On Friday night, President Donald Trump gave an impassioned defense of America’s heroes and heritage at Mount Rushmore. He denounced the “cultural revolution” that twists American history to turn the Founders into villains, a mindset that emboldens the iconoclast toppling of statues across America. Yet left-leaning media outlets like The New York Times and CNN condemned Trump’s speech as a “divisive culture war message” or a “culture war bonfire.”
“Trump Uses Mount Rushmore Speech to Deliver Divisive Culture War Message,” screams Annie Karni’s headline at the Times. “Trump tries to drag America backward on a very different July 4th,” wrote CNN’s Maeve Reston.
Both Karni and Reston condemned Trump for holding Fourth of July celebrations despite the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. They also slammed the president for delivering a “divisive” message on the Fourth of July.
“Under the granite gaze of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, Mr. Trump was expected to deliver a searing attack on what he has referred to as the ‘left-wing mob,’ according to someone with knowledge of his remarks. He will address how ‘cancel culture’ and the desire of some Americans to tear down statues amount to what one aide described as ‘totalitarian behavior’ seeking to rewrite history,” Karni reported.
She went on to quote historian Michael Beschloss, who compared Trump to Woodrow Wilson, who mismanaged the influenza pandemic of 1918, and Herbert Hoover, who attempted to assure Americans that the depression year of 1932 was not as bad as people said.
Yet Karni did not mention the destruction of the riots across America, the absurd stories of cancel culture — even at her own newspaper, the op-ed editor resigned amid backlash after he agreed to publish an op-ed from a U.S. senator — or the grotesque vandalism of statues. The mob has toppled or defaced not just Confederate monuments, but statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (the author of the Declaration of Independence), Gandhi, and even the 54th Massachusetts volunteers, the first all-black regiment to fight for freedom in the Civil War.
While Trump did decry cancel culture as “totalitarian,” his remarks explained why. “One of their political weapons is cancel culture, driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees. This is the very definition of totalitarianism, and it is completely alien to our culture and our values and it has absolutely no place in the United States of America,” the president declared. In light of recent “cancelings” — like the soccer player fired for his wife’s tweet and the church booted from its building over a pastor’s decision to “like” certain tweets — this condemnation seems utterly appropriate.
Yet the CNN article makes The New York Times report seem tame. Maeve Reston accused Trump of “attempting to drag America backward.”
Trump Eviscerates the ‘Web of Lies’ Behind the ‘Angry Mob,’ Defends Mount Rushmore for Fourth of July
“On a very different Fourth of July holiday, when many Americans are wrestling with the racist misdeeds of the country’s heroes and confronting an unrelenting pandemic with surging cases, their commander-in-chief is attempting to drag America backward — stirring fear of cultural change while flouting the most basic scientific evidence about disease transmission,” she began.
“In a jaw-dropping speech that amounted to a culture war bonfire, President Donald Trump used the backdrop of Mount Rushmore Friday night to frame protesters as a nefarious left-wing mob that intends to ‘end America.’ Those opponents, he argued, are engaged in a ‘merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children,'” an exasperated Reston reported.
“Just like he does on his Twitter feed, which is dominated by dismay over the toppling of statues of racist figures from America’s past, Trump minimized the dangers of the pandemic Friday night in South Dakota, expressing more concern for the safety of statues than of the American people,” she alleged.
Naturally, the CNN commentator got a dig in at America’s first president, George Washington. “Earlier this week, Trump threatened protesters accused of throwing red paint on a Manhattan statue of Washington — who owned more than 300 enslaved people until he freed them in his will at the time of death — with 10 years in prison,” she wrote.
Reston also made sure to list the problems with Mount Rushmore, which Trump defended. The CNN commentator noted Native Americans’ attempts to retake the land and the disturbing connections between Mount Rushmore’s sculptor and the Ku Klux Klan. She did not mention the tremendous accomplishments of the presidents on the statue, or the fact that monuments for each of those presidents have been vandalized or removed in recent weeks. She did, however, note that Trump “delivered his own history lesson of sorts on each of the White men chiseled into the South Dakota mountain.”
The CNN commentator condemned Trump’s “rhetoric intended to rev up his base at a time when many Americans are attempting to relearn the nation’s history with greater attention to the wrongs inflicted on Black and Native American people.”
America does have a complex history and each of its heroes was imperfect. Yet Trump was right to defend their legacies against a mob intent on erasing them, especially on the Fourth of July.
Perhaps these writers for CNN and The New York Times wish to defend the “1619 Project,” which re-envisions America’s history as based in the arrival of the first slaves to Virginia, rather than the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. This view seems to justify the narrative of America as irredeemably racist and oppressive, the narrative behind the toppling of statues and the demands for the renaming of everything from states to football teams.
Perhaps the president should have acknowledged that America’s heroes were not perfect, and perhaps he should have mentioned the threat of coronavirus in his speech. Yet it was entirely appropriate to focus on praising America for the Fourth of July, especially as mobs go about toppling statues.
Trump is right to push back against this anti-American message, especially when that message has spilled over into lawless violence and vandalism. Instead of acknowledging the importance of defending America at this crucial time, CNN and The New York Times blasted Trump for daring to defend America’s greatest presidents.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.