If you believe the rage and rancor of conspiracy theorists, partisan politicos and frustrated extremists from the left and the right, America is a deeply divided nation ripe for revolution. In truth, what our country needs is a little remembering and a lot of rediscovering. 

Feb. 6 marks what would have been Ronald Reagan’s 110th birthday. He understood the heart and soul of America in a unique way and united the nation — from the center left to the center right — in remarkable fashion. While some call it the Reagan Revolution, the nation’s 40th president believed it to be more of a rediscovery. 

In his farewell address, Reagan delivered a speech that could be played today. He deflected praise of his oratory and leadership skills and focused instead on the American people and their principles.

“And in all of that time I won a nickname, ‘The Great Communicator.’ But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: it was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation — from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries.”

The president continued, “They called it the Reagan revolution. Well, I’ll accept that, but for me it always seemed more like the great rediscovery, a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.”

Hate and contempt do not reap love and kindness

America doesn’t need a revolution; it needs a rediscovery of our values and common sense. America is not in need of a civil war; it is in need of a civil debate. America hardly needs more angry voices inciting violence; it needs respectful voices sharing insight grounded in truth. 

Principled lessons rediscovered are the swiftest and surest path to progress.

Below are a few lessons and tributes from those whose lives have been touched by the Reagan legacy. 

Dignity, respect and kindness make America extraordinary

By Stephen M. Studdert

American presidents come, lead the nation for a season and go, and it has been my honor and privilege to serve several of them.

Ronald Reagan, by every measure, was one of history’s most consequential presidents. Every day with him was monumental.

Countless are the times entering the Oval Office that I would wonder to myself, “What’s a kid from Spanish Fork, Utah, doing here?” Then one day I realized that Mr. Reagan himself came from a small rural hometown like mine, his roots were in middle America and his heart with the average American. He was one of us.

As I accompanied him to all 50 states and many foreign countries, I witnessed firsthand — whether with kings, prime ministers, popes, truckers or cowboys — he treated everyone with dignity, respect, kindness and understanding. His love of America and its people, and his steadfast dedication to the principles of liberty, transcended everything he was and did.

People often ask about his character. Once while visiting Salt Lake City he was exiting the hotel via the freight elevator, as presidents inelegantly always do. He walked about 10 paces toward the waiting motorcade, stopped, and returned to the elevator. We had no idea why. It was to thank the elevator operator and apologize for overlooking him on the way out.

Upon his passing, his body laid in repose in the silent United States Capitol Rotunda where tens of thousands of his fellow countrymen, and foreigners, reverently paid their final respects. One such mourner was Mikhail Gorbachev, former leader of America’s foremost ideological adversary. As the long line stood still, and without interfering media, Gorbachev alone approached the casket draped in Reagan’s beloved American flag. In an extraordinary moment of world history, this Soviet ruler placed his outstretched hand on the flag of the country his friend Ronald Reagan so dearly loved, and with a tear on his cheek bowed in silent prayer. 

Ronald Reagan, a leader possessed of goodness and greatness, had an exhilarating and empowering belief in the United States of America and in the hand of Providence in its purpose. The entire world is profoundly different today, and better, because of him and his unwavering devotion to inspired founding principles.

Stephen M. Studdert served as a White House adviser to President Ronald Reagan.

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev touches the casket of former President Ronald Reagan lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda on Capitol Hill Thursday, June 10, 2004. | Associated Press

Optimism for policies, principles and people

By Jon Huntsman Jr.

Ronald Reagan led by example. Many talk about it, but few live it. He entered office with our nation in post-Vietnam/Watergate despair. But what few remember was the absolute economic devastation many Americans were experiencing. Lights out in New York City, inflation and interest rates running in double digits — not to mention our most serious energy crises ever. Into this slump emerged an optimistic president who believed in the values of liberty and America’s ability to “get back on its feet”. 

I traveled as a White House advance-man to countless speeches and public/private events with the president. Never did I see him lose his optimism, belief in America’s ability to overcome challenging times, or his commitment to freeing up our economic power within. It was all an extension of his deep and unwavering sense of the American dream. He lived it and felt it in his bones. He believed it was inexorably tied to opportunity — which in turn was fueled by lifting the heavy hand of government — done most effectively through the tax code. His messages were always simple and heartfelt.

America’s leaders must have the courage to ask this question

His leadership was exemplified by consistent objectives (economic growth, ending the evil empire and taming government spending) coupled with a communication strategy (radio and TV) that spoke to our time and place in history. 

He loved bantering with the media, even those who attacked him, and disarmed them with his resilient optimism. He believed in himself and the American people. He also struck up important relationships with Democrats, starting with House Speaker Tip O’Neill. I stood close by on St. Patrick’s Day at the Irish embassy in Washington while together they shared a beer — just the two of them — and talked of the importance of their shared responsibility as leaders.

Without his ability to cross party lines, 1981 tax reform would have been impossible. There was also Jack Kemp and Dan Rostenkowski in the House, Bill Bradley and Bill Roth in the Senate. This stuff is unthinkable today, but presidential leadership, and the process Dick Darman and Jim Baker undertook in negotiating the finer details from the White House was all a result of Reagan’s determination to deliver for the American people.

Jon Huntsman Jr. worked in a number of capacities during the Reagan administration, including event advance.

A leadership by force of will and humility of faith

By Gregory J. Newell

I choose to honor America’s 40th president by remembering him in his own inspiring words — as an exemplary national and global leader of will and faith.

“The struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.”  — March 8, 1983

“Without God, there is no virtue, because there’s no prompting of the conscience. Without God, we’re mired in the material, that flat world that tells us only what the senses perceive. Without God, there is a coarsening of the society. And without God, democracy will not and cannot long endure. If we ever forget that we’re one under God, then, we will be a nation gone under.”  — Aug. 23, 1984 

“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 fears; to your confidence, rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty’s lamp guiding your steps and opportunity’s arm steadying your way.”  — Aug. 17, 1992

President Reagan’s final message to his fellow Americans was given in 1994 by way of a personal letter. He sensitively wrote, following the diagnosis of his Alzheimer’s disease, “I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease … I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life.” 

The president concluded, “I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead. Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you.” 

I express my enduing gratitude for the nine years I had of serving President Ronald Reagan and do so with profound respect for him and his world-changing legacy.

Gregory Newell served as Ronald Reagan’s director of presidential appointments & scheduling, U.S. assistant secretary of state and U.S. ambassador to Sweden (1981-1989).

America is a nation in need of grace
President Reagan faces reporters during a nationally broadcast news conference from the White House East Room on Thursday, May 23, 1984 in Washington. | Associated Press

A happy warrior with a twinkle in his eye

By Lew Cramer

Every generation of Americans deserves at least one true and authentic hero. Now several ongoing generations have the shared blessing of claiming Ronald Reagan as our enduring American hero. 

Reagan touched every corner of the world as a stalwart champion of our nation’s responsibility to truly be the shining “city upon a hill.” 

Forty years ago, many Utahns began serving in the Reagan administration. Too many of them have since passed on to their eternal reward. Therefore, those of us who are still living witnesses of these halcyon days want to remind our children and future generations of why President Reagan fully merits the ongoing respect he increasingly enjoys today. He deeply loved our country, all its citizens and its continued bright future. 

President Reagan gave clear and unambiguous warnings to friends and foes that ours is a country founded on those principles that have given freedom, prosperity and opportunity to more people than ever before in its history. Below are reminders of his wit and wisdom: 

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same.” 

“The most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” 

“The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program.” 

“Government’s view of the economy could be summed up a few short phrases — If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” 

“The person who agrees with you 80% of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20% traitor.”

As we honor him, we remember President Reagan as truly a “happy warrior” with his infectious optimism for American’s continuing role leading the world. As he proclaimed: “When we unfurl our flags, strike up the bands, and light up the skies each July 4, we celebrate the most exciting, ongoing adventure in human freedom the world has ever known.”  

With a twinkle in his eye, a smile on his lips and steel in his backbone, he continually gave America the hope that “morning in America” would be our ongoing destiny if we respected the principles and values that had always made our nation both prosperous and free. 

Lew Cramer served under President Ronald Reagan as a White House Fellow, U.S assistant secretary of commerce and director general of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service. 

Zip ties that bind the generations

By Sarah Matheson-Steeby

I never met Ronald Reagan. I wasn’t even alive during his presidency. But I have always felt a strong tie to him because of his dedication to principles and the pursuit of freedom. My strong tie solidified when I took my first job out of college to work at the Reagan Ranch.

Nestled in the hills above the Santa Ynez Valley in California, President Reagan’s Rancho del Cielo is a humble abode that was Reagan’s escape from Washington during his presidential years. While Nancy may have preferred relaxing at a beach in Malibu, President Reagan found inspiration and relaxation in working hard on their 688-acre ranch. My job while working at Rancho del Cielo (currently owned by Young America’s Foundation) included tying today’s young students to the principles that made President Reagan a champion for freedom.

My favorite story to share with students was about a fairly insignificant part of the ranch. When the Reagans purchased the property, the tiny, one bedroom building on the premises left much to be desired.

Being the practical man that he was, President Reagan set to work fixing the ranch home up himself and discovered that the home conveniently had two twin beds. Reagan decided that instead of getting a new bed for Nancy and himself, he would take the bedframes that were already there, zip tie them together and make a king-sized bed.

President Reagan knew that when you worked hard, it didn’t quite matter where you slept, it just mattered that you slept. Reagan placed an old coffee table at the end of the bed for his feet as they hung off the edge. The Reagans never bought another bed. The zip ties held and Ronald and Nancy were the epitome of being bound together. 

Grand ideas, inspiration and rejuvenation are found in simplicity. They are found in making things work, even when it’s messy or looks a little less than glamorous. We too often miss the power in humbly being content with a little imperfection.

Reagan taught, by the way he lived at the ranch, that the beauty of our lives is found in watching a friend’s face light up in laughter over a good meal, watching a child concentrate on a small task, or the peace of being with family in nature. We sometimes forget that the same friend is flawed but trying, that the child is afraid but willing, and that the messy family is bound together by something stronger than even President Reagan’s zip ties. When we force change to newer and shinier things, we miss the awe of simplicity and the power in imperfection.

President Reagan’s zip-tied beds exemplify the kind of man he was, someone who knew that true freedom was never about taking the easy, perfectly kept road. True freedom is found in hard work founded in sacrifice, in being content without the upgrade, and in zip-tying yourself to the things that matter most.

Sarah Matheson-Steeby worked at the Reagan Ranch Center (a project of Young America’s Foundation), helping students discover the principles lived by the president.

Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy on horseback at their ranch in California, north of Santa Barbara, June 6, 1980. | Associated Press

Atonement, politics and how the power of ideas can bring Americans together

Countless others could recall the great lessons working in and around Reagan. Many Utahns, too, had front row seats to his legacy, including some greats that the world lost too soon: Rex Lee, Dick Wirthlin, Jim Fletcher, Richard Richards and, most recently, Dee Benson.

Returning to the 40th president’s farewell to the nation, he reflected, “The lesson of all this was, of course, that because we’re a great nation, our challenges seem complex. It will always be this way. But as long as we remember our first principles and believe in ourselves, the future will always be ours. And something else we learned: Once you begin a great movement, there’s no telling where it will end. We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world.”

In classic Reagan-esque form, he gave the nation one for the road: “And let me offer lesson number one about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven’t been teaching you what it means to be an American, let ’em know and nail ’em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.”

America doesn’t need a revolution; it needs a rediscovery of our values and common sense. 

Happy 110th birthday, Mr. President. Thanks for the lessons!