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PUBLIC ENEMIES: RONALD REAGAN CONQUERS THE MARTIANS

Not long ago, America’s most influential and beloved popular artist celebrated his 80th birthday. It was, as the rituals of the rich and famous go, a modest affair: the Manchurian Candidate takes a well-deserved curtain call among old friends. But the interminable movie the star produced continues to unspool, even though he has left the screen. The real celebration is much more lively, taking the form of a belief system and its symbols, the giddy unease of wartime made into the crowd-pleasing hit of the year/decade/millennium. It’s an epic of violence and forgetting designed, as critics enthusiastically report, to make America feel good about itself again—a fitting epilogue to the project the actor-candidate termed “National Renewal.” But as the nation is renewed as a glorious synthesis of studio and multiplex theater, manifest destiny reveals itself as a strain of Wild West futurism,

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