According to The Economist, Donald Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore to mark American Independence Day “sought to inflame a culture war centered on race”. The Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Associated Press made similar accusations. No doubt these news outlets felt their characterisations justified by statements on racial matters that President Trump has previously made.
But were their reports an accurate reflection of what Mr Trump said on this occasion?
He recalled that the Declaration of Independence had enshrined the “divine truth” that “all men are created equal”. The United States had been “founded on Judeo-Christian principles”, while the family was “the bedrock of American life”.
He added: “We believe in equal opportunity, equal justice, and equal treatment for citizens of every race, background, religion, and creed.” Among the many remarks Mr Trump made that were greeted with applause was this one: “Every child of every colour – born and unborn – is made in the holy image of God.” And applause too when he declared: “We only kneel to Almighty God.”
Mr Trump saluted the achievements of the four presidents commemorated at Mt Rushmore, among them Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation. He hailed various other Americans, including Frederick Douglass, the Tuskegee Airmen, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Mohammad Ali, and Jesse Owens, the African-American sprinter who infuriated the Nazis by winning four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics in 1936.
The year 1776 represented the triumph of wisdom, philosophy, and reason. But now “our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, and indoctrinate our children”. Children were being taught to believe that the men and women who built the country were not heroes, but villains. “The radical view of American history is a web of lies – all perspective is removed, every virtue is obscured, every motive is twisted, every fact is distorted, and every flaw is magnified until the history is purged and the record is disfigured beyond all recognition.”