The Greenwood to whom Trump was not referring was New York-based lawyer Lee Greenwood, though that’s who he tagged in his tweet. (Trump later corrected it.) The New York Greenwood doesn’t seem like a Trump fan.
Unlike the singer. The more-famous Greenwood praised Trump before his inauguration, calling him “a patriot” who was going to be a “great president.” Greenwood performed at a concert the night before the inauguration, singing “God Bless the USA” with a presidential-elect accompaniment.
In case the birthday shout-out and the inauguration invite weren’t sufficient clues, there’s another way in which we can be confident about the prominent role the song plays in Trump’s patriotism.
The president’s personal Twitter account will often tweet out short videos that are focused on Donald Trump. The music that accompanies the videos is of the familiar instrumental-and-available-to-license-for-a-small-fee variety that we’re all familiar with, the Muzak of the Internet age. It’s emotionally attuned to the content of the video: Driving, energetic melodies for videos of the military at work; soaring anthems to back Trump’s speeches.
On at least four occasions, though, the accompanying song has been none other than “God Bless the USA” — suggesting to the casual observer that these things are those for which we should be most proud to be an American.
The first was when Aya Hijazi was released from an Egyptian jail and returned to the United States. After she met with Trump, he released a video.
The second occasion was when Trump traveled to Nashville to hold one of his presidential campaign rallies.
The third, when he visited Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Most recently, the president tweeted out a video of himself meeting with victims of the worst mass shooting in modern American history.
What’s the throughline here? Hijazi’s release was good news, a reversal of negative fortune with an assist from the U.S. government. That applies to Texas, too: a huge disaster met by resolve from the American people and the government of/by/for those people offering a boost.
The Vegas iteration is a bit less straightforward. There’s not really good news from the aftermath of the massacre except, of course, that more people (including those Trump visited) weren’t killed. Here, then, the message is a bit different, echoing the surprisingly pessimistic tone of Greenwood’s song itself.
“If tomorrow all the things were gone I’d worked for all my life,” it begins, “And I had to start again with just my children and my wife, I’d thank my lucky stars to be living here today because the flag still stands for freedom and they can’t take that away.” Greenwood’s proud to be an American, he sings, because he at least knows he’s free. So one message, then, is: At least you are free.
The outlier here is that rally in Nashville. The American pride there is . . . that people applauded Trump? That he gets to be president? That he embodies patriotism? Trump is the only consistent part of each of these videos, of course, but, then, he’s a consistent part of nearly every video he tweets.
There’s no neat answer except that Trump likes the song and it then gets applied to random things as a patriotic backing track, the way those steady, energizing tracks get overlaid onto videos of fighter jets. One thing that makes Trump proud to be an American is that America elected Trump as its president, and therefore the use of Greenwood’s song fits perfectly.
Happy birthday, Mr. Greenwood. And to the New York Greenwood: Happy birthday in advance, since you likely won’t get another presidential tweet.