Is Trump really invested in making America great again?

The former president's esteem for the foundational values of the US is questionable

Former US President Donald Trump in the courtroom with his defence team for his arraignment in New York Criminal Court in New York, on April 4. EPA
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The former US President Donald Trump faces several pending criminal investigations and or indictments on the local, state, and federal levels. There is a New York State investigation into tax evasion and the recent indictment charging him with falsifying records to cover up hush money payments to avoid scandal; a Georgia investigation into his efforts to pressure election officials to change the results of the 2020 vote count; federal investigations into his repeated failure to comply with requests to return classified documents, and his efforts to incite violence to subvert and overturn the results of the certification of the 2020 election.

This column, however, was prompted not so much by the charges Mr Trump faces, or the events of Tuesday's court proceedings and his subsequent comments from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Instead, it was brought on by a recent article in an Israeli newspaper that posed the question “Does Netanyahu Hate Israel?” It went on to describe the many ways in which the Israeli Prime Minister, in order to save himself from criminal prosecutions, is attempting to overhaul the country’s judiciary. To build the Knesset majority he needed to secure his immunity, Mr Netanyahu made concessions to far right and ultra-Orthodox religious parties, causing the societal angst that has brought the country to its knees. This description of the Israeli leader putting his personal interests ahead of his country is strikingly similar to Mr Trump’s behaviours since the time he began to run for the presidency in 2016, leading me to ask the question: “Does Donald Trump Hate America?”

Mr Trump’s most fervent followers would answer: “Of course not, he loves America. He’s going to make America great again.” But after examining his rhetoric and actions, especially those in recent days, one is left wondering exactly which America Mr Trump is talking about.

While nominally affiliated with and embraced by the Republican Party, Mr Trump clearly doesn’t share the party’s historic respect for law enforcement or the institutions of state. For example, he held his most recent campaign rally in Waco, Texas on the 30th anniversary of the deadly Waco shoot-out between federal law enforcement and a weaponised religious cult. That event has become a cause celebre for far-right militias nationwide as an example of government overreach.

The Waco rally began with a video of a choir comprised of inmates imprisoned for participating in the January 6, 2021 violent insurrection at the US Capitol. First, they sang “Justice for All,” followed by the national anthem. Mr Trump’s embrace of the January 6th insurrection and his view that its perpetrators are patriots was made clear when he began his remarks referring to the convicts saying: “Our people love those people.”

Threads of Mr Trump’s identification of America’s success with his own success go back to the beginning of his 2016 presidential campaign

His speech had three main components: a rehash of the claim that the 2020 election was stolen; a violent denunciation of the investigations and charges against him as unjust and part of a “witch hunt”, a point emphasised by the campaign-printed signs carried by the crowds reading “witch hunt”; and a reprise of the apocalyptic themes that dominated his 2016 Republican convention speech.

In attacking his political opponents, Mr Trump used the violent rhetoric with which he’s become identified. He accused Democrats of being “unhinged,” “out of control,” and guilty of “rigging elections”. The “biggest threat” to the US, he observed, is not Russia or China, but “the Department of ‘Injustice’” and “deep state” of “politicians like Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden”.

He referred to the NY attorney general who is investigating him as a “degenerate psychopath that truly hates the US”. And declared that when he wins in 2024: “The thugs and criminals who are corrupting our justice system will be defeated, discredited, and totally disgraced.”

As he has often done, Mr Trump described his campaign in ominous “end-of-times” terms. America, he said, is being threatened by “demonic forces” that are out to drive the country into a “lawless abyss,” with his campaign being the only force capable of defeating them and saving America. “Our opponents have done everything they could to crush our spirit... but they failed. They’ve only made us stronger and 2024 is the final battle...You put me back in the White House and their reign will be over and America will be a free nation once again.” Later he added: “Either the Deep State destroys America, or we destroy the Deep State.”

Threads of Mr Trump’s identification of America’s success with his own success go back to the beginning of his 2016 presidential campaign. In his 2016 convention speech, after describing in dark terms the evils facing our country – many of them in racialist terms (crime, immigration, poverty and ruined neighbourhoods, Islam and terrorism) – he proclaimed that “I alone can fix it”.

More than most politicians, Mr Trump uses the royal “we,” as in “We will make America great again,” but the “we” is merely a transparent substitute for “I”. And so in his campaign rhetoric, Mr Trump equates the threats against him – his 2020 loss, the GOP establishment politicians who oppose him, the media, the FBI, the Department of Justice, the courts – as threats to making America great. It’s easy to conclude that Donald Trump doesn’t really love America or its foundational institutions that are threatening him. He seems to hate the country’s aspirational values of tolerance, diversity, and freedom for all. What he loves is Donald Trump. And he appears to be willing to make any deal necessary, with any partners who will support him, and even to incite violence – because the thing that seems to matter most to him is his own success.

Published: April 06, 2023, 4:00 AM