“We believe in equal opportunity, equal justice and equal treatment for citizens of every race, background, religion and creed.” —President Trump, July 3, 2020, Mount Rushmore.
Then I watched the full address. None of it was true. “We embrace tolerance, not prejudice,” Trump said. “Every child, of every color — born and unborn — is made in the holy image of God.” He praised great black Americans including Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Jesse Owens, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Muhammad Ali, declaring that “only America could have produced them all.”
Standing beneath the image of Abraham Lincoln, Trump declared, “Lincoln won the Civil War; he issued the Emancipation Proclamation; he led the passage of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery for all time.” The crowd cheered at his mention of the abolition of slavery, which got zero mentions in the coverage of his address. Trump explained that “by tearing down Washington and Jefferson, these radicals … would tear down the principles that propelled the abolition of slavery in America and, ultimately, around the world, ending an evil institution that had plagued humanity for thousands and thousands of years.” He declared, “Our opponents would tear apart the very documents that Martin Luther King used to express his dream, and the ideas that were the foundation of the righteous movement for Civil Rights.” To the Times, this amounts to “stoking racial fears to pit a white voting base against nationwide calls for social justice.”
The mischaracterization of the Mount Rushmore speech is not an anomaly. Trump’s critics in the media have fallen into an insidious habit of taking his quotes criticizing the hordes who burn buildings and tear down statues, and reporting them as criticism of “racial justice protesters.” This is dishonest. Trump has said more than once that he is “an ally of all peaceful protesters.” He’s not the one blurring the lines between violent mobs and peaceful protesters; his media critics are. They know most Americans oppose the mob but support racial justice, and so they twist Trump’s words to make it seem like he opposes both. Trump says and tweets plenty of outrageous things, but that doesn’t give reporters license to make them up.
Trump believes that if you give an inch to the “cancel culture,” it’s a slippery slope. Nearly three years ago, he warned that if we take down statues of Robert E. Lee, soon they’ll come after George Washington. Well, as Megan McArdle pointed out in The Post, he was prescient. I happen to think we should have a national conversation about Confederate monuments, and that Trump would be in a stronger position to defend the American founding if he led one. But you can’t have a national conversation with a mob. And the rioters tearing down and defacing statues and memorials of Washington, Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant have proven they are not just opposed to the Confederacy — they’re opposed to the Union.
What about the charge that he declared a culture war? That is like saying that America declared war on Japan; it’s technically correct but misses the point. The left launched the culture war and the cancel culture that, as Trump said, is “driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees.” The president is simply fighting back against this war of political intolerance — and it’s about time someone did.
The iconoclasm we see today is rooted in a broader movement that seeks to cancel and discredit the American founding. (One Times reporter’s Twitter header photo literally shows the words “July 4, 1776” with a line drawn through, replaced by “August 20, 1619,” the date the first enslaved Africans arrived at Jamestown.) At Mount Rushmore, Trump declared that no one will cancel the American founding on his watch. That is only controversial in bluest reaches of blue America. If celebrating and defending our founding principles on the Fourth of July is “dark and divisive” that tells us less about Trump than the sad state of our country.