In a presidential message to honor victims of communism on Nov. 7, Trump referred to Reagan’s memorable speech in June 1987 in Berlin, where he called on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”
Reagan’s policies indeed were instrumental in leading to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, followed by the eradication of communism in Central and Eastern Europe, and eventually, the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Trump said that 30 years ago, Germans put “Reagan’s words into momentous action, tearing down that symbol of totalitarianism and sending a message to the entire world that democracy and the rule of law will always triumph over oppression and tyranny.”
In 2017, the Trump administration declared Nov. 7 a National Day for the Victims of Communism on the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. This year, Nov. 9 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The president’s message recognized “communism as a current challenge, not just a historical fact,” said Marion Smith, executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
According to Smith, both Reagan and Trump “made a connection between the ideology of Marxism and communism and systematic human rights abuses.”
“President Trump has been very clear on identifying this ideology—Marxism, communism, socialism—as the thing we must name and try to prevent from spreading. And he did that including at the United Nations,” he said.
At the U.N. General Assembly in September, Trump warned world leaders about the “specter of socialism,” calling it one of the most serious challenges facing the nations.
There are many lessons to be learned from Reagan’s policies, according to Roger Robinson, a former member of Reagan’s National Security Council and president and CEO of RWR Advisory Group, which tracks Chinese investments worldwide.
As with the Soviet Union in the past, he believes communist China represents an ideological threat to the United States.
“It’s useful to remember the role economics and finance played in the takedown of the Soviet Union,” he said. “We had been to this rodeo before.”
Reagan “put clamps on the life-support tubes,” Robinson noted, by going after the “hard currency cash flow” of the Soviet regime. And that was the most effective strategy, he said, adding that similar pressures could be applied to Beijing to fix ongoing human rights and national security issues.
Stories of Survivors
On the National Day for the Victims of Communism, Trump hosted five survivors of communist regimes at the White House and listened to their stories.
“It was a great personal and very intimate meeting,” said Smith, who was also there.
The victims who lived under the communist regimes of Poland, Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea spoke in private with Trump for about 30 minutes at the White House on Nov. 7.
Like Reagan, Smith said, Trump seemed to take a genuine interest in listening to personal stories of people who suffered under communist dictatorships.
“I think he was moved by all of them,” he said.
Among the survivors who attended the meeting at the White House was Grace Jo, a North Korean defector. In 2006, Jo, together with her mother and older sister, fled to the United States.
“After I came to America, I learned how we can live as a human being,” she told reporters after the meeting with Trump.
Jo’s father was killed by the regime. And her three brothers died of starvation.
Another victim of communism, Sirley Avilo Leon of Cuba, told reporters that she survived an assassination attempt by the Castro regime in 2015. As a result of a machete attack, she lost one arm, and her legs were injured.
Avilo Leon said she felt like a victim of the Obama administration, due to the concessions it made to Cuban dictatorship.
Daniel Di Martino, from Venezuela, told reporters that the regime confiscated his family’s gas station in Venezuela. He said his family’s income fell to $2 a day from several thousand dollars a month due to hyperinflation, price controls, and nationalization.
“It’s good to have a president that really recognizes the struggle that other people around the world are going through in socialist countries. I don’t think the United States ever had that,” he said, thanking both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
The fall of the physical wall that divided East and West Berlin from 1961 to 1989 represented the end of the Cold War and the triumph of liberty over communism. Today, however, one in five people in the world still live under a communist dictatorship.
The stories of survivors made it clear that “the same oppression that took place in communist regimes in the 20th century is still happening in the 21st century,” Smith said.