There are the facts. Then there is The Narrative. The two are often in tension. Can the facts revise The Narrative? That depends.
The Narrative, however, wasn’t having that reading, not one little bit.
The Chicago Tribune described the speech as “raw, angry and aggrieved,” “pugnacious in tone, pitch black in its color.” OK, par for the course: It was The Chicago Tribune, after all.
But Andrew Ferguson, writing in The Wall Street Journal, said that “the candidate who campaigned as a sociopath shows signs he may yet govern as one.” (“Sociopath”? Caligula was a sociopath. Donald Trump?)
Sure, Chris “Old Reliable” Matthews, ready as ever to comply with Godwin’s Law, according to which the longer the conversation the greater the likelihood of a comparison involving Hitler, described the speech as “Hitlerian.”
But just about every mainstream outlet from The Weekly Standard (remember The Weekly Standard?) on down referred to the speech as “dark.”
I was a bit taken aback to hear a politically mature friend describe the speech as “disgusting,” “nasty,” and “borderline un-American,” and then go on, listing Godwin-wards, to invoke “beer halls” (you know what that means!) in connection with the president’s address.
The Narrative Locked
I said that Trump’s speech was gracious. Here’s how he began:
“Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent.”
“Raw”? “Angry”? “Nasty”? “Disgusting”?
Granted, that was merely the prelude. The rest of the short speech (it was only about 1,400 words) is what I called “plain-speaking.” Trump negotiated the transition from gracious prelude to forthright substance with the word “however”:
“Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another—but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the American people.”
In other words, the aim wasn’t simply to transfer power from one party to another—chaps with different hats but the same grasping hands and insatiable appetite for your money—but to transfer it from Washington to where Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, and the rest thought it should be, to “We the People.”
Trump began his first inaugural with a few general observations: “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished—but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered—but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.”
Which of those statements do you find “dark,” “nasty,” “aggrieved,” or “disgusting?” Or, more to the point, which do you find untrue?
It didn’t matter. The Narrative had embraced its coordinates. The settings were locked. Donald Trump was bad. He was “dark,” “nasty,” “uncouth,” and “divisive.” Nothing he actually said—nor anything he has actually done these past 3 1/2 years—has managed to alter The Narrative.
An Ideological Filter
The adamantine recalcitrance of The Narrative is a wonder to behold. Its blithe imperviousness to facts reminds me of an anecdote the novelist Anthony Trollope tells in his autobiography.
Passing through Salt Lake City in 1872, the novelist went to see Brigham Young. Having sent up his card, he waited to be received. “I did not achieve great intimacy with the great polygamist of the Salt Lake City,” Trollope confesses.
“He received me in his doorway, not asking me to enter, and inquired whether I were not a miner. When I told him that I was not a miner, he asked me whether I earned my bread. I told him I did. ‘I guess you’re a miner,’ said he. I again assured him that I was not. ‘Then how do you earn your bread?’ I told him that I did so by writing books. ‘I’m sure you’re a miner,’ said he. Then he turned upon his heel, went back into the house, and closed the door.”
It’s the same with the media vis-à-vis Trump. “I guess he’s a bigot.” No, he’s not: Look at his record.
“I guess he’s anti-Semitic.” No, he’s not: Look at his daughter, his grandchildren, his behavior toward Israel.
“I guess he’s a divider.” No, he’s not: Look at all he has done to bring the country together.
None of that matters. No objection can matter so long as The Narrative is intact. The name “Trump” is like a magic talisman. For susceptible souls, it scrambles their reason by introducing an ideological filter between them and reality.
On July 3 at Mount Rushmore, the president said that “governments exist to protect the safety and happiness of their own people. A nation must care for its own citizens first. We must take care of America first.”
Those were the words that were spoken. The New York Times screams into print with an article titled “Trump Uses Mount Rushmore Speech to Deliver Divisive Culture War Message.”
The president said: “We believe in equal opportunity, equal justice, and equal treatment for citizens of every race, background, religion, and creed. Every child, of every color—born and unborn—is made in the holy image of God.”
Mother Jones heads its story “The Five Most Outrageous Things Trump Said at Mt. Rushmore,” adding in the subhead “He used the holiday rally to stoke the culture war.”
The president said, “We want free and open debate, not speech codes and cancel culture.”
CNN outdid Mother Jones, listing “The 28 most outrageous lines from Donald Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech.”
With every passing hour, the volume is being turned up.
Another article in The New York Times informs readers that the president “used the spotlight of the Fourth of July weekend to sow division during a national crisis, denying his failings in containing the worsening coronavirus pandemic while delivering a harsh diatribe against what he branded the ‘new far-left fascism.’”
You can see how the storytellers who keep The Narrative afloat are trying to steer things. If you agree with The Narrative, you are an upstanding citizen. Challenge it, and you are Hitler.
The president is a “dark” and “divisive” figure; Joe Biden is a “uniter” or at least (to speak frankly) an anesthetist.
The president spoke for about an hour at Mount Rushmore, delivering a magnificent, wide-ranging speech—one of the very best presidential addresses in decades. It reaffirmed everything that has made America (as Abraham Lincoln put it) the “last best hope of earth.”
It also forthrightly engaged with the anarchistic, anti-American rioters—pace The New York Times, “new far-left fascism” is entirely accurate—who are rampaging in cities across the country.
Meanwhile, Biden delivered a soundbite-like message in which he repeatedly accused America of “systemic racism.” Is that “unifying”?
I referred above to the president’s “first” inaugural. To describe it so is to imply that there is or will be a second. The president’s brilliant performance during his first 3 1/2 years had already convinced me he was likely to win reelection.
His sober handling of the CCP virus pandemic reinforced that conviction, as does his firm but deliberate handling of the cynical, race-baiting hooligans smashing up our cities.
His dignified and commanding performance at Mount Rushmore sealed the deal. Biden’s knot of vacuous clichés will only increase the size of Trump’s victory.
Roger Kimball is the editor and publisher of the The New Criterion and publisher of Encounter Books. His most recent book is “The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.