The slogan and organizing principle of President Trump’s administration is “America first.” As he explained last night: “My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America.”
This is just common sense. Absent the Obama aberration, no president would think to say it.
However, even a message this obvious can use powerful, patriotic rhetoric and effective staging to support it. Trump’s presentation contained both, beginning with the second paragraph:
Each American generation passes the torch of truth, liberty and justice — in an unbroken chain all the way down to the present.
That torch is now in our hands. And we will use it to light up the world. I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength, and it is a message deeply delivered from my heart.
A new chapter of American Greatness is now beginning.
A new national pride is sweeping across our Nation.
And a new surge of optimism is placing impossible dreams firmly within our grasp.
What we are witnessing today is the Renewal of the American Spirit.
Our allies will find that America is once again ready to lead.
All the nations of the world — friend or foe — will find that America is strong, America is proud, and America is free.
The address ended on the same note:
[W]hen we celebrate our 250 years of glorious freedom, we will look back on tonight as when this new chapter of American Greatness began.
The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us.
We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts.
The bravery to express the hopes that stir our souls.
And the confidence to turn those hopes and dreams to action.
From now on, America will be empowered by our aspirations, not burdened by our fears — inspired by the future, not bound by the failures of the past — and guided by our vision, not blinded by our doubts.
I am asking all citizens to embrace this Renewal of the American Spirit. I am asking all members of Congress to join me in dreaming big, and bold and daring things for our country. And I am asking everyone watching tonight to seize this moment and believe in yourselves.
Believe in your future.
And believe, once more, in America.
There was also the unforgettable response of Carryn Owens when Trump and Congress paid tribute to her fallen husband, Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens. This was an American Greatness moment.
On Fox News, commentators of a certain age compared Trump’s address to those of President Reagan. It was Reagan, apparently, who began the practice of bringing heroic citizens to the gallery and recognizing them in his addresses.
I’m not sure that even Reagan ever matched the Ryan Owens moment.
But Trump and Reagan share more than an ability to stage speeches and to articulate a patriotic message. They share a contempt for America doubters.
This distinguishes them from the two Republican presidents who served in between them. Bush 41 and Bush 43 were great patriots. But they did not have, or at least display, a visceral reaction to nay-saying about America. (To be fair, neither followed a nay-saying administration.)
Reagan and Trump have that visceral reaction, and they display it. This served Reagan well and, if Trump can control himself, it may well do the same for him.