It has emerged that Donald Trump was from youth a regular church-goer and an enormous admirer of his pastor, one Norman Vincent Peale, whose 1952 book The Power of Positive Thinking was translated into 15 languages, remained on the New York Times best-seller list for 186 weeks and sold 5 million copies.
Peale’s son is not so keen on Trump, but Trump is very keen on himself. His biographer says Peale’s influence is the source of Trump’s boundless self-confidence, and is the key to his persona, along with his father’s modus operandi and interest in branding.
Trump’s “America first” meme presented as somewhat isolationist. What has emerged in his recent speech to the joint houses of Congress, is that Trump has in fact embraced American exceptionalism, the notion that America has a special role in the world to lead the all peoples and countries to the sunny uplands of peace, justice and freedom. Trump is going to save the world.
- Each American generation passes the torch of truth, liberty and justice — in an unbroken chain all the way down to the present.
That torch is now in our hands. And we will use it to light up the world.I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength, and it is a message deeply delivered from my heart.
A new chapter of American Greatness is now beginning.
A new national pride is sweeping across our Nation.
And a new surge of optimism is placing impossible dreams firmly within our grasp.
What we are witnessing today is the Renewal of the American Spirit.
Our allies will find that America is once again ready to lead.
All the nations of the world — friend or foe — will find that America is strong, America is proud, and America is free.
I’ve highlighted a couple of bits that some of the commentators have missed.
Take a look at this for a prize piece of self-delusion:
Then, in 2016, the earth shifted beneath our feet. The rebellion started as a quiet protest, spoken by families of all colors and creeds — families who just wanted a fair shot for their children, and a fair hearing for their concerns.
But then the quiet voices became a loud chorus — as thousands of citizens now spoke out together, from cities small and large, all across our country.
Finally, the chorus became an earthquake — and the people turned out by the tens of millions, and they were all united by one very simple, but crucial demand, that America must put its own citizens first … because only then, can we truly MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.
Remember, Trump fell over the line by a handful of votes in the right places.
His speech was roundly praised, indeed fawned over by the media. Because he didn’t outrageously dump on or offend anyone, as he usually does, the speech was perceived as ‘presidential’.
In contrast with Norman Vincent Peale Trump is routinely savagely negative. Within days he was at it again dumping on Obama, claiming with no evidence that Obama had had Trump Towers bugged. A fact, of course, for no reason than Trump says so.
Brian Beutler at New Republic thought it was a tour de force of lies and insincerity, and was rewarded by a shameful press.
Andrew Romano from Yahoo News told Sarah Macdonald of the ABC’s Nightlife that the presidential tone was carefully scripted and intended to sound presidential. The purpose was plain. Trump realises that he can’t just tear the place down, he actually needs to pass legislation. The speech’s intent was to get Congressional Republicans to own him, and co-operate with him.
Stephen Scher at New Matilda says the same thing more eloquently. He says of Trump that:
- to the extent that his actual views are translated into actions, America will be moving away from its democratic roots and its traditions as an open society that thrives on intellectual, cultural, and political diversity at home, and that sees itself as a major contributor to the global community and to world peace.
Indeed, it is indeterminate what America and the rest of the world will look like by the end of Trump’s presidency, whether in four years or eight. What confidence will the American people have in the nation’s political institutions? What will be the legacy of his followers’ anti-democratic, anti-intellectual, anti-federal nonsense? Will America have the resilience to recover?
No-one knows. But what one does know is that Trump’s speech has potentially changed the game. It has made it all too easy for Republicans to fall in line behind the president. And it has made it all too hard for Republicans to dissent from the president’s policies and initiatives. Before the speech, Trump was dangerous. But now, he is even more dangerous. Much more dangerous.
John Kehoe says that Trump’s legislative priorities are overhauling healthcare and reforming the byzantine tax code.
- “The trench warfare on Capitol Hill remains a stalemate as the clock ticks,” says Washington political analyst Chris Krueger of Cowen and Company.
All his promises without useful detail were in his speech – burgeoning manufacturing industries, a trillion dollars on infrastructure, health, education, dealing with crime, building walls, the whole box and dice.
The one that worried me was that he’d asked his defense chiefs to develop a plan “to demolish and destroy ISIS” and “to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet.”
Sarah Kliff reminds us that Trump does not have a policy background, and has not surrounded himself with policy wonks.
Which brings us to the chief policy wonk, Steve Bannon. It is reasonable to ask
What does Steve Bannon want?
In an earlier thread we’ve had from Ootz and BilB references to:
To these I’ll add ‘America First’: Trump and Bannon Pursue a Vision of Autocracy by Der Spiegel staff, later published in the AFR, and from Quartz What Steve Bannon really wants.
The Der Spiegel piece was written two weeks after inauguration, so the ‘autocracy’ theme was a reaction to Trump’s series of executive orders. It’s safe to say now that Trump realises that he needs to work through Congress. What alarms, though, was Bannon’s claim that he views himself as a “Leninist” who wants to “bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” And his rampant militarism as reported by his Hollywood writing partner Julia Jones:
- She said books about war lay all over the place in his home. “He’s studied it down through the ages, from Greece, through Rome … every battle, every war. Never back down, never apologize, never show weakness. He lives in a world where it’s always high noon at the O.K. Corral.”
The Quartz article puts this in a better frame. Bannon’s philosophy is based on three pillars – “enlightened capitalism”, nationalism, and “Judeo-Christian values.”
Bannon is in fact strongly democratic. However, he sees the captains of industry, especially finance, as socialists, preying on workers and the middle class, with allegiances to their elite mates across the world rather than answerable to the citizens of Kentucky.
Also Bannon appears to believe that the US is heading inevitably toward violent conflict as part of the fourth great crisis of American civilisation after (1) the revolution (2) the Civil War, and (3) the Great Depression and World War II. Each of these events is followed by:
- “turnings”—periods of around 20 years that are characterized by a particular mood. These four moods are the “high,” “awakening,” “unraveling,” and, finally, “crisis.”
So who is the enemy?
The Quartz authors suspect it is not just ISIS but Islamic fascism, which ultimately means all of Islam.
- Because Islam is rooted in anti-Christian violence, goes the logic, the only way to ensure that Muslims in America don’t pose a terrorist threat is to make sure they honor the US constitution as the rule of law and accept Judeo-Christian values.
To what extent this “global existential war” becomes a shooting war is not clear, but if it means violence Bannon would not walk away from it.
A society without God disintegrates, he says, and:
- Nationalism, then, is the mechanism through which Judeo-Christian traditions and values become part of society.
The Quartz authors say that Trump’s “leadership hangs from the scaffolding of Bannon’s worldview.”
How this will work out in practice, no-one can tell. Bannon doesn’t give interviews.
What we do know is that Trump intends to lift military spending by $54 billion, around 10%.
More than 100 generals have signed a letter opposing the cuts:
- “Cutting the State Department budget by 30 percent is consigning us to a generational war. We cannot fight our way out of this. It is an issue which can be decided by decisive diplomacy and enlightened development,” General Allen told CBS News.
“If [the president] wants to eradicate radical Islamic terrorism, his only hope of doing it is not through an interminable war on Islam. It is by funding the very things in the State Department that give us the capacity to work with other countries and to help, in the context of development, to change the human condition in places in the world where young men and women are radicalized by virtue of the social environments they are in. They are pushed into the arms of extremists who we must fight.”
So just where the Trump presidency lies between civilising the world and blasting the enemy off the face of the earth is hard to fathom. We’ll know them by their deeds, and hope Congress provides a moderating balance.