Never before has a speech extolling America’s virtues and the marvels or the nation’s heroes played to such poor — and completely dishonest — reviews.
At Mount Rushmore on Friday night, President Trump gave a speech that was very tough on the woke Left, while largely celebrating America — its Founders, its ideals and freedom, its capacity for self-renewal, its astonishing variety of geniuses, adventurers, warriors, inventors, and great musicians and athletes.
Then, his speech ended, and the press piled on with one of its most unhinged and dishonest performances of his presidency, which is saying something.
The Associated Press headlined its report on the speech “Trump pushes racial division, flouts virus rules at Rushmore.”
(The delicate way the news service put the targeting of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt was inadvertently amusing: “He zeroed in on the desecration by some protesters of monuments and statues across the country that honor those who have benefited from slavery, including some past presidents.”)
The New York Times played it exactly the same way in its news alert:
Breaking News: President Trump delivered a dark and divisive speech at Mount Rushmore, leaning into the culture wars and barely mentioning the pandemic.https://t.co/03WOgau4Zx— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 4, 2020
CNN led a news report with this: “On a very different Fourth of July holiday, when many Americans are wrestling with the racist misdeeds of the country’s heroes and confronting an unrelenting pandemic with surging cases, their commander-in-chief is attempting to drag America backward — stirring fear of cultural change while flouting the most basic scientific evidence about disease transmission.”
The opening of a Washington Post report struck a similar note: “President Trump’s unyielding push to preserve Confederate symbols and the legacy of white domination, crystallized by his harsh denunciation of the racial justice movement Friday night at Mount Rushmore, has unnerved Republicans who have long enabled him but now fear losing power and forever associating their party with his racial animus.”
The Post wrote this even though the Rushmore speech didn’t mention Confederate monuments.
It’s worth underlining that none of these pieces were columns or op-eds. All purported to be straight news written by straight-news reporters.
So what did Trump say at Mount Rushmore? “Our Founders,” he declared, “launched not only a revolution in government, but a revolution in the pursuit of justice, equality, liberty, and prosperity.” In insisting that all men are created equal, they “enshrined a divine truth that changed the world forever.” Indeed, “these immortal words set in motion the unstoppable march of freedom.”
He said that Americans “believe in equal opportunity, equal justice, and equal treatment for citizens of every race, background, religion, and creed. Every child, of every color — born and unborn — is made in the holy image of God.”
He warned of those attacking the Founding of our country: “They would tear down the principles that propelled the abolition of slavery in America and, ultimately, around the world, ending an evil institution that had plagued humanity for thousands and thousands of years.”
And not just that: “Our opponents would tear apart the very documents that Martin Luther King used to express his dream, and the ideas that were the foundation of the righteous movement for Civil Rights.”
He ran through a roll call of American heroes: “We are the country of Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Frederick Douglass. We are the land of Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill Cody. We are the nation that gave rise to the Wright Brothers, the Tuskegee Airmen, Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Jesse Owens, George Patton — General George Patton — the great Louie Armstrong, Alan Shepard, Elvis Presley, and Mohammad Ali.”
He called for children to be taught “once again to see America as did Reverend Martin Luther King, when he said that the Founders had signed “‘a promissory note’ to every future generation.”
In sum, he insisted, “it is time to plant our flag and protect the greatest of this nation, for citizens of every race, in every city, and every part of this glorious land.”
So where’s the hate? Where’s the white supremacy? Where’s the Confederacy?
You can say that the speech was insincere, or that Trump’s tweets matter more than anything he reads from a Teleprompter, or that he doesn’t have the credibility to make this sort of speech, but you can’t say it was racially divisive.
There’s no doubt that Trump’s attacks on the Left were hard-edged. In one line oft-quoted by journalists, he said, “In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance.”
You can object to the label “fascism,” which as a general matter is overused in our political debate, or argue that “absolute allegiance” puts it too strongly, but Trump is obviously right about the illiberal character of the wave of cancellations sweeping our culture.
In fact, I suspect that the very journalists who scoff at his description all know that if they or their colleagues say something disparaging or even skeptical about Black Lives Matter, their jobs would instantly be at risk.
Trump’s proposed “national garden” of statues of our heroes can also legitimately be criticized as gimmicky, with a random list of people to be honored. Yet, the idea is a version of a compromise proposal sometimes floated in the statue wars: Don’t tear down what we have, build more.
The proposed list, by the way, includes Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, and Booker T. Washington, and can’t possibly be characterized as racially divisive, either.
Part of what is going on here is simply a reaction to anything Trump says or does, but there is a deeper factor at work. The media presumes that it must necessarily be wrong to criticize, as the Washington Post put it, a “racial justice movement” — its catch-all phrase for the woke Left.
Forced to choose between what once would have been the uncontroversial patriotic sentiments expressed at Mount Rushmore and that movement, it’s not even close — patriotism has to be thrown overboard.
If this seems to be putting it too starkly, just wait. This tweet from Colin Kaepernick on July 4 was ominously forthright:
Black ppl have been dehumanized, brutalized, criminalized + terrorized by America for centuries, & are expected to join your commemoration of “independence”, while you enslaved our ancestors. We reject your celebration of white supremacy & look forward to liberation for all. ✊🏾 pic.twitter.com/YCD2SYlgv4— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) July 4, 2020
That position still seems extreme, but so did kneeling a couple of years ago. Now, it’s going to be de rigueur for many athletes.
If and when the day arrives when championing our Founders and exulting in July 4 is flatly considered an expression of white supremacy, we will look back at the reaction to the Mount Rushmore speech as the canary in the coal mine.