Donald Trump's Invigorating Speech in Riyadh

Let’s play “One of these things is not like the other one.” Compare, if you will, Barack Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo to the Muslim world with Donald Trump’s speech today in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

There was some overlap: both indulged heartily in the usual political boilerplate and délicatesse: honored to be here, working together, Islam’s great contribution to culture, how splendid is the Middle East, terrorism is not coterminous with Islam, etc., etc.

But that’s where the similarity ended.  Trump’s speech was a forthright, America First, speech, Obama’s an accommodationist’s dream.

These days, we’re supposed to look at everything through the lens of gender, so let me get with the hermeneutical program and say that Obama’s speech, indeed his entire performance, struck me as an anti-patriarchal blow for what Goethe, in another context, called das ewig weibliche, the eternal feminine (though I wouldn’t say it was leading us hinan, “ever upwards,” as Goethe hoped).

Trump’s speech—and, again, his entire performance—struck me as (if I may employ an archaic word that is probably forbidden on most college campuses) manly.

Obama told his audience how deep an influence Islam had had on America from the very beginning of the republic. He lamented the activities of “violent extremists.” He apologized for the bigotry of Americans. “Fear and anger” was understandable in the wake of 9/11, he said, but those emotions “in some cases . . . led us to act contrary to our ideals.” He never mentioned the word “terrorism,” much less “Islamic terrorism.”

Trump sought solutions guided by “common sense,” “principled realism,” and “experience,” not “ideology.” He praised Islam as a great and beneficent religion, but also sternly rejected “Islamic extremism,” “Islamicism,” and “Islamic terror of all kinds.” He used the words “terror” and “terrorism” more than thirty times. He castigated ISIS, Hamas, and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations, and was particularly tart about the role of Iran in funding, abetting, and exporting terror.

Obama began his trip by bowing to a Saudi king. Trump stood tall and shook his hand, his wife Melania, without a headscarf, by his side. (Fake news alert: the disgusting Washington Post, where truth goes to die, ran a breathless story about how Trump bowed when he received the medal signifying  Saudi Arabia’s highest civilian honor.  How exactly could the honor have been bestowed had Trump not bowed his head to receive it?)

Obama ended his speech with the benediction: “May God's peace be upon you.” Trump, having wished the same for the countries whose leaders he was addressing, ended with “God bless the United States of America.”