Twenty years ago today, President Ronald Reagan breathed his last. Even at the time of his death, a decade after his disclosure of the Alzheimer’s disease that would fell him, he loomed large in the American political pantheon. Today he looms larger still.

For those not old enough to remember the Reagan presidency and who might puzzle over why he is venerated by so many today, it helps to recall that Reagan brought three “great objects” or goals to the office. First, to revive the American economy from its 1970s morass of inflation, unemployment, and stagnation. Second, to restore the American people’s morale after years of division and demoralization. And third, to defeat Soviet communism and win a peaceful victory in the Cold War.

He succeeded in all three. Thanks in significant part to his economic policies of tax cuts, deregulation, and curbing inflation, in the 1980s the American economy roared back to life with broad-based and sustained growth. Thanks to his optimism, eloquence, and commitment to American ideals, the United States came to believe in itself again—just as the world also renewed its faith in America. And thanks to his sophisticated strategy of peace through strength and a combination of firmness and diplomacy, the Iron Curtain came down and the Soviet Union soon thereafter collapsed.

Reagan would be the first to say that he did not accomplish these things by himself; history does not work that way. He enjoyed the partnership of allies such as Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, Japan’s Yasuhiro Nakasone, West Germany’s Helmut Kohl, and Pope John Paul II. He recognized some of the favorable structural trends in America and the world, such as the technology and communications revolutions, and the ineluctable sclerosis of Soviet communism. And above all, he knew that it could not be done without the American people. With customary self-effacement, he said as much in his farewell address:

“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.”

But Reagan also knew that none of these factors and trends would have been sufficient without presidential leadership and courage. That he wielded in abundance. Many of his policies attracted controversy and opposition at the time, but history’s judgments have vindicated them.

One way to consider Reagan’s presidency is as an eight-year conversation with the American people.

In turn, Reagan understood that leadership entails more than just wielding power. It also entails persuasion. For all eight years of his presidency he faced a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. And even for the time that Republicans held the Senate, not all senators in his party supported him or his nominees. So to secure passage of any of his signature economic and foreign policy initiatives, Reagan had to make the case to the American people and to their representatives in Congress. This went beyond just passing legislation. It also meant creating a critical mass of public opinion to ensure the implementation and durability of his policies.

One way to consider Reagan’s presidency is as an eight-year conversation with the American people. Whenever I speak on the Reagan legacy, I recommend that listeners read or view a selection of his most important speeches. (My favorites include his 1982 Westminster Address, 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, 1984 address on the 40th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, 1987 speech at the Brandenburg Gate, and 1988 Moscow State University address). Doing so will help you appreciate the respect that he had for his audiences, domestic and international, and his willingness to engage in serious dialogue about important issues and principles. In his speeches, he alternately inspired, beguiled, amused, and challenged his fellow Americans and the wider world. The American people responded in the main by embracing him and his vision.

Reagan’s efforts at persuasion included issues such as abortion. It is too little remembered today, but during his presidency, he wrote the short but powerful book Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation to make the case for protecting the unborn. That commitment to shaping public opinion is an unheralded part of the Reagan legacy that our political leaders today would do well to adopt.

Above all, Reagan was a man of deep Christian faith. His equipoise amidst the unfathomable demands of the office drew from his trust in God’s providential care and sovereign plan. As we remember his life and leadership this week, that is his most eternal legacy. Rest in peace, Mr. President.

Editor’s note: Will Inboden served in senior positions in the State Department and the National Security Council and he is the author of a masterful book on President Reagan’s foreign policy, The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink.