Republicans started to reject facts and democracy long before you think they did -- according to economist Paul Krugman
Paul Krugman (Screenshot)

Never Trump conservatives as well as Blue Dog Democrats often cite the Reagan era as a more dignified time in conservative politics — a time when Republicans, policy differences and all, were willing to compromise with Democrats and weren't obsessed with "owning the liberals" the way they are now. But liberal economist Paul Krugman, in his New York Times column as well as his newsletter and a Twitter thread, argues that the modern GOP's "hatred for facts and science" can be traced back to the Reagan era.


Reagan is idolized by many of the Never Trumpers who detest President Donald Trump and were delighted to see President-elect Joe Biden win the 2020 presidential election. And Biden has often bragged about his ability to work with Republicans and play a role in bipartisan achievements during his decades in the U.S. Senate.

Krugman, in his December 14 Times column, makes some of the points that Never Trumpers have been making when he writes, "Republicans spent most of 2020 rejecting science in the face of a runaway pandemic; now, they're rejecting democracy in the face of a clear election loss. What do these rejections have in common? In each case, one of America's two major parties simply refused to accept facts it didn't like."

But Krugman parts company with Never Trumpers in a major way when he looks back on the Reagan era.

"Republicans have, of course, turned Reagan into an icon, portraying him as the savior of a desperate, declining nation," Krugman explains. "Mostly, however, this is just propaganda. You'd never know from the legend that economic growth under Reagan was only slightly faster than it had been under Jimmy Carter, and slower than it would be under Bill Clinton. And rapidly rising income inequality meant that a disproportionate share of the benefits from economic growth went to a small elite, with only a bit trickling down to most of the population. Poverty, measured properly, was higher in 1989 than it had been a decade earlier."

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Krugman, over the years, has been a major proponent of New Deal and Great Society economics — often stressing that Reaganomics and trickle-down economics were a departure from New Deal/Great Society economics and were bad for the United States' working class. And in his column, Krugman notes a connection between Reagonomics and a decrease in life expectancy in the U.S.

"In 1980, life expectancy in America was similar to that in other wealthy nations," Krugman notes. "But the Reagan years mark the beginning of the great mortality divergence of the United States from the rest of the advanced world. Today, Americans can, on average, expect to live almost four fewer years than their counterparts in comparable countries. The main point, however, is that under Reagan, irrationality and hatred for facts began to take over the GOP."

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Reagan, Krugman recalls, did a lot to encourage the Christian Right's prominence in the Republican Party. And he makes similar points in his newsletter, writing that "under Reagan, irrationality and hatred for facts began to take over the GOP."

"There has always been a conspiracy-theorizing, science-hating, anti-democratic faction in America," Krugman argues in his column. "Before Reagan, however, mainstream conservatives and the Republican establishment refused to make alliance with that faction, keeping it on the political fringe. Reagan, by contrast, brought the crazies inside the tent. Many people are, I think, aware that Reagan embraced a crank economic doctrine — belief in the magical power of tax cuts. I'm not sure how many remember that the Reagan Administration was also remarkably hostile to science."

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Krugman cites Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson as an example of a far-right fundamentalist who enjoyed prominence in both the Reagan era and the Trump era.

"This rejection of science (under Reagan) partly reflected deference to special interests that didn't want science-based regulation," Krugman recalls. "Even more important, however, was the influence of the Religious Right, which first became a major political force under Reagan, has become ever more central to the Republican coalition and is now a major driver of the party's rejection of facts — and democracy. For rejecting facts comes naturally to people who insist that they're acting on behalf of God. So does refusing to accept election results that don't go their way."