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Ronald Wilson Reagan (/ˈrɡən/ RAY-gən; February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) was an American politician who served as the 40th president of the United States from 1981 to 1989 and became a highly influential voice of modern conservatism. Prior to his presidency, he was a Hollywood actor and union leader before serving as the 33rd governor of California from 1967 to 1975.

Reagan was raised in a low-income family in small towns of northern Illinois. He graduated from Eureka College in 1932 and worked as a radio sports commentator. After moving to California in 1937, he found work as an actor and starred in a few major productions. As president of the Screen Actors Guild, Reagan worked to root out communist influence. In the 1950s, he moved into television and was a motivational speaker at General Electric factories. In 1964, his speech "A Time for Choosing" earned him national attention as a new conservative spokesman. Building a network of supporters, Reagan was elected governor of California in 1966. As governor, he raised taxes, turned a state budget deficit to a surplus, challenged the protesters at UC Berkeley, and ordered in National Guard troops during a period of protest movements.

In 1980, Reagan won the Republican presidential nomination and defeated the incumbent president, Jimmy Carter. At 69 years, 349 days of age at the time of his first inauguration, Reagan was the oldest person to assume the U.S. presidency, a distinction he held until 2017, when Donald Trump was inaugurated at age 70 years, 220 days. Reagan was re-elected in 1984, winning 58.8% of the national popular vote and losing only D.C. and his opponent Walter Mondale's home state of Minnesota, one of the most lopsided victories in modern American history.

Immediately on taking office as president, Reagan began implementing sweeping new political and economic initiatives that were highly popular among conservatives but denounced by liberals. Reagan won over enough conservative Democrats to pass his program through Congress. Economic conditions had deteriorated under Carter, with slow growth and high inflation. Reagan promised that his supply-side economic policies, dubbed "Reaganomics", would turn around the economy with lower tax rates, economic deregulation, and reduction in government spending. However, conditions remained harsh until they finally turned as promised in time for his re-election in 1984. Over his two terms, the economy saw a reduction of inflation from 12.5% to 4.4% and an average real GDP annual growth of 3.6%. Reagan enacted cuts in domestic discretionary spending, cut taxes, and increased military spending, which contributed to increased federal debt overall. In his first term, he survived an assassination attempt, spurred the War on Drugs, and fought public sector labor unions.

In foreign affairs he denounced Communism and invaded the island country of Grenada after Communist elements took control; as a result a new government was appointed by the governor-general. With the economy booming again, foreign affair crises dominated his second term. Major concerns were the bombing of Libya, the Iran–Iraq War, the Iran–Contra affair, and the renewed Cold War. In June 1987, four years after he publicly described the Soviet Union as an "evil empire", Reagan challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall!", during a speech at the Berlin Wall. He transitioned Cold War policy from détente to rollback by escalating an arms race with the USSR. He then engaged in talks with Gorbachev that culminated in the INF Treaty, which shrank both countries' nuclear arsenals.

When Reagan left office in January 1989, he held an approval rating of 68%, matching those of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and later Bill Clinton, as the highest ratings for departing presidents in the modern era.[5] Although he had planned an active post-presidency, Reagan disclosed in November 1994 that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease earlier that year. Afterward, his informal public appearances became more infrequent as the disease progressed. He died at home on June 5, 2004. His tenure constituted a realignment toward conservative policies in the United States, and he is an icon among conservatives. Evaluations of his presidency among historians and the general public place him among the upper tier of American presidents.

In response to concerns about the increasing crack epidemic, Reagan began the war on drugs campaign in 1982, a policy led by the federal government to reduce the illegal drug trade. Though Nixon had previously declared war on drugs, Reagan advocated more aggressive policies.[251] He said that "drugs were menacing our society" and promised to fight for drug-free schools and workplaces, expanded drug treatment, stronger law enforcement and drug interdiction efforts, and greater public awareness.[252][253]

In 1986, Reagan signed a drug enforcement bill that budgeted $1.7 billion (equivalent to $4 billion in 2019) to fund the war on drugs and specified a mandatory minimum penalty for drug offenses.[254] The bill was criticized for promoting significant racial disparities in the prison population,[254] and critics also charged that the policies did little to reduce the availability of drugs on the street while resulting in a tremendous financial burden for America.[255] Defenders of the effort point to success in reducing rates of adolescent drug use which they attribute to the Reagan administrations policies:crack epidemic, Reagan began the war on drugs campaign in 1982, a policy led by the federal government to reduce the illegal drug trade. Though Nixon had previously declared war on drugs, Reagan advocated more aggressive policies.[251] He said that "drugs were menacing our society" and promised to fight for drug-free schools and workplaces, expanded drug treatment, stronger law enforcement and drug interdiction efforts, and greater public awareness.[252][253]

In 1986, Reagan signed a drug enforcement bill that budgeted $1.7 billion (equivalent to $4 billion in 2019) to fund the war on drugs and specified a mandatory minimum penalty for drug offenses.[254] The bill was criticized for promoting significant racial disparities in the prison population,[254] and critics also charged that the policies did little to reduce the availability of drugs on the street while resulting in a tremendous financial burden for America.[255] Defenders of the effort point to success in reducing rates of adolescent drug use which they attribute to the Reagan administrations policies:[256] marijuana use among high-school seniors declined from 33 percent in 1980 to 12 percent in 1991.[257] First Lady Nancy Reagan made the war on drugs her main priority by founding the "Just Say No" drug awareness campaign, which aimed to discourage children and teenagers from engaging in recreational drug use by offering various ways of saying "no." Nancy Reagan traveled to 65 cities in 33 states, raising awareness about the dangers of drugs, including alcohol.[258]

According to AIDS activist organizations such as ACT UP and scholars such as Don Francis and Peter S. Arno, the Reagan administration largely ignored the AIDS crisis, which began to unfold in the United States in 1981, the same year Reagan took office.[259][260][261][262] They also claim that AIDS research was chronically underfunded during Reagan's administration, and requests for more funding by doctors at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were routinely denied.[263][264]

By the time President Reagan gave his first prepared speech on the epidemic, six years into his p

By the time President Reagan gave his first prepared speech on the epidemic, six years into his presidency, 36,058 Americans had been diagnosed with AIDS, and 20,849 had died of it.[264] By 1989, the year Reagan left office, more than 100,000 people had been diagnosed with AIDS in the United States, and more than 59,000 of them had died of it.[265]

Reagan administration officials countered criticisms of neglect by noting that federal funding for AIDS-related programs rose over his presidency, from a few hundred thousand dollars in 1982 to $2.3 billion in 1989.[266] In a September 1985 press conference, Reagan said: "this is a top priority with us...there's no question about the seriousness of this and the need to find an answer."[267] Gary Bauer, Reagan's domestic policy adviser near the end of his second term, argued that Reagan's belief in cabinet government led him to assign the job of speaking out against AIDS to his Surgeon General of the United States and the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services.[268]

From the late 1960s onward, the American public grew increasingly vocal in its opposition to the apartheid policy of the white-minority government of South Africa, and in its insistence that the U.S. impose economic and diplomatic sanctions on South Africa.[269] The strength of the anti-apartheid opposition surged during Reagan's first term in office as its component disinvestment from South Africa movement, which had been in existence for quite some years, gained critical mass following in the United States, particularly on college campuses and among mainline Protestant denominations.[270][271] President Reagan was opposed to divestiture because, as he wrote in a letter to Sammy Davis Jr., it "would hurt the very people we are trying to help and would leave us no contact within South Africa to try and bring influence to bear on the government". He also noted the fact that the "American-owned industries there employ more than 80,000 blacks" and that their employment practices were "very different from the normal South African customs".[272]

As an alternative strategy for opposing apartheid, the Reagan Administration developed

As an alternative strategy for opposing apartheid, the Reagan Administration developed a policy of constructive engagement with the South African government as a means of encouraging it to move away from apartheid gradually. It was part of a larger initiative designed to foster peaceful economic development and political change throughout southern Africa.[269] This policy, however, engendered much public criticism and renewed calls for the imposition of stringent sanctions.[273] In response, Reagan announced the imposition of new sanctions on the South African government, including an arms embargo in late 1985.[274] These sanctions were, however, seen as weak by anti-apartheid activists, and as insufficient by the president's opponents in Congress.[273] In August 1986, Congress approved the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, which included tougher sanctions. Reagan vetoed the act, but the veto was overridden by Congress. Afterward, Reagan reiterated that his administration and "all America" opposed apartheid, and said, "the debate ... was not whether or not to oppose apartheid but, instead, how best to oppose it and how best to bring freedom to that troubled country." Several European countries as well as Japan soon followed the U.S. lead and imposed their sanctions on South Africa.[275]

Relations between Libya and the United States under President Reagan were continually contentious, beginning with the Gulf of Sidra incident in 1981; by 1982, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was considered by the CIA to be, along with USSR leader Leonid Brezhnev and Cuban leader Fidel Castro, part of a group known as the "unholy trinity" and was also labeled as "our international public enemy number one" by a CIA official.[276] These tensions were later revived in early April 1986, when a bomb exploded in a Berlin discothèque, resulting in the injury of 63 American military personnel and death of one serviceman. Stating that there was "irrefutable proof" that Libya had directed the "terrorist bombing," Reagan authorized the use of force against the country. In the late evening of April 15, 1986, the United States launched a series of airstrikes on ground targets in Libya.[277][278]

British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, allowed the U.S. Air Force to use Britain's air bases to launch the attack, on the justification that the UK was supporting America's right to self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.[278] The attack was designed to halt Gaddafi's "ability to export terrorism," offering him "incentives and reasons to alter his criminal behavior."[277] The president addressed the nation from the Oval Office after the attacks had commenced, stating, "When our citizens are attacked or abused anywhere in the world on the direct orders of hostile regimes, we will respond so long as I'm in this office."[278] The attack was condemned by many countries. By a vote of 79 in favor to 28 against with 33 abstentions, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 41/38 which "condemns the military attack perpetrated against the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya on April 15, 1986, which constitutes a violation of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law."[279]

Immigration

Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. The act made it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, allowed the U.S. Air Force to use Britain's air bases to launch the attack, on the justification that the UK was supporting America's right to self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.[278] The attack was designed to halt Gaddafi's "ability to export terrorism," offering him "incentives and reasons to alter his criminal behavior."[277] The president addressed the nation from the Oval Office after the attacks had commenced, stating, "When our citizens are attacked or abused anywhere in the world on the direct orders of hostile regimes, we will respond so long as I'm in this office."[278] The attack was condemned by many countries. By a vote of 79 in favor to 28 against with 33 abstentions, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 41/38 which "condemns the military attack perpetrated against the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya on April 15, 1986, which constitutes a violation of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law."[279]

Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. The act made it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit illegal immigrants, required employers to attest to their employees' immigration status, and granted amnesty to approximately three million illegal immigrants who entered the United States before January 1, 1982, and had lived in the country continuously. Upon signing the act at a ceremony held beside the newly refurbished Statue of Liberty, Reagan said, "The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society. Very soon, many of these men and women will be able to step into the sunlight and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans."[280] Reagan also said, "The employer sanctions program is the keystone and major element. It will remove the incentive for illegal immigration by eliminating the job opportunities which draw illegal aliens here."[280]