OPINION: American Carnage in Five Sentences

Manolo Quezon - The Explainer

Posted at Jan 24 2017 03:56 AM | Updated as of Jan 24 2017 03:57 AM

The popular hero Charles Lindbergh making a prewar appeal for the America First Committee

A little history is in order before we go into Trump’s “American Carnage” speech. It’s about a theme he used throughout the campaign, “America First,” and the historical baggage that accompanies it. 

“America First” was an isolationist movement in the late 1930s up to the outbreak of World War II, that objected to American involvement in Europe or the wider world.

It enjoyed the support of the man whose speech is linked to above, who was a folk hero of epic proportions in those days: Charles Lindbergh, the aviator who was the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Lindbergh expressed a long-time trend in American thought: a desire to keep uninvolved from the messy world of geopolitics outside of the Americas.

Other prominent isolationists were Joseph P. Kennedy, the multimillionaire who became first chairman of the American SEC and later, ambassador to the UK.

You might know him better as the father of President John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy was shot, one of the first suspects was a mysterious man who was seen standing around with an umbrella. It turns out the man was protesting Joseph P. Kennedy’s opposition to fighting Hitler before World War II.

Then, as now, isolationism brought with it the support of darker forces. This was a group called the German American Bund. It was the American Nazi party.

February 20, 1939: The German American Bund has a rally in Madison Square Garden. They continue to have heirs in terms of racist thought today.

They even had massive rallies such as this one in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. And here, the violent, totalitarian side of modern-day isolationism can be seen. Hostile to liberal democracy, angry at minorities, racist, and dangerous.

In other words, in everything new there’s often something quite old.

So here’s a quick exercise in going through Donald J. Trump’s inaugural address, something that can go down as the “American carnage” speech. To my mind, here are the five most important lines in Trump’s inaugural address.

1. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

This means a rejection of the liberal agenda, whether LBTQ rights, the “common core” in education, or environmental protection.

2. From this moment on, it's going to be America First.

This means a rejection of globalization and free trade. This where the old globalist agenda is now getting body slammed: no to TPP. Renegotiate NAFTA. Go fly a kite, WTO.

3. We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.

This is in many ways a direct answer to China’s president who appealed to maintain free trade just recently in Davos. It means forcing American companies to bring back their manufacturing to America, which will affect places like China and Mexico. It means forcing American corporations keeping their money abroad, to bring it back home.

4. We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones -- and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.

This means splitting up China and Russia, because since the 1980s Trump has believed it is against American interests for the two countries to be partners. It also means stepping back from the NATO alliance, and accommodating Russian objections to it. And, as a sign that this will not be a purely isolationist administration, it means that America’s alliances will be focused on two things: opposing China and fighting ISIS. 

5. And yes, together, we will make America great again.

Again here Trump is going against conservative thinking in that he promotes big spending on two things: infrastructure at home, and the armed forces for projecting power abroad. Specifically, Trump again, since the 1980s, has wanted a “yuge” US Navy, which is essential to confronting China with regards to Southeast Asia and Taiwan.

So that’s TrumpThought in five passages. You might want to read the analysis of the speech by David A. Graham in The Atlantic and NPR’s boiling down Trump’s foreign policy doctrine to three points. And then look at Trump’s cabinet picks and the opinions they hold.

Around the world, there seems to be a consensus on what this speech represents.

Since 1945, America has put itself forward as the policeman of the world, and advocate of democracy. That long period of American thinking, Trump said in his inaugural address, is at an end.

We have been part of that consensus since we joined the United Nations in 1942, then still an alliance against Germany, Italy, and Japan.

With that consensus in the dustbin of history, the challenge for us Filipinos as we navigate this new world order is, does it actually mean America will be less interested in our part of the world, or more?

Let’s see!

On a final note, I’ve been a speechwriter so let me make an observation about how presidential speeches are put together. Donald Trump may have posted a photo, in which he said he was preparing his inaugural address. It led his staffers to claim he was writing the whole thing himself. 

After the inaugural the Wall Street Journal reported it turned out the speech was mainly written by two people. The first is senior adviser Stephen Miller. The second is Steve Bannon, the chief political strategist and ideologue of the Trump administration. 

The thing is, it really doesn’t matter who wrote the speech except for determining style and maybe, who is influential when it comes to Trump’s thinking. In the end, the speech was delivered by Trump and that means he approved everything in it. If you watched the speech itself, the man had obviously practiced, he had a strong sense of the rhythm of the words. He owned it as document and as a performance.

Bannon of Breitbart fame himself said the speech was the most populist since Andrew Jackson’s inaugural in 1829. Jackson marked the first time a president replaced all his predecessor’s people, instituting what came to be called the “spoils system” in American politics –to the victor goes the spoils of victory. And he was their first populist president. You should listen to John Dickerson’s Whistlestop podcast for a fascinating look at the Jackson inaugural. All Bannon’s comments tell us –aside from the crucial role he was appointed to play in the new government—is that his principal, President Trump, shares the same views. And those are the views that will matter now. 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.