Ronald Reagan Killed Poetry — A Conspiracy Theory

The Conspiracy Begins
“One ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language… “
George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language

Try this ice breaker at your next party:

Juxtapose two or more apparently unrelated items, events, people, news stories, etc., then speculate freely concerning their possible hidden connections.

The cornucopia of American pop culture is bursting with the fruit of such musings, from “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” to every conspiracy theory under the sun.

I am not a sociologist. I have no empirical grounds on which to declare any kind of causal connections between the facts I will present below. What follows is, at best, blind, intuitive guesswork. It’s my very own, handcrafted conspiracy theory — and you’re invited to spread it far and wide across the Internet.

You can even take credit for it if you like. If anyone asks, I heard it from you.

Please note that I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I have voted for candidates from both major parties over the last several decades, and learned from that experience to be deeply cynical about party politics in general. I am an independent voter whose vote is very hard to win, and who often “throws his vote away” supporting idealistic third party candidates.

My only dog in this fight is poetry, and haven’t you heard?

Ronald Reagan killed poetry.

Exhibit A: The Reagan Revolution (the condensed version)

Selectively clipped from the Wikipedia article History of the United States Republican Party:

Ronald Reagan launched the “Reagan Revolution” with his election to the Presidency in 1980, providing conservative influence that continues to the present day… [and] produced a major realignment with his 1980 and 1984 landslides.
… Reagan reoriented American politics. He claimed credit in 1984 for an economic renewal — “It’s morning in America again!” was the successful campaign slogan. Income taxes were slashed 25% and the upper tax rates abolished…. He took a hard line against the Soviet Union, alarming Democrats who wanted a nuclear freeze, but he succeeded in increasing the military budget…
[Condensation: Four years of George H. W. Bush, the first Iraq war, blah blah blah.…]
After the election of Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1992, the Republican Party, led by House Republican Minority Whip Newt Gingrich campaigning on a “Contract With America,” were elected to majorities to both houses of Congress in the Republican Revolution of 1994…. This capture and subsequent holding of Congress represented a major legislative turnaround…
Some liberal Democratic intellectuals in the 1960s and 1970s who became disenchanted with the leftward movement of their party in domestic and foreign policy became “neoconservatives” (“neocons”). A number held major appointments during the five presidential terms under Reagan, and the Bushes. They played a central role in promoting and planning the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
With [George W. Bush’s] highly controversial and exceedingly narrow victory in the 2000 election against Vice President Al Gore, the Republican Party gained control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress for the first time since 1952.
[Condensation: … 911… War on Terror… Invasion of Afghanistan… Invasion of Iraq… A bunch of other stuffObama wins the White House in 2008, with lots of Democrats riding his coattails…]
[Then this happened…]
… Republicans won back control of the House of Representatives in the November [2010 mid-term] general election, with a net gain of 63 seats, the largest gain for either party since 1948.

We all know the story from there. Obama won reelection in 2012, but Republicans held onto Congress, ensuring gridlock right up until Donald Trump’s 2016 ascension to the throne (with lots of Republicans riding his coattails…)

Whew. 36 years of American political history packed into seven paragraphs. Most of us remember these events first hand, or at least learned about them in school.

“But that’s all just boring political blah blah blah…,” you might rationally interject at this point.

What could any of this possibly have to do with poetry?

Exhibit B: Poetry is going extinct, government data show

But here’s something you may not have been aware was also happening during that time period, not 100% exactly paralleling the the Reagan Revolution, but following closely enough that it can’t possibly be a coincidence.

There are no coincidences….

This graph from a 2015 Washington Post article says it all:

In 1992, 17 percent of Americans had read a work of poetry at least once in the past year. 20 years later that number had fallen by more than half, to 6.7 percent. Those numbers come from the national Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA), a massive survey that’s run every few years as part of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.
The survey finds that the decline in poetry readership is unique among the arts — particularly the literary arts. “Since 2002, the share of poetry-readers has contracted by 45 percent — resulting in the steepest decline in participation in any literary genre,” the study concludes. Over the past 20 years, the downward trend is nearly perfectly linear — and doesn’t show signs of abating.
… since 2004, the share of all Google searches involving “poetry” has fallen precipitously. Today, poetry searches account for only about one fifth of the total search volume they accounted for ten years ago.

Then there’s this, from Dana Gioia’s Can Poetry Matter? in the Atlantic Online:

…society has mostly forgotten the value of poetry. To the general reader, discussions about the state of poetry sound like the debating of foreign politics by emigres in a seedy café… Anyone who hopes to broaden poetry’s audience — critic, teacher, librarian, poet, or lonely literary amateur — faces a daunting challenge. How does one persuade justly skeptical readers, in terms they can understand and appreciate, that poetry still matters?
…Poetry is the art of using words charged with their utmost meaning. A society whose intellectual leaders lose the skill to shape, appreciate, and understand the power of language will become the slaves of those who retain it — be they politicians, preachers, copywriters, or newscasters.
… Poetry is not the entire solution to keeping the nation’s language clear and honest, but one is hard pressed to imagine a country’s citizens improving the health of its language while abandoning poetry.

So there it is. The connection could not be clearer. Either the Republicans torpedoed poetry as part of Reagan’s dark (and nearly complete; review the header image)revolution, or some larger, still invisible entity took out American poetic literacy for its own nefarious purposes (global domination?), and the Republicans sprang up in the gap like dandelions in a fresh-mown field.

It’s a conspiracy either way. That much is certain. This could be fake news from Russia. Trust no one.

My cousin’s friend’s neighbor told me one time (or maybe it was on YouTube?) that the words “No Child Left Behind,” when held in front of a mirror, read “dniheB tfeL dilhC oN” — a demonic incantation composed by Aleister Crowley and Adolf Hitler, and delivered in a fugue state to the elder George Bush in late 2000 (the same year Survivor debuted, think about it), that is designed to replace poetry in the public mind with reality TV. The spell’s goal is to dumb down Americans and trick us into one day electing a reality TV star President, thus triggering the apocalypse…

Crap. I’m too late.

But there may still be time to save ourselves, our families, and our culture. We may still be able to rescue the language.

Resist. Fight back. Binge-stream every season of The Apprentice, turned up really, really loud,to distract the NSA. Then find a quiet place and read some poetry. As much as you can. While you still can…

Here’s a good place to start.

And of course my poet friends on Medium.

This week I have been especially enjoying Poetry in Form.

But, hey! Keep your head down. And remember…

You didn’t hear any of this from me, got it?