Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 27, July 18, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Trump's July 3 Mount Rushmore Speech

An Obsolete Definition of Who Is a Citizen

Kathleen Chandler

Indigenous people block the road at Mount Rushmore on July 3

President Trump's July 3 speech at Mount Rushmore, in the Black Hills region of South Dakota, was indicative of many things, not least of which is his racist, anti-worker and anti-communist outlook. What Trump said boils down to repeating that the US is the main force for equality in the world, the greatest nation on earth and that it is indispensable -- at a time many millions in the US and worldwide are demonstrating just how illegitimate such claims are. Along with saying that July 4 is the "most important day in the history of nations", the speech is imbued with the denigration of the peoples of the world and their contributions. Referring to the presidents whose faces are sculpted on the face of Mount Rushmore, Trump said:

"They enshrined a divine truth that changed the world forever when they said: 'all men are created equal.'"

"Before these figures were immortalised in stone, they were American giants in full flesh and blood, gallant men whose intrepid deeds unleashed the greatest leap of human advancement the world has ever known."

"We will state the truth in full, without apology: We declare that the United States of America is the most just and exceptional nation ever to exist on Earth."

Besides noting the extreme chauvinism and racist spirit of the speech, going to the heart of the matter is a major concern of the people of the United States: Who gets to define citizenship in the United States?

According to Trump, he gets to define who is and who is not a citizen in "his America". Despite his particularly narrow and racist definition which is rejected by everyone except a very few self-serving bigots of his ilk, the real issue is the practice in the United States where it is the state which defines the citizen, not the citizens who define the state. Ipso facto, it is not the people who define their own rights and duties by virtue of their being.

Should the being, qualities and beliefs of citizens be determined by those who have usurped the monopoly on the use of force and coercion backed up by an obsolete Constitution and laws which seek to give this legitimacy? No, it should not. It is the people who should define citizenship and give it a content consistent with their needs and the requirements of the times in a manner which favours them.

The location of the July 3 speech and the speech itself were used to attack the mass movement which continues in the United States. It is clear that Trump is using the oft-repeated declaration that he is a law-and-order president to oppose the people's striving for empowerment. But the clash between the exploiters and the oppressed over where the country is headed, anger with the government's failures concerning the Covid-19 pandemic and categorical rejection of police violence and impunity ring ever louder. The demand for equality and accountability far surpasses Trump's threats of suppression through the use of force.

Protest outside the County Jail, July 3

Despite differences in the ranks of the ruling elite for and against Trump, the ruling class as a whole is eager to block the emergence of a modern conception of rights and citizenship which the people's striving for empowerment is giving rise to. Their differences are over how to appear to govern on behalf of the nation while the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Differences also pertain to who they can put in the office of the president who can best give an air of legitimacy to their monopoly over the use of force. If Trump cannot do it and quell the revolt within the ranks of the elite and between the elite and the people, then they need someone who can. It is the search for such a person we see in the run-up to the Democratic and Republican Conventions, planned for August 17-20 and August 24-27 respectively, and the ongoing election campaign. The obsolete Constitution cannot help them to sort out what's what because the conditions it was devised to deal with no longer ex ist.

A modern conception of rights declares that all those who make up the body politic are equal members with equal rights to decide the quality and shape of that body politic. A body politic can no longer tolerate a hierarchy of privileges given out by those with the right connections. It can no longer tolerate being divided between those who govern and those who are governed, those who rule and have the monopoly over the use of force and those who are ruled and have nothing.

Repeatedly in the Mount Rushmore speech, Trump emphasised that to be considered American, one must believe in what the state decides. This means supporting the military and its wars, evidenced in part by having both the state Air National Guard and the Air Force's Blue Angels fly over. When he proclaimed July 4 as "the most important day in the history of nations", he said that "every American heart should swell with pride. Every American family should cheer with delight." Implicit is the threat that should they not, they will be dealt with swiftly and deserve whatever they get.

"Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children," Trump said. "Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities. Many of these people have no idea why they are doing this, but some know exactly what they are doing. They think the American people are weak and soft and submissive," he said.

Those standing up against state-organised racist assaults, against the slave power and its Confederacy that defended the system of slave labour, against the violence and impunity of the police and military today, are the "they". This "they" stands outside of "the American people", Trump says. On the basis of this claim, this "they" can legitimately be targeted as "the enemy". It is neither mistaken phrasing on his part, nor an exaggeration about how those who seek to give rise to a modern definition of rights are categorised. The theme is repeated throughout the speech.

Native American protest South Dakota, Mount Rushmore, USA

"Those who seek to erase our heritage want Americans to forget our pride and our great dignity, so that we can no longer understand ourselves or America's destiny," Trump said. "We will expose this dangerous movement, protect our nation's children, end this radical assault, and preserve our beloved American way of life," he said.

The "American way of life" and "destiny" Trump and the rulers are striving to protect is precisely what is being questioned by the mass movement of unprecedented size, scope, vigour and determination. Neither Trump nor any of the pundits commenting on the speech have any intention of dwelling on the fact that this "way of life" is responsible for hundreds of years of enslavement and genocide of Africans and Indigenous peoples (and that Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln all enforced), and that continues to this day. It is a cover-up for the use of armed force against Mexico and pretend that large swaths of territory appropriated by the United States were not stolen from Mexico. It is to divert attention from the continued and stepped up discrimination against Mexican Americans, the colonisation of Puerto Rico that continues to this day and discrimination against peoples of Latin American, Caribbean and Asian origin, and the "destiny" of the US as a world imperialist power responsibl e for untold wars, occupations, massacres and genocide on a world scale, of which Teddy Roosevelt was a major architect.

While the people are demanding that the defunct liberal institutions of governance be replaced with modern institutions which are in accord with the needs of the times, Trump also once again targeted governors and mayors who will not do his bidding. This reflects the deep divisions among the rulers and their military bureaucracy and policing agencies, as to how the US can maintain its monopoly on the use of force to maintain its domination at home and abroad.

"The violent mayhem we have seen in the streets of cities that are run by liberal Democrats, in every case, is the predictable result of years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education, journalism, and other cultural institutions," Trump said. "My fellow Americans, it is time to speak up loudly and strongly and powerfully and defend the integrity of our country," he said.

Who are the "fellow Americans" Trump is trying to rally? Calculations put the number of people directly participating in current protests at 15-20 million. Their "America" is not the one Trump describes. What the people in the United States want is inscribed on their signs, murals, street paintings and expressed in their slogans. Signs carried in demonstrations, especially those involving immigration and separation of families, and those against police impunity show clearly that Trump's America is not the "America" of the people; Trump's "the people" are not the people who are coming forward to speak in their own name and who represent themselves.

The rulers fear the growing consciousness that the "way of life" the elites praise, of which Trump's is just one variant, and the governing arrangements that protect it do not represent the people, do not serve the interests of the peoples of the world or of the US. The rulers have no intention of providing a new direction which provides a way forward because all of them serve narrow private interests. For the elites, the liberal democratic institutions are the end of history, the pinnacle of what human civilisation has given rise to. This is why many within the ruling class who oppose Trump say he is deviating from the constitution, and the liberal democratic institutions must prevail. They hide the fact that these institutions are obsolete and the Constitution is obsolete. They can no longer sort out the contradictions within the ranks of the rulers or between the rulers and the people who are demanding arrangements consistent with the times and their needs.

The people of the United States are striving to take democracy beyond the limits imposed at the time of the American revolution, Civil War and subsequent developments. They seek to put in place a democracy of the people's own making that empowers them to govern and take the decisions which affect their lives.


Link to Full Issue of Workers' Weekly

RCPB(ML) Home Page

Workers' Weekly Online Archive