The establishment, Right and Left, spent the weekend imagining the Founders had envisioned the linchpin of republican government to be an independent federal celebrity policeman. President Trump spent the weekend acting as President in the manner the Founders hoped.
In a speech Saturday at Liberty University, President Trump traversed ground he has covered before and then some, revealing again how closely his views―worldly and otherworldly―align with those of the Founders.
The seat of Trump’s view of political right is a common sense understanding of human excellence and the divine. This understanding is rooted in the relationship of parents to children and the dead to the living. It is an order in which before God we are equals, and God has a stake in human affairs.
In his speech on Saturday, Trump said to the Liberty graduates:
You’re going to go out, you’re going to do whatever you’re going to do, some are going to make a lot of money, some are going to be even happier doing other things—they’re your parents and your grandparents, don’t forget them. You haven’t forgotten yet, have you? Never, ever forget them, they’re great.
Two things. First, Trump, the garish materialist, apparently values something more than money. He said so: “Some are going to be even happier doing other things.” Second is the importance of parents. Depending on how you enumerate the Commandments of the Decalogue, the injunction to honor one’s parents falls either at the bottom of the first five Commandments on sacred law or the top of the last five on civil law. The Decalogue thus links the divine and human with a command to honor one’s mother and father. The law of the Bible is thus structured around the transmission by parents of the central idea of one living God before whom thou shalt have no other gods.
America has a creed―an understanding of the human and divine―before which Americans shall have no other (Marxist academics take note). This creed too is transmitted by parents, but not only by immediate parents who teach these things at the hearth and kitchen table.
Trump’s parents are no longer alive, at least not as they once were. But Trump still sees them―indeed all heroic dead―as participating in some way in present day events. Trump speaking to the Liberty graduates referred to his mother:
I had a great mother, she’s looking down now, but I had a great mother. I have always loved Mother’s Day.
Trump then addressed Jerry Falwell, Jr. in a similar vein:
And Jerry, I know your dad is looking down on you right now and he is proud, he is very proud, so congratulations on a great job, Jerry.
Patrimony is important. The transmission of American mores is made through an appreciation of the Founders as though they were our ultimate national parents (one might call them “forefathers”)―like Trump’s mother and Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s father―watching, judging across the ages. That is why Washington is referred to as “Patres Patriae” the “father of his country” and Lincoln habitually referred to the Founders as our “fathers” (e.g., Cooper Union Address) or “forefathers” (e.g., Gettysburg Address).
Parents, literal and figurative, are the conduit of the American creed―as parents are the hinge of God’s law in the Decalogue―and the American creed is found in the Declaration of Independence. In Saturday’s Liberty University speech, Trump also mentioned prominently the Declaration, revealing that he shares the Founders’ understanding of the authority of the Declaration, which places man on an equal footing below God and in so doing, above government.
When the founders wrote the Declaration of Independence, they invoked our creator four times, because in America we don’t worship government. We worship God.
Yet sharing the Founders’ understanding of the authority of the Declaration of Independence is not enough. One must also share the Founders’ understanding of its meaning. Justice Taney cites the Declaration in Dred Scott, but he so perverts its meaning that he ends up making the claim (eerily similar to the arguments of modern day leftists) that the Declaration did not mean to include any but white men. Trump made clear that he has a proper understanding both of the Declaration’s universalism with respect to the equality of all men before God and of its particularism with respect to securing for Americans the rights demanded by that equality.
We must always remember that we share one home and one glorious destiny whether we are brown, black or white. We all bleed the same red blood of patriots. We all salute the same great American flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God.
Trump, as noted above, thinks parents are “great.” Greatness is what Trump says he wants to help bring forth in the country. But what does he mean by such a vague term? Trump gave some indication in the opening of his speech, using a characterization we have heard from him before, extemporaneously, in his Joint Address to Congress:
This is your day and you’ve earned every minute of it. And I’m thrilled to be back at Liberty University, I’ve been here, this is now my third time, and we love setting records, right? We always set records. We have to set records; we have no choice.
Do not let Trump’s signature pedestrian manner of speech obscure the meaning of these words. There is something compelling about breaking records. Excellence (setting records) is compelling (we have no choice) because it is the essential ingredient of human happiness.
Human happiness is like athletics. In athletics you work hard for a goal. That goal is success in competition. Athletics is an important part of education, because in addition to exercise being good for health, athletics teaches excellence. It models achievement. It teaches breaking records. Trump linked the two:
The success of your athletic program arriving on the big stage should be a reminder to every new graduate of just what you can achieve when you start small, pursue a big vision and never, ever quit. You never quit. If I give you one message to hold in your hearts today, it’s this. Never, ever give up.
The word “athletic” is Greek in origin, from the root althlon, meaning prize. Athletics is the activity of an athlete. Politics is similarly Greek in origin. Politics is the activity of the polis, meaning nation. Politics is a higher human activity than athletics. It is a higher human activity than the pursuit of money, as Trump acknowledged in the first quote above. It is the highest practical form of human excellence (and conversely, if exercised viciously, i.e., tyrannically, the worst form of human activity). We can deduce that the Founders thought so too, since politics is the excellence with which they chose to occupy themselves.
Excellence does not happen by itself. It requires effort. Trump told the Liberty graduates:
The more people tell you it’s not possible, that it can’t be done, the more you should be absolutely determined to prove them wrong. Treat the word ‘impossible’ as nothing more than motivation.
Excellence requires more than effort. It requires the fortunate intervention of chance events which dominate human affairs, particularly human political affairs. Human happiness is a business of risk. Trump asked Liberty graduates:
What imprint will you leave in the sands of history? What will future Americans say we did in our brief time right here on Earth? Did we take risks? Did we dare to defy expectations?
Generally speaking, people take risks for the sake of something else. Trump spent a lifetime taking risks for the sake of two things: money and celebrity. Trump in turn risked these things on the highest political honor, the office of President of the United States. Why would anyone take this risk? Trump told the Liberty graduates why: “We have to set records; we have no choice.”
Risk and chance events are just one part of the picture. There are other events that are like chance events in that they might be described as causes outside of nature, supernatural causes. Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, in perhaps its most moving passage, identifies these causes as essential to understanding the Civil War:
If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
Before Lincoln, these causes were also very real to the Founders. The Declaration of Independence famously concluded with:
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
Publius (attributed to Madison) in Federalist 37 wrote of the Constitutional Convention:
It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution.
Today, an administrative state in creeping fashion has arrogated to itself the authority that once belonged to kings and a global network of noble houses. The elite ranks of society, educated in universities, long lost in worship of the Golden Calf of the creeds of materialism and historicism, are very nearly in open rebellion at the election of Trump. In this context, Trump at Liberty University started with:
And here I am standing before you as President of the United States, so I’m guessing—there are some people here today who thought that either one of those things, either one, would really require major help from God.
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.