Saturday, July 06, 2019


President Trump didn't denounce "fake news" and lead chants of "Lock her up!" during his Fourth of July speech, so many of us dismissed his words as harmless, a rehash of pieties from middle-school history textbooks. David Frum did a closer reading and came away disturbed:
As Trump retold the story of the Pacific War, he said this: “Nobody could beat us. Nobody could come close.” When he paid tribute to the Air Force, he said this: “As President Roosevelt said, the Nazis built a fortress around Europe, ‘but forgot to put a roof on it.’ So we crushed them all from the air.” He added: “No enemy has attacked our people without being met by a roar of thunder, and the awesome might of those who bid farewell to Earth, and soar into the wild blue yonder.” Bringing the story to more recent times: “The Army brought America’s righteous fury down to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and cleared the bloodthirsty killers from their caves.”

Were these wars right or just? Why were they fought? What were their outcomes? Except for the mentions of “freedoms” sprinkled randomly through the text, those questions went unconsidered. Instead, Trump would periodically ad-lib “What a great country!” after this or that mention of power and violence. America is great because it crushes all before it. Altering for circumstances, it was a speech that could have been given by Kaiser Wilhelm or Napoleon or Julius Caesar or the Assyrian Emperor Sennacherib. A great country is one that is feared by its enemies, that can inflict more devastating destruction than any other....

Devotion. Unity. History. Fighting.

But not: Democracy. Justice. Individuality. Peace.

... there was only vainglorious boasting: See our wealth, see our power, see our glorious triumphs over the mounded corpses of our enemies. We will always win, because we always fight.
We can blame Trump alone, but one or more speechwriters wrote all this for him. If they'd included words about America's virtues in the speech, do you think Trump would have objected? Do you think he even would have noticed? He just wanted a classy, patriotic speech that could accompany multiple displays of aerial might -- as Frum writes, "The speech existed only to provide a reason why he needed to stand in one place long enough for five waves of warplanes to cross the sky."

Trump was content with a speech that didn't say a word about American ideals -- and so were his speechwriters. What this tells me is that the conservative movement is giving up on the notion that America is a good country -- or, more specifically, is giving up on the notion that it matters whether America is a good country. The message of this speech is: We kick ass, and might makes right.

Needless to say, those who argue that America is a virtuous country frequently ignore the nation's sins. But Trump's speechwriters seem to have taken the opposite approach: Virtue isn't worth discussing because all that matters is winning. These days, Republicans seem to approach domestic politics the same way. They don't even argue for a legislative agenda. Instead, the promise they make is that they'll crush the voters' enemies -- us.

I don't miss the smarmy patriotism of old-fashioned conservatives. But conservatism today seems to have no moral code of any kind. It's all about total domination, for no higher purpose.

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