During a lengthy interview for the Yahoo News show “Through Her Eyes,” host Zainab Salbi asked Patti Davis, the writer and daughter of the late president Ronald Reagan, what her father would think about democracy during the era of Donald Trump.
“I think he would be horrified,” Davis, 66, said of her father, who died in 2004. “He would also be 108 years old, so maybe he wouldn’t have a lot to say. But let’s assume he would. I think he would be horrified. I think he would be heartbroken.”
This is not the first time Davis has criticized the Republican Party under President Trump. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post’s opinion section, where she has criticized Trump’s remarks after mass tragedy, his attitude toward a free press and the qualities he shares with former president Richard Nixon.
She also is not a Republican and has never identified as such.
Her father has remained a legacy figure in the Republican Party, someone current conservatives often cite in speeches and on social media. Even Trump’s signature slogan, Make America Great Again, originated from Reagan’s successful 1980 presidential campaign bid. His catchphrase: “Let’s make America great again.”
“I think it’s taken on, obviously, a completely different meaning,” Davis said of the slogan. “What it seems to mean now is let’s make America white again and racist again and small-minded again.”
She said she believes the Republican Party today “bears no resemblance to the Republican Party of my father’s time.” Davis cited what she considers examples: “How about the crickets when Trump keeps assaulting the Constitution?”
Republicans in this government, she said, are “just sitting by the sidelines and letting the Trump administration destroy this country.”
In one of the interview’s most incendiary moments, Salbi referenced a post Davis wrote on her website in summer 2016, just months before Trump won the election. Watching Trump’s fans chant “Lock her up!” in reference to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, left Davis thinking about a quote attributed to the former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu: “You can do whatever you want if you keep the people frightened enough.”
“Are you suggesting this is what President Trump is doing?” Salbi asked Davis.
“I think it’s very obvious it’s what he is doing,” Davis said. “If you stir up fear in people, you weaken them. If you divide people, you weaken them. Everything he says is divisive. Look at his rallies.”
“Are you suggesting President Trump is endangering our democracy?” Salbi asked later.
“Of course I am,” Davis said. “I mean, he is.”
Davis, a lifelong activist who has earned a reputation in her family as the liberal black sheep, said she fears progressives — and conservatives who oppose Trump’s policies — are enabling an unhealthy civil discourse by not getting involved. She rejected the idea that an informed citizenry should be able to ignore the news because they are too “sensitive” to its content.
“You know what? Your sensitivity is the problem right now, because if people don’t speak up and stand up, we are going to lose this country,” Davis said. “I mean, that’s what we’re faced with right now.”
Trump has compared his policies to those of Reagan, falsely claiming on Twitter that the 40th president tried to build a wall on the border with Mexico during his administration. Reagan signed landmark immigration legislation into law that granted citizenship to 3 million undocumented immigrants.
Davis said Republicans have a “selective memory” of her father’s immigration legacy and said his policies did not align with Trump’s.
“It was totally the opposite of ‘These brown people, these people bringing diseases and raping women, women with duct tape,’ and whatever else he is saying,” Davis said. “What is going on right now is absolute cruelty. We’re ripping children out of the arms of mothers and putting them in cages.
“This is not the kind of country we’re supposed to have,” she added.
Though most of the interview focused on Reagan’s legacy and the current political climate, the two women also discussed the challenges Davis faced as first daughter and her tumultuous relationship with her parents, particularly her mother, Nancy Reagan. Davis called the former first lady a “complicated person.”
And they discussed Davis’s new book — she has written more than a dozen — titled “The Wrong Side of Night,” about a woman grappling with the loss of her family.
Toward the end of the interview, Salbi asked Davis to offer a message to Americans today.
“My first thought when you asked that was, ‘Be afraid, be very afraid,’ ” Davis said. “But I also think that fear can be used as an impetus. I think we should be afraid that this democracy could be destroyed.”
She said fear might motivate people to rise up and say, “No, no, no.”
“The problem is that people supporting Trump are a lot more vocal and have a lot more energy at this point,” Davis said. “The rest of us need to have an equal amount of energy.”
Perspective: How Donald Trump is like Ronald Reagan