As King Ubu from Queens makes ready to take the presidential oath of office, assuming the ‘leadership of the free world’ and the computer codes that unlock America’s nuclear arsenal, the Pollyanna in me would like to remind those hiding in their basements with an eight-year supply of protein powder and Green Giant corn niblets that when Ronald Reagan took office at noon on 20 January 1981, the prospect of an extremely right-wing B-movie actor and longtime shill for General Electric entering the White House was hardly less surreal and unnerving than what we face now. True, Reagan had served two terms as governor of California (1967-75), but we here in the Golden State are still digging ourselves out from under them 42 years later, during which time vast sums of money have been transferred from the state’s resources for health, infrastructure, education etc. to the wealthiest 5 per cent of individuals.
The late Alexander Cockburn in the LRB of 7 February 1991 on the perceived essential 'non-goodness' (Nixon) or 'non-badness' (Carter, Reagan, Bush) of American presidents, and the time he pulled Reagan's hair:
There is agitation abroad in the land to put a likeness of Ronald Reagan on the face of the $50 bill, supplanting that of Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War hero and two-term president of the United States. Grant was a mixed bag; presidents almost always are. Consider Andrew Jackson, the face on the $20 bill, and nowadays a most familiar face since the advent of cash machines. Next time you’re in Oklahoma, why don’t you ask a Cherokee, probably an older one, not attached to an iPod, about Andrew Jackson.
Richard Nixon, visiting the Great Wall of China in 1972, said: 'I think you would have to conclude that this is a great wall.' Ronald Reagan, visiting the Wall in 1984, said: 'What can you say except it’s awe-inspiring? It is one of the great wonders of the world.' Asked if he would like to build his own Great Wall, Reagan drew a circle in the air and said: 'Around the White House.' Bill Clinton, visiting the Wall in 1998, said: 'So if we had a couple of hours, we could walk 10 kilometres, and we'd hit the steepest incline, and we'd all be in very good shape when we finished. Or we'd be finished. It was a good workout. It was great.' George W. Bush, visiting the Wall in 2002, signed the guest book and said: 'Let’s go home.' He made no other comments. Barack Obama, visiting the Wall on Wednesday, said: 'It's majestic. It’s magical.
The other night I went out with a group of people to a private dinner club hidden away at the top of a residential building in Garden City, a middle-class area of Cairo where many foreign embassies are (with, not surprisingly, a very heavy security detail). A Sudanese waiter welcomed us into the vast, sumptuously appointed flat. It used to belong to Hoda Shaarawi, an Egyptian feminist leader, born in 1879, who wrote poetry in Arabic and French, and was the first Egyptian woman to remove her veil in public, in 1923. An oud player was performing in one room, while corny pop tunes – 'Feelings', 'Blue Moon' – blared from the stereo in another. We sat down, and were greeted by another Sudanese waiter. Was every waiter at the club Sudanese? 'They are Darfuris,' my host said, a homage, he explained, to old world colonial aesthetics (and hierarchy). Our waiter wore a name tag: R.