I was sitting on the edge of a bed in Williamsburg, VA hotel. My Dad was sitting next to me and we were glued to the television set:
This morning the New York Daily News published one of the best pieces I have seen so far on Trump’s “Salute to America” speech. It comes from Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College, a former Republican Senate aide, and the author of The Death of Expertise.
Here is a taste:
Let’s get an obvious point about President Trump’s Independence Day speech out of the way right at the top. It was a bad speech.
It wasn’t bad in the way most of Donald Trump’s speeches are bad, in that it was not overtly objectionable. It was relatively free of the populist claptrap and barely disguised racism that characterizes so many of the president’s rally addresses. In some ways, it was even anodyne, and certainly not even in the same league as his hideous “American carnage” inaugural address.
Instead, it was just a poorly written speech: a long, cliché-plagued, rambling trip through American history that tried to name-check battles and famous people as applause lines. Imagine “We Didn’t Start the Fire” if Billy Joel had been born in 1776 and his producers told him to take as much time as he needed to finish the song.
On that level, the “Salute to America” was a flop. Perhaps this was unavoidable, since it was never meant to salute America, but rather to provide the military display Trump has wanted for two years. Like any enforced celebration, it was flat and labored. There were no memorable phrases, no vivid images and no bold proposals — unless you count a promise to NASA stalwart Gene Kranz to plant a U.S. flag on Mars one day. It would have been a challenging speech to deliver even for a better speaker, and Trump, who hates reading from prepared remarks, plodded through it with a strangely detached presence and a certain amount of mushy enunciation, including a weird blip where he referred to the glorious military capture of some airports in colonial America.
Mining the glories of past military battles while flanked by defense chiefs is the kind of thing Soviet leaders used to do while droning from their reviewing stand in Moscow. It wasn’t patriotic or stirring; it was cringe-inducing. This is probably one of many reasons that former Secretary of Defense James Mattis and former Chief of Staff John Kelly — both retired generals — reportedly squashed this idea whenever it came up.
Read the entire piece here.
David Siders thinks so. Here is a taste of his recent piece at Politico:
“Carter almost takes us out of the entire realm of what our politics has become,” said Paul Maslin, a top Democratic pollster who worked on the presidential campaigns of Carter and Howard Dean. “He’s the anti-Trump … I mean, we have almost the polar opposite as president, somebody who is so an affront to everything that’s good and kind and decent.”
Maslin said, “I have felt for some time that a candidate who is not just good on the issues but can marshal a moral clarity about what our politics ought to be, in contrast to what it has become, that person … that could be the currency of 2020.”
In fact, Carter has become a constant point of reference early in the campaign for Democrats polling outside of the top tier. John Delaney, the little-known former Maryland congressman who by August 2018 had already campaigned in all 99 counties in Iowa, has likened his focus on the first-in-the-nation caucus state to Carter’s.
And after her pilgrimage to see Carter this year, Klobuchar wrote on social media, “Wonderful lunch with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter today at their home in Plains. Tomato soup and pimento cheese sandwiches! Got some good advice and helpful to hear about their grassroots presidential campaign (when no one thought they could win but they did)!”
Read the entire piece here.
I still think Carter’s 1979 “malaise speech” is one of the best presidential speeches I have heard in my lifetime.
- Notice that Carter used the phrase “I feel your pain” before Bill Clinton popularized it.
- The speech has a streak of populism in it.
- It is deeply honest and humble. Can you imagine a president today reading criticism of his presidency before a national audience?
- Carter identifies the loss of national purpose and a “crisis of confidence” as a “fundamental threat to American democracy.” It is a forward-looking message of hope and progress. Carter speaks with conviction, often raising his fist to strengthen his points.
- Carter says that self-indulgence, consumption, and materialism undermines citizenship. According to historian Kevin Mattson, this comes directly from historian and cultural critic Christopher Lasch and his best-selling The Culture of Narcissism.
- Carter points to the many ways the country has gone astray–Vietnam and Watergate and economic dependence on Middle East oil.
- Carter offers “honest answers” not “easy answers.” Of course no one wants to work hard and make sacrifices, they want individualism and freedom instead. A little over a year after this speech Ronald Reagan defeated Carter with just such a message of individualism and freedom.
- Carter warns us about the path of self-interest and fragmentation. This is what America got with Reagan. See Daniel T. Rodgers’s The Age of Fracture.
- Carter sees the national discussion of energy as way of bringing a divided nation together. This seems more relevant than ever today. Green New Deal aside, a green solution to energy would create jobs and strengthen the economy.
- When Carter talks about foreign oil and America’s dependence upon it, he is invoking founding fathers such as Alexander Hamilton who worked tirelessly to make the nation economically independent.
- Interesting that in the 1970s Democrats still saw coal as a vital energy source. He also champions pipelines and refineries.
- Carter calls for a strengthening of public transportation and local acts of conservation. This kind of self-sacrifice, Carter says, “is an act of patriotism.” This reminds me of the non-importation agreements during the American Revolution. To stop drinking tea or buying British goods was seen as a similar act of patriotism. See T.H. Breen, The Marketplace of Revolution. Carter says “there is no way to avoid sacrifice.”
- As I have noted above, this speech hurt Carter politically. But it is deeply honest and, in my opinion, true.
Or this (2013):
It was a penetrating cultural critique that reflected Carter’s spiritual values. Like the writers of the New Testament, he called out sin. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, he confessed to personal and national pride.
In the mode of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, he noted the limits of human power and righteousness. In this moment of national chastening, he committed himself and the nation to rebirth and renewal.
As a scholar of American religious history, this so-called “malaise speech” (though Carter never actually used the word “malaise”) was, in my opinion, the most theologically profound speech by an American president since Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.
Read the entire piece here.
I have long been a fan of Carter’s speech. Back in 2009, I called it “one of the best presidential speeches in American history.”
Pre-presidential Trump was a man of many faults and vices, but one endearing quality: He was no hypocrite. He exaggerated his wealth, his success, his physical fitness, but he never pretended to religion or morality.
Trump’s speech to the nation after the Las Vegas atrocity, however, was steeped in hypocrisy. He is the least outwardly religious president of modern times, the president least steeped in scripture. For him to offer the consolations of God and faith after mass bloodletting is to invite derision. “It is love that defines us,” said President Trump, and if we weren’t heartbroken, we would laugh.
Those who praised the speech, as CNN’s John King did, are reacting on reflex. This is the kind of thing we are used to hearing from Republican politicians; Trump is a Republican politician; therefore this is what he should say.
But whereas Vice President Pence could have pronounced those words with sincerity, or a convincing simulacrum thereof, Donald Trump looked shifty, nervous, and false. Speeches are watched as well as heard, and the viewer saw a president who wished he were somewhere else because he had been compelled to pretend something so radically false to his own nature.
Read the entire piece here.
I think court evangelical Robert Jeffress might disagree with Frum:
— Dr. Robert Jeffress (@robertjeffress) October 2, 2017
Every quote below was uttered by either President Donald Trump in his Afghanistan speech last night or President Barack Obama at some point in his presidency. Can you match the speech with the POTUS?
- The men and women of our military operate as one team, with one shared mission and one shared sense of purpose. They transcend every line of race, ethnicity, creed, and color to serve together and sacrifice together in absolutely perfect cohesion.
- That is because all service members are brothers and sisters. They’re all part of the same family. It’s called the American family.
- I see what’s possible when we recognize that we are one American family, all deserving of equal treatment. All deserving equal respect. All children of God. That’s the America I know.
- They’re all part of the same family. It’s called the American family. They take the same oath, fight for the same flag, and live according to the same law. They’re bound together by common purpose, mutual trust, and selfless devotion to our nation and to each other. The soldier understands what we as a nation too often forget: that a wound inflicted upon a single member of our community is a wound inflicted upon us all.
- When one part of America hurts, we all hurt. And when one citizen suffers an injustice, we all suffer together. Loyalty to our nation demands loyalty to one another. Love for America requires love for all of its people. When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry, and no tolerance for hate. The young men and women we send to fight our wars abroad deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home. We cannot remain a force for peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other.
- As we send our bravest to defeat our enemies overseas—and we will always win—let us find the courage to heal our divisions within. Let us make a simple promise to the men and women we ask to fight in our name: that when they return home from battle, they will find a country that has renewed the sacred bonds of love and loyalty that unite us together as one.
I will post the answers in the comments section below at the end of the day.
Here is a taste:
“Political correctness,” as it is used in common parlance, means avoiding hard truths so as not to offend the people around you. And Trump made his hostility to political correctness a centerpiece of his campaign. Nowhere was this more evident than in his discussion of “radical Islam.” Again and again, Trump blamed America’s vulnerability to jihadist terrorism on President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s refusal honestly to speak about the pathologies of Muslims and Islam. At a Wisconsin town hall in March of last year, CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked, “Do you trust Muslims in America?” Trump responded, “We have a problem, and we can try and be very politically correct and pretend we don’t have a problem, but, Anderson, we have a major, major problem.” In June, in defending his proposed ban on Muslim immigration to the United States, Trump declared that, “The current politically correct response cripples our ability to talk and to think and act clearly” to keep America safe from terrorism.
But for all the pillorying Obama received for supposedly whitewashing the problems of the Islamic world, his Cairo speech actually addressed them quite bluntly. Speaking at Egypt’s prestigious Cairo University, Obama condemned Holocaust denial in Muslim countries, calling it “baseless, ignorant, and hateful.” He denounced people who “threaten Israel with destruction” and “repeat vile stereotypes about Jews.” He highlighted the oppression of women in Muslim lands, declaring that “a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.” He referenced the Middle East’s economic failures, arguing that “no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work.” And in a clear challenge to his host, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, he insisted that “all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.”
Compare that to Trump, who said virtually nothing that caused his hosts any discomfort. Trump criticized terrorist groups like ISIS for their “persecution of Jews,” and he condemned Iran for pledging “the destruction of Israel.” But since ISIS and Iran are Riyadh’s most bitter foes, those condemnations won’t have bothered the Saudi monarchs at all. Unlike Obama, Trump avoided the broader problem of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in Islamic countries, a problem in which his Saudi hosts are deeply complicit. Nor did he even hint at the fact that Saudi Arabia still does not recognize Israel.
On the question of women’s rights, it was much the same. Trump attacked jihadist terrorists for “the oppression of women.” But he described King Salman’s government as a virtual beacon of women’s rights. “Saudi Arabia’s Vision for 2030 is an important and encouraging statement of tolerance, respect, empowering women, and economic development,” Trump declared. You would never have known that women in the Kingdom still can’t drive.
Read the rest here.
I can’t tell any of you anything about Easter that you don’t already know. (Laughter.) I can’t shed light on centuries of scriptural interpretation or bring any new understandings to those of you who reflect on Easter’s meaning each and every year and each and every day. But what I can do is tell you what draws me to this holy day and what lesson I take from Christ’s sacrifice and what inspires me about the story of the resurrection.
For even after the passage of 2,000 years, we can still picture the moment in our mind’s eye. The young man from Nazareth marched through Jerusalem; object of scorn and derision and abuse and torture by an empire. The agony of crucifixion amid the cries of thieves. The discovery, just three days later, that would forever alter our world — that the Son of Man was not to be found in His tomb and that Jesus Christ had risen.
We are awed by the grace He showed even to those who would have killed Him. We are thankful for the sacrifice He gave for the sins of humanity. And we glory in the promise of redemption in the resurrection.
And such a promise is one of life’s great blessings, because, as I am continually learning, we are, each of us, imperfect. Each of us errs — by accident or by design. Each of us falls short of how we ought to live. And selfishness and pride are vices that afflict us all.
It’s not easy to purge these afflictions, to achieve redemption. But as Christians, we believe that redemption can be delivered — by faith in Jesus Christ. And the possibility of redemption can make straight the crookedness of a character; make whole the incompleteness of a soul. Redemption makes life, however fleeting here on Earth, resound with eternal hope.
Of all the stories passed down through the gospels, this one in particular speaks to me during this season. And I think of hanging — watching Christ hang from the cross, enduring the final seconds of His passion. He summoned what remained of His strength to utter a few last words before He breathed His last breath.
“Father,” He said, “into your hands I commit my spirit.” Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. These words were spoken by our Lord and Savior, but they can just as truly be spoken by every one of us here today. Their meaning can just as truly be lived out by all of God’s children.
So, on this day, let us commit our spirit to the pursuit of a life that is true, to act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord. And when we falter, as we will, let redemption — through commitment and through perseverance and through faith — be our abiding hope and fervent prayer.
I wanted to host this breakfast for a simple reason -– because as busy as we are, as many tasks as pile up, during this season, we are reminded that there’s something about the resurrection — something about the resurrection of our savior, Jesus Christ, that puts everything else in perspective.
We all live in the hustle and bustle of our work. And everybody in this room has weighty responsibilities, from leading churches and denominations, to helping to administer important government programs, to shaping our culture in various ways. And I admit that my plate has been full as well. (Laughter.) The inbox keeps on accumulating. (Laughter.)
But then comes Holy Week. The triumph of Palm Sunday. The humility of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. His slow march up that hill, and the pain and the scorn and the shame of the cross.
And we’re reminded that in that moment, he took on the sins of the world — past, present and future — and he extended to us that unfathomable gift of grace and salvation through his death and resurrection.
In the words of the book Isaiah: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
This magnificent grace, this expansive grace, this “Amazing Grace” calls me to reflect. And it calls me to pray. It calls me to ask God for forgiveness for the times that I’ve not shown grace to others, those times that I’ve fallen short. It calls me to praise God for the gift of our son — his Son and our Savior.
Now, I have to be careful, I am not going to stand up here and give a sermon. It’s always a bad idea to give a sermon in front of professionals. (Laughter.) But in a few short days, all of us will experience the wonder of Easter morning. And we will know, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Christ Jesus…and Him crucified.”
It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the triumph of the resurrection, and to give thanks for the all-important gift of grace. And for me, and I’m sure for some of you, it’s also a chance to remember the tremendous sacrifice that led up to that day, and all that Christ endured — not just as a Son of God, but as a human being.
For like us, Jesus knew doubt. Like us, Jesus knew fear. In the garden of Gethsemane, with attackers closing in around him, Jesus told His disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” He fell to his knees, pleading with His Father, saying, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” And yet, in the end, He confronted His fear with words of humble surrender, saying, “If it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
So it is only because Jesus conquered His own anguish, conquered His fear, that we’re able to celebrate the resurrection. It’s only because He endured unimaginable pain that wracked His body and bore the sins of the world that He burdened — that burdened His soul that we are able to proclaim, “He is Risen!”
So the struggle to fathom that unfathomable sacrifice makes Easter all the more meaningful to all of us. It helps us to provide an eternal perspective to whatever temporal challenges we face. It puts in perspective our small problems relative to the big problems He was dealing with. And it gives us courage and it gives us hope.
We all have experiences that shake our faith. There are times where we have questions for God’s plan relative to us — (laughter) — but that’s precisely when we should remember Christ’s own doubts and eventually his own triumph. Jesus told us as much in the book of John, when He said, “In this world you will have trouble.” I heard an amen. (Laughter.) Let me repeat. “In this world, you will have trouble.”
THE PRESIDENT: “But take heart!” (Laughter.) “I have overcome the world.” (Applause.) We are here today to celebrate that glorious overcoming, the sacrifice of a risen savior who died so that we might live. And I hope that our time together this morning will strengthen us individually, as believers, and as a nation.
In these sacred days, those of us as Christians remember the tremendous sacrifice Jesus made for each of us –- how, in all His humility and His grace, He took on the sins of the world and extended the gift of salvation. And we recommit ourselves to following His example –- to loving the Lord our God with all our hearts and all our souls and with all our minds, and to loving our neighbors as ourselves.
That’s the eternal spirit of Easter. And this year, I had — I think was particularly special for me because right before Easter I had a chance to feel that spirit during my trip to the Holy Land. And I think so many of you here know there are few experiences more powerful or more humbling than visiting that sacred earth.
It brings Scripture to life. It brings us closer to Christ. It reminds us that our Savior, who suffered and died was resurrected, both fully God and also a man; a human being who lived, and walked, and felt joy and sorrow just like us.
And so for Christians to walk where He walked and see what He saw are blessed moments. And while I had been to Jerusalem before, where Jesus healed the sick, and cured the blind, and embraced the least of these, I also had a chance to go to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. And those of you who have been there know that entering the church is a remarkable experience, although it is a useful instruction to see how managing different sections of the church and different clergy — it feels familiar. (Laughter.) Let’s just put it that way. (Laughter.)
And as I approached the Altar of the Nativity, as I neared the 14-pointed Silver Star that marks the spot where Christ was born, the Patriarch of Jerusalem welcomed me to, in his words, “the place where heaven and Earth met.”
And there, I had a chance to pray and reflect on Christ’s birth, and His life, His sacrifice, His Resurrection. I thought about all the faithful pilgrims who for two thousand years have done the same thing — giving thanks for the fact that, as the book of Romans tells us, “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
I thought of the poor and the sick who seek comfort, and the marginalized and the forsaken who seek solace, and the grateful who merely seek to offer thanks for the simple blessings of this life and the awesome glory of the next. I thought of all who would travel to this place for centuries to come and the lives they might know.
And I was reminded that while our time on Earth is fleeting, He is eternal. His life, His lessons live on in our hearts and, most importantly, in our actions. When we tend to the sick, when we console those in pain, when we sacrifice for those in need, wherever and whenever we are there to give comfort and to guide and to love, then Christ is with us.
So this morning, let us pray that we’re worthy of His many blessings, that this nation is worthy of His many blessings. Let us promise to keep in our hearts, in our souls, in our minds, on this day and on every day, the life and lessons of Christ, our Lord.
So this Easter Week, of course we recognize that there’s a lot of pain and a lot of sin and a lot of tragedy in this world, but we’re also overwhelmed by the grace of an awesome God. We’re reminded how He loves us, so deeply, that He gave his only begotten Son so that we might live through Him. And in these Holy Days, we recall all that Jesus endured for us — the scorn of the crowds and the pain of the crucifixion, in our Christian religious tradition we celebrate the glory of the Resurrection — all so that we might be forgiven of our sins and granted everlasting life.
And more than 2,000 years later, it inspires us still. We are drawn to His timeless teachings, challenged to be worthy of His sacrifice, to emulate as best we can His eternal example to love one another just as He loves us. And of course, we’re always reminded each and every day that we fall short of that example. And none of us are free from sin, but we look to His life and strive, knowing that “if we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us.”
For me, the celebration of Easter puts our earthly concerns into perspective. With humility and with awe, we give thanks to the extraordinary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Savior. We reflect on the brutal pain that He suffered, the scorn that He absorbed, the sins that He bore, this extraordinary gift of salvation that He gave to us. And we try, as best we can, to comprehend the darkness that He endured so that we might receive God’s light.
And yet, even as we grapple with the sheer enormity of Jesus’s sacrifice, on Easter we can’t lose sight of the fact that the story didn’t end on Friday. The story keeps on going. On Sunday comes the glorious Resurrection of our Savior.
“Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day,” Dr. King once preached, “but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter.” Drums that beat the rhythm of renewal and redemption, goodness and grace, hope and love. Easter is our affirmation that there are better days ahead — and also a reminder that it is on us, the living, to make them so.
Through God’s mercy, Peter the Apostle said, we are given “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” It’s an inheritance that calls on us to be better, to love more deeply, to serve “the least of these” as an expression of Christ’s love here on Earth.
And Pastor preached on this this weekend, and I know all of you did, too, as I suspect, or in your own quiet ways were reminded if Easter means anything, it’s that you don’t have to be afraid. We drown out darkness with light, and we heal hatred with love, and we hold on to hope. And we think about all that Jesus suffered and sacrificed on our behalf — scorned, abandoned shunned, nail-scarred hands bearing the injustice of his death and carrying the sins of the world.
And it’s difficult to fathom the full meaning of that act. Scripture tells us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Because of God’s love, we can proclaim “Christ is risen!” Because of God’s love, we have been given this gift of salvation. Because of Him, our hope is not misplaced, and we don’t have to be afraid.
And as Christians have said through the years, “We are Easter people, and Alleluia is our song!” We are Easter people, people of hope and not fear.
Now, this is not a static hope. This is a living and breathing hope. It’s not a gift we simply receive, but one we must give to others, a gift to carry forth. I was struck last week by an image of Pope Francis washing feet of refugees — different faiths, different countries. And what a powerful reminder of our obligations if, in fact, we’re not afraid, and if, in fact, we hope, and if, in fact, we believe. That is something that we have to give.
Click on the year to read the entire message.
Here is a taste of my recent piece at History News Network:
Four days before Inauguration Day 2017 Civil Rights hero and Georgia Congressman John Lewis questioned, in light of Russian hacks that seemed to hurt the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, the legitimacy of the Trump presidency. As is his custom, Donald Trump responded via Twitter: “Congressman John Lewis should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S….” It happened on the day before America celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
As expected, this exchange of words fueled the usual partisan politics in Washington. Some thought Lewis was out of line to say that Trump was not a legitimate president. Others were appalled that Trump would respond in the way he did to a living legend who almost gave his life in the Civil Rights Movement.
Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson tried to steer a middle course in the debate, but in the process he put his finger on a serious problem with the Trump presidency. Trump’s response to Lewis, Gerson wrote, suggested that he “seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American history he is about to enter.” Gerson added, “He will lead a nation that accommodated a cruel exception to its founding creed; that bled and nearly died to recover it’s ideals; and that was only redeemed by the courage and moral clarity of the very people it had oppressed.”
Gerson is right about Trump’s failure to understand his presidency as part of a larger American story. His inaugural address only reinforced this point. Trump made no attempt to situate his vision for the nation in a shared past. In this sense he echoed the revolutionary Thomas Paine who told the British-American colonists in 1776 that “we have it in our power to begin the world over again.”
Pundits are calling Donald Trump’s inaugural address the “America First Speech.” Thanks to the work of historians, many Americans are now aware of the history behind this phrase. But just in case you have not had a chance to get caught up on the meaning of “America First,” I want to call your attention to Krishnadev Calamur’s recent piece at The Atlantic.
Here is a taste:
The phrase in itself might provide comfort for those of Trump’s supporters who have long railed against what they see as lawmakers in Washington catering to special interests, corporations, and other countries at the expense of, in their view, the American worker. But the phrase “America first” also has a darker recent history and, as my colleague David Graham pointed out Friday, was associated with opponents of the U.S. entering World War II.
The America First Committee (AFC), which was founded in 1940, opposed any U.S. involvement in World War II, and was harshly critical of the Roosevelt administration, which it accused of pressing the U.S. toward war. At its peak, it had 800,000 members across the country, included socialists, conservatives, and some of the most prominent Americans from some of the most prominent families. There was future President Ford; Sargent Shriver, who’d go on to lead the Peace Corps; and Potter Stewart, the future U.S. Supreme Court justice. It was funded by the families who owned Sears-Roebuck and the Chicago Tribune,but also counted among its ranks prominent anti-Semites of the day.
“It had to remove from its executive committee not only the notoriously anti-Semitic Henry Ford but also Avery Brundage, the former chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee who had prevented two Jewish runners from the American track team in Berlin in 1936 from running in the finals of the 4×100 relay,” Susan Dunn, the historian, wrote on CNN last April.
But charges of anti-Semitism persisted, and were compounded with perhaps one of the most infamous speeches given by one of AFC’s most famous spokesmen, Charles Lindbergh. In a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, on September 11, 1941, Lindbergh expressed sympathy for the persecution Jews faced in Germany, but suggested Jews were advocating the U.S. to enter a war that was not in the national interest.
Read the entire piece here.
It is also worth noting that the cartoonist Theodore Geisel, aka “Dr. Seuss,” published several cartoons critical of “America First” in the pages of the left-leaning, interventionist New York newspaper PM.
Here are a few of those cartoons:
When you practice the same speech over and over again you get pretty good at delivering it.
Since Donald Trump announced on June 16, 2015 that he was running for President of the United States he has been giving the same stump speech around the country. Yesterday that speech became his inauguration address. In terms of delivery, force, and its appeal to his base, it was the best speech I have ever heard Donald Trump deliver.
Barack Obama called us to hope. Donald Trump basically said that there is no hope apart from his presidency. Trump made no reference to American ideals. There were few references to our better angels. There were no references to taking care of each other or working for the common good. Trump painted a picture of a nation defined by “carnage” and “decay.” The only hope of rising above it all, he seemed to suggest, is to put one’s faith in the strongman. Trump represents the worst form of populism. At times he sounded like the leader of a religious cult. At other times he reminded me of the Twilight Zone character Major French riding around in an old jeep and carrying a machine gun as he tried to solidify his power in a post-apocalyptic America.
Trump won the election because he understood the plight of white working people. Indeed, these folks have been left behind. Factories are closed. Jobs have gone overseas. Globalization is destroying local communities. People want better trade deals. The national infrastructure is in a state of decay. Trump has become their champion.
Others voted for Trump primarily because he promised to deliver the Supreme Court. These Americans worry about things like abortion and gay marriage and religious liberty. Their political decisions are often informed by nostalgia for the good old days–a time when the country was less diverse. Rather than drawing upon the resources of their faith to shape their political witness, they have turned to the political strongman for support in helping to reclaim America and make it “great” again. Trump discerned their fears and won them over in massive numbers much in the same way, as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has suggested, Syrians turn to Assad for protection.
Let’s face it–Trump proved to be a brilliant politician. He heard the people and responded. In the process he got into the gutter with the rest of the politicians and showed them he could play politics better than they could. As Trump played fast and lose with the truth, demonized and dehumanized everyone who got in his way, and generally took the immoral nature of politics to its logical conclusion, the GOP and many evangelical Christians compromised their consciences for a big mess of political pottage. I could hardly watch Trump speak at a luncheon for GOP leadership on Thursday without thinking about the compromises that each one of those politicians had to make in order to be there.
Some might say that I am being unfair to Trump. After all, he did use his inaugural speech to appeal to national unity. “When you open your heart to patriotism,” Trump said, “there is no room for prejudice.” This is a nice turn of phrase, but what does it mean? I have no idea. I am guessing it is some kind of a call to unity since the phrase was written in the same paragraph as Trump’s reference to Psalm 133:1: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” (A verse calling Israel to unity in their worship of God in Jerusalem).
All of the lip service he paid to national unity in his speech rings hollow in the context of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and his divisive period of transition. Future historians, as long as they are still around and remain concerned with reading documents in context , will interpret the speech this way. Trump wants unity on his terms and on the terms of the minority of Americans who voted for him. If we wants to be an effective president he will need to offer Americans a vision that everyone can embrace. I doubt it will happen.
March 4, 1829. Here is a taste:
…In administering the laws of Congress I shall keep steadily in view the limitations as well as the extent of the Executive power trusting thereby to discharge the functions of my office without transcending its authority. With foreign nations it will be my study to preserve peace and to cultivate friendship on fair and honorable terms, and in the adjustment of any differences that may exist or arise to exhibit the forbearance becoming a powerful nation rather than the sensibility belonging to a gallant people.
In such measures as I may be called on to pursue in regard to the rights of the separate States I hope to be animated by a proper respect for those sovereign members of our Union, taking care not to confound the powers they have reserved to themselves with those they have granted to the Confederacy.
The management of the public revenue–that searching operation in all governments–is among the most delicate and important trusts in ours, and it will, of course, demand no inconsiderable share of my official solicitude. Under every aspect in which it can be considered it would appear that advantage must result from the observance of a strict and faithful economy. This I shall aim at the more anxiously both because it will facilitate the extinguishment of the national debt, the unnecessary duration of which is incompatible with real independence, and because it will counteract that tendency to public and private profligacy which a profuse expenditure of money by the Government is but too apt to engender. Powerful auxiliaries to the attainment of this desirable end are to be found in the regulations provided by the wisdom of Congress for the specific appropriation of public money and the prompt accountability of public officers.
With regard to a proper selection of the subjects of impost with a view to revenue, it would seem to me that the spirit of equity, caution and compromise in which the Constitution was formed requires that the great interests of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures should be equally favored, and that perhaps the only exception to this rule should consist in the peculiar encouragement of any products of either of them that may be found essential to our national independence.
Internal improvement and the diffusion of knowledge, so far as they can be promoted by the constitutional acts of the Federal Government, are of high importance.
Considering standing armies as dangerous to free governments in time of peace, I shall not seek to enlarge our present establishment, nor disregard that salutary lesson of political experience which teaches that the military should be held subordinate to the civil power. The gradual increase of our Navy, whose flag has displayed in distant climes our skill in navigation and our fame in arms; the preservation of our forts, arsenals, and dockyards, and the introduction of progressive improvements in the discipline and science of both branches of our military service are so plainly prescribed by prudence that I should be excused for omitting their mention sooner than for enlarging on their importance. But the bulwark of our defense is the national militia, which in the present state of our intelligence and population must render us invincible. As long as our Government is administered for the good of the people, and is regulated by their will; as long as it secures to us the rights of person and of property, liberty of conscience and of the press, it will be worth defending; and so long as it is worth defending a patriotic militia will cover it with an impenetrable aegis. Partial injuries and occasional mortifications we may be subjected to, but a million of armed freemen, possessed of the means of war, can never be conquered by a foreign foe. To any just system, therefore, calculated to strengthen this natural safeguard of the country I shall cheerfully lend all the aid in my power.
It will be my sincere and constant desire to observe toward the Indian tribes within our limits a just and liberal policy, and to give that humane and considerate attention to their rights and their wants which is consistent with the habits of our Government and the feelings of our people….
Read it all here.
Check out Jennifer Schuessler’s New York Times piece on Barack Obama’s use of history during his presidency. Here is a taste:
True, Mr. Obama may be unlikely to emulate Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and follow his years in the Oval Office with a stint as president of the American Historical Association. But some scholars see in him a man who used the presidency not just as a bully pulpit but also as something of a historian’s lectern.
And he wielded it, they say, to tell a story more strikingly in sync with the bottom-up view of history that dominates academic scholarship than with the biographies of great leaders that rule the best-seller list.
“Obama had these confabs with the presidential historians, but I don’t think he thinks like a presidential historian,” James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, said, referring to the regular dinners Mr. Obama held with leading historians in the early years of his presidency. “I think he thinks like a social historian.”
Obama should be praised for his use of history in his speeches. His usable past is a complicated one. Grossman is correct. Obama thinks like a social historian. He gave a lot of attention to what happened at Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall. But Obama also thinks like an American intellectual historian. He is a historian of ideas and ideals. When he talks about the common good he sounds a lot like Gordon Wood and the civic humanist tradition. He calls for sacrifice and what the founders called virtue.
In the end, Obama used the past a lot. But let’s remember that he was a politician and a POTUS who used the past to serve his progressive agenda. The fact that most of the historical profession believes that Obama’s progressive approach to history is correct does not make this point any less irrelevant.
Finally, I think we need to acknowledge the great irony of the Obama presidency as it relates to history and history education. For all his magnificent invocations of the American past, Obama did virtually nothing practical to promote the teaching and learning of history. Let’s face it, Barack Obama was a STEM president and the history community and the American democracy that he loves so much is weaker because of this.
March 4, 1865. Might be a good time to read it again:
At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war–seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
You can read the tweets and some responses here.
A few examples:
— John Fea (@JohnFea1) January 11, 2017
Obama: Must understand “who we are.” Let’s see if colleges, K-12 heed this. As humanities ed goes, so goes the republic. #obamafarewell
— John Fea (@JohnFea1) January 11, 2017
This is a deeply humanities/history based speech. Only wish Obama did more to promote this in his presidency. #obamafarewelladdress
— John Fea (@JohnFea1) January 11, 2017
— John Fea (@JohnFea1) January 11, 2017
Obama has always been an idealist. Still believes common good and a nation of solidarity is possible. He is not the first #obamafarewell
— John Fea (@JohnFea1) January 11, 2017
Obama’s farewell address could be studied by future generations as an example of popular progressive history. #obamafarewelladdress
— John Fea (@JohnFea1) January 11, 2017
Crowd chanting “4 more years.” Ironic since 1st farewell address (G. Washington) was in context of GW stopping after 2 terms #obamafarewell
— John Fea (@JohnFea1) January 11, 2017
Read all of the tweets here.
If you read this blog regularly you know what I think about Barack Obama’s Christian faith. So I will just let this speech/sermon stand on its own. Obama comes in at about the 29 minute mark. Enjoy.
Nixon was the first one to say it. Reagan made it popular. David Domke and Kevin Coe have studied the use of the phrase in presidential speeches and have recorded their findings in The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America. I have not read the book, but I found this Huffington Post piece to be interesting. Here is a taste: