Donald Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore on July 3 was one of the best of his presidency. It was so good that Roger Kimball declared it was the moment when Mr. Trump secured his reelection. The genius of the speech is that it was a bold affirmation of the enduring value of the aims of our Founders, and a brilliant refutation of the president’s enemies in the ongoing cultural war, a war whose roots can be traced back to the 1960s.
That cultural war has heated up to a degree not yet experienced in this nation
Thus, the attempt to erase the monuments of our past, especially the statues of our past leaders, in particular the four chiseled into Mount Rushmore: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, is the most prominent sign of the ongoing battle.
Our nation's 45th president not only defended our current monuments, but indicated he is proposing a new sculpture gallery of American political, cultural, and sports heroes and heroines, of all races.
In order to understand the power and appeal of the speech, it's important to know what the president was (and is) fighting against, what the other side in the cultural war "stands" and "fights" for.
The views of that other side are now dominant in our universities, in most of our media, and in the Democratic party, and are nicely limned, for example, in Howard Zinn’s "A People’s History of the United States" (1980).
According to Zinn's take on our history, the United States is essentially an illegitimate nation, taking land from North America's indigenous people, and then oppressing laborers and the Black race during most of American history.
Americans have garnered a disproportionate share of the globe's resources, according to that viewpoint, they are disproportionately polluting our world with their industries, and they are now a colonial power, wrongly exerting their dominance, through the great American corporations and through our military — globally.
According to many, if not most proponents of that set of notions, America is deficient because it does not provide universal healthcare and a guaranteed income to its citizens, resulting in a situation where too many Americans, and particularly Americans of color, live in poverty, and too many of them are incarcerated in our jails and prisons.
This view sees our government and our institutions as repressive and sees our capitalist system as one unduly preserving the rule of the rich and already powerful.
The desired remedy of the socialist theorists of this view is apparently the redistribution of resources, particularly to oppressed minority groups, eventually a classless society, and ideally, a dismantling of our borders, offering access to the country for anyone desiring it.
Another feature of that set of notions is that the purpose of government is to permit individual self-fulfillment, and the central government has a responsibility to care for its citizens — from cradle to grave.
The rhetoric of Black Lives Matter, of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY., and of most of the Democrats' leadership seems to accord with this set of views, but President Trump’s speech was designed as a complete repudiation.
The take on the American Founding that the president gave in South Dakota emphasized its enduring and positive aspects, and, in particular, what he gave as the four basic aims of this nation — justice, equality, liberty, and prosperity.
As part of the celebration of American independence, the president stressed, of course, the Declaration’s language that all men are created equal, and that Americans possess inalienable rights as a gift from God; not as a grant of temporal government.
Standing in front of the image of Lincoln, the president praised the abolition of slavery, as he invoked the names of great leaders in the struggle for African American rights, like Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
While the president did not hesitate to rail against the "cancel culture," political correctness, and those who would tear down monuments, his speech was, nonetheless a reminder of what binds us together as Americans.
As he explained, this was a shared history of invention, exploration, and community.
Patriotism has a bad name among our chattering classes, but Trump and his audience understood that the flag and this shared spirit of accomplishment are a positive source of pride available to all Americans.
Trump’s philosophy, thus, appeared to be one not of individual self-fulfillment, but of duty and responsibility to community.
Patriotism and piety are in short supply in academia and among too much of the American ruling class, but there are signs that they are making a comeback.
President Trump appears to understand that. He would be wise to continue to run his campaign as an affirmation of our Founding values and their enduring, unending power.
Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). Presser was a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado's Boulder Campus for 2018-2019. Read Stephen B. Presser's Reports — More Here.
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