Will the rise of the "Reagan Baby" generation mean a return to American optimism?

Tuesday we celebrate the birthday of America’s 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.

While he is remembered and revered for much that he did and said and inspired during his life, he also is celebrated for the ripple effect of his life which continues to expand, even long after his death.  Who could ever have predicted that a little boy born in the middle of a snowstorm in a tiny town in central Illinois to a very poor family would grow up and become President of the United States?  And not just any president, but a giant among greats.  His truly is an “only in America” story and reminds us that anything is possible here if you dare to dream big dreams and work hard to achieve them.

As president, Ronald Reagan showed us how to dream big dreams.  To imagine a flourishing economy.  To imagine renewed strength and patriotism.  To picture a world free of political tyrants and communist regimes.  Far-fetched?  Perhaps.  Yet when that was the end goal, any steps taken in that direction were steps in the right direction.

What about us now?  Have we lost the ability to imagine and dream big and long for more?  Are we so used to disappointment that we are afraid to get our hopes up? Or find comfort in perpetual pessimism rather than looking for the best in each other and in the future?  I don’t believe so. It’s not who we are as Americans.

The generation that grew up with Ronald Reagan as their president were fed a healthy diet of optimism, of clarity of vision and voice, and were raised to believe that anything was possible.

Though as a conservative in California it is sometimes difficult to find reasons for optimism politically, there is one dynamic which gives me great hope that the future of our nation – and even the great state of California – is bright.  As I look to the future, I see the Baby Boomer generation continuing to ease its way out of power locally, in Washington and globally.  Waiting in the wings for their turn to step to the center stage of leadership is a new generation of leaders on the rise – the generation that grew up with Ronald Reagan as their president.  From their formative years, “Reagan Babies” were fed a healthy diet of optimism, of clarity of vision and voice, and were raised to believe that anything was possible.

This is my generation, and we grew up thinking all presidents were presidential.  Ronald Reagan was our first personal connection to the White House.  He regularly came right into our living room on one of three major networks and talked directly to us – not above us or beneath us but connected right to us.  And we believed what he said.  And trusted him.  And liked him.  He made us feel safe and strong and important.  In him, we saw a leader who was principled and was unapologetic about what he believed.  He cultivated an America that was patriotic and prosperous domestically and was bold in shining the torch of freedom all over the world into dark corners where oppression still existed.  And he did so primarily without firing a shot.  Or a tweet.  Or an insult.  Might was coupled with civility.  Power was cloaked with manners.  And leadership was somehow both respected and feared, while simultaneously providing us with a sense of security, safety and comfort. 

Can strength of will and strength of character truly coexist again as they did with Ronald Reagan?  Is that something we as a nation still value? And will still elevate or elect?  We often criticize our leadership, yet maybe it’s more appropriately an indictment of ourselves and society, rather than solely a criticism of our elected officials.

If our leaders truly represent us, don’t they then also reflect us?  Perhaps we often don’t like what we see in those who lead us because those traits are the very things that we don’t like in ourselves – and certainly don’t like having reflected back on us.  (Just like as parents we often cringe at what comes out of the mouths of our children, knowing it’s a direct mimic of us!)

Contrary to the current societal symphony of negativity, I believe that now is the perfect time for everything to turn and change for the better - and change for good.  It’s time now for the generation of Reagan – the Reagan Babies – those who were raised on the hope and optimism of better days and remember America at its best both domestically and on the world stage – to boldly step forward and lead and make our voices heard.  Voices that will once again unite us, not divide us.  Voices that will inspire us not infuriate and further incite us.

In his 1992 address to the Republican National Convention in Houston, Texas, Ronald Reagan said, "Whatever else history may say about me when I'm gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence rather than your doubts.”  Such wisdom in those words.  In the past year, despite the incessant criticism from the elites and the establishment, we have been reminded of our powerful voice as a people, and we the people are making it clear that we want something different, and more, than we had under the past administration.  That we were tired of being led and divided by fear and doubt and deceit.  That we want to once again be inspired by confidence and hope.  What we want is a return to a Reaganesque America – a return to civility – both politically and personally.  A return to the best of us and to our confidence and our best hopes.

Perhaps as we move forward into the second year of the Trump presidency, the lasting and ongoing legacy of Ronald Reagan will continue to further permeate the political landscape – infusing the conversation with greater civility, informing the issues with increased inspiration and optimism and looking for ways to unite with hope and confidence.  The generation of Reagan knows how to do this – and in fact it is what they know best.  Let’s step forward together, “Reagan Babies,” to truly take up the mantle of Reagan and bring it to a new generation and a waiting world.  There would be no greater gift to bring to Ronald Reagan’s legacy than that.

Peggy Grande is author of "The President Will See You Now", a keynote speaker and a specialty project consultant. She was the executive assistant to president Ronald Reagan from 1989 – 1999.