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.”
Many of those in the angry mobs tearing down statues and unleashing violent crime in cities had no idea why they were doing so, but “some know exactly what they are doing”.
One of the political weapons of this “left-wing cultural revolution” was “cancel culture – driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees”. This was the “very definition of totalitarianism and it is completely alien to our culture and our values”.
“In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished.”
It was time, Mr Trump said, to “speak up loudly and strongly and powerfully and defend the integrity of our country”. He announced that he was deploying federal law enforcement to protect monuments, arrest rioters, and prosecute offenders.
The world is going through a bizarre period in history. In Hong Kong the Chinese government is busy trying to squash dissent and impose dictatorship. In the US, vociferous groups are busy trying to squash free speech, and so undermine democracy. What the Chinese are doing from without, some Americans are doing from within.
People in Hong Kong are fighting for freedoms for which huge numbers of Americans have died, yet the assault upon these freedoms within the US has the active support of large sections of the media, academia, non-governmental organizations, donor agencies, the usual suspects among celebrities, and business. Mr Trump, habitually excoriated as a right-wing threat to democracy, used this occasion to defend the liberal values upon which civilised societies are built, while the American “liberal” establishment is busy aiding and abetting their destruction.
The killing of George Floyd has been ruthlessly and cynically exploited to intensify a Maoist-type culture war that dates back before Mr Trump became president and which he is trying to counter. He understands the dangers even if The Economist, the New York Times, et al do not. By attacking him for “stoking” and “inflaming” the culture war launched by others these newspapers reveal that their loathing of Mr Trump has led them not only to misrepresent what he said but also to turn logic upside down.
The battle against the “far-left fascists” has to be fought and won. The fact that a man as deeply flawed as Mr Trump has to lead it is a tragic reminder of how the American “liberal” establishment has abandoned the values upon which their nation was founded.
* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by clicking here or sending an SMS with your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.