Trump is Going All In on Divisive Culture Wars. That Might not Work this Time.Breaking News
tags: racism, culture war, Donald Trump, 2020 Election
Presidents tend to offer messages of national unity and optimism on Independence Day. But this weekend, President Donald Trump marked the occasion with a pair of speeches in which he described himself as presiding over a cultural civil war against an insurgent left — and promised to vanquish those on the other side of that war through aggressive use of law enforcement.
In a speech at Mount Rushmore on Friday, Trump warned of a “far-left fascism” that is part of a “merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.” As the crowd before him shouted, “Four more years,” he boasted about deploying federal law enforcement to protect American monuments, a number of which have been pulled down or criticized by anti-racist protesters in recent weeks for commemorating historical figures who supported slavery, white supremacy, or colonialism.
In his “Salute to America” address on Saturday in Washington, DC, Trump emphasized this message, and proclaimed that he was “defeating the radical left, the Marxists, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and people who, in many instances, have absolutely no clue what they are doing,” while pledging to “safeguard our values.”
“Such rhetoric is designed to inflame and divide the public, not unite and celebrate, which is the goal of most presidents’ Independence Day speeches,” George Edwards III, a scholar of the presidency and professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, told me. “There is little doubt that the president is trying to energize his base in anticipation of the November election.”
Trump’s descriptions of the rise of an extremist left — which were often exaggerated or false in their characterizations — are inflammatory in part because they rely on a narrow, nationalistic, and racialized definition of “our values” that amounts to a sweeping rejection of the idea that America’s history of slavery and white supremacy should be questioned. And in framing the debate over the monuments this way, the president revived the racialized nostalgia politics that animated his 2016 strategy for mobilizing Republican voters.
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