocative, oafish, and dangerous — leftists in the media used those words and more to describe Ronald Reagan during his presidency. Six years later, those words seem an awful lot like those critics use to describe President Donald Trump.
When you have a 7-foot bronze statue of the man staring down at you on the quad, it’s easy to forget that Reagan was human. He faced stark criticism and protests during his administration, largely because he dared to dramatically change the way America dealt with the threat of communism. Reagan, unlike his predecessors, disagreed with both the strategy of containment and the more relaxed strategy of détente, arguing “the West will not contain communism, it will dismiss communism.”
Reagan refused to back down from what he knew was “evil,” even when contemporary media accused him of warmongering. As a result, his courageous action paved the way for the fall of the Soviet Union.
At the dedication of the Ronald Reagan statue at Hillsdale College in 2011, Cambridge historian Andrew Roberts gave a speech titled “Reagan’s Moral Courage,” in which he told Hillsdale students, “it takes tremendous moral courage to resist the overwhelming tide of received opinion and so-called expert wisdom and to say and do exactly the opposite.”
Donald Trump is not Ronald Reagan. He is his own man with his own faults, but his decisive bombardment of the Syrian airbase was certainly courageous. For the past five years, a brutal dictator with no regard for human life murdered men, women, and children. Despite the use of weapons of mass destruction on civilians and the influx of millions of refugees fleeing Assad’s tyranny, no one else in the West decided to challenge the destructive regime.
While it’s natural to express fear over getting involved in another messy war, far too many have forgotten the courage necessary to rebuke those who commit crimes against humanity. Red lines exist to prevent the most inhumane acts of violence from occurring, like those described in the Geneva Convention regarding chemical weapons. As we learned one week ago when Assad again chose to gas his own people, red lines only work when we enforce them.
Even worse, accommodating the hostile Assad regime may encourage other antagonists in the region and beyond. Whether we like it or not, the decisions our leaders make affect conflicts all around the world. Only after President Obama’s failure to enforce the red line in Syria did Russian president Vladimir Putin invade the Crimean Peninsula. American weakness encourages hostile nations to violate international law.
Criticism of Trump’s decision comes from all sides. Many Americans still remember the Iraq War and the resulting Middle Eastern mess. However, shooting 59 precise target missiles at an airfield does not compare to trying to bring democracy to a war-torn country. President Trump’s missile strike has nothing to do with nation-building; rather, he reminded the entire world that the United States is back in the business of fearlessly standing for our own national principles.
When we look at the statues of Hillsdale’s statesmen, it’s easy to forget the risks they took and the criticism they received in the aftermath. Yet, courage is doing what’s right despite the risk and criticism— Trump’s response to the Assad regime’s crimes embodies that.
Even though the chapel’s construction may prevent us from walking by the Ronald Reagan statue for the next two years, we should not forget why we honor him. In turn, we ought to recognize others who display and embody in ourselves an ability to make decisions not out of fear, ease, or popular pressure but rather by doing what’s right and just.
Mr. Dietderich is a freshman studying the liberal arts.