A review of "Un-American: The Fake Patriotism of Donald Trump," by John J. Pitney (Rowman & Littlefield, 248 pages, $21.95)

Rage Against the Effective Republican

John J. Pitney’s Un-American: The Fake Patriotism of Donald Trump, is currently ranked 288,742 on Amazon’s bestseller list and 1,162 in sales on Amazon’s “Political Commentary and Opinion” list. Equally noteworthy is that Bill Kristol and Tom Nichols have both given the book resounding endorsements. Given the remarkable traction in sales and praise from some of today’s most relevant conservative writers, the book merits a closer look.

Pitney is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. As he explains in the book’s preface, he is a life-long Republican who voted for every Republican presidential candidate during his entire voting life until 2016. That year, the election of Donald Trump moved him to change his party registration to “independent” on election night. He has since been a fervent member of the NeverTrump camp.

The book, a compilation of every stale NeverTrump talking point out there, offers no anecdote or allegation that has not already been made elsewhere obsessively by Trump’s opponents. From “Russiagate,” the Ukraine scandal, the Charlottesville affair, the Birther movement, the Central Park jogger case, and so on, Pitney recounts every trope backed up with the same razor-thin evidence as we have heard them recounted a thousand times. Every article and tweet against the president accusing him of racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, divisiveness, corruption, and being friends with autocrats, is trotted out one after another as a slide show.

The overarching premise weaving it all together is that Trump is a “fake patriot.” Pitney asserts that while Trump likes to call other people “un-American,” it is Trump himself who is “un-American.” The election of Trump has avalanched the Shining City on the Hill. In denouncing Trump, the Democrats, the media, and every manner of leftist organization now all embrace the great American ideals that Trump, and increasingly his supporters, are spurning. 

In every war of words Trump has with politicians and pundits on the Left, Pitney comes to the defense of the latter. They are merely innocent bystanders bullied by this disgraceful orange man. For Pitney, it is Trump who has needlessly created a climate of incivility. And far from making America great again, Trump has come in to wreck it.

Pitney is writing only for the initiated. His intended audience is other NeverTrumpers who are mutually sickened by Trump. He may also be writing it for some mainstream leftists who might enjoy the novelty of having their hatred for the president validated by a Republican college professor. But Trump’s smarter opponents, even on the Left, would not feel they have gained anything from reading this book.

So, Professor Pitney, instead of leaving the party and writing angry books about Trump, why not make your criticisms constructive? Why not help Trump to be better?

There are seven chapters, six of which are named for a different line in the Declaration of Independence. Within each, Pitney shows us all the many ways that Trump represents the antithesis of Jefferson’s words. But the title of the whole book is key. For Pitney, Trump is uniquely “un-American.” Every president from George Washington to Barack Obama is described as having lived up to the ideals of the American promise until Trump came along to shatter them.

In Pitney’s telling, the context in which Trump entered the fray of American politics was one of civil controversy. In Pitney’s world, the Left treats the Right with respect and collegiality, the media is fair to Republicans, and every president from both parties has been worthy of the high office, until now.

He is particularly critical of the evangelical support for a man who does not live a Christian life. He calls their support for him a “Faustian bargain.” That is a particularly low blow to the many Christians who understand what is at stake.

But most importantly, Pitney does not address what Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters like about him, nor does he seem even remotely curious about that. In Pitney’s world, the most steadfast Trump supporters are Klansmen and neo-Nazis. 

I live in Youngstown, Ohio, in the midst of “Trump Country.” I invite Pitney to come here to the Rust Belt and meet with the kind of Trump supporters he is unlikely to come across in Southern California. They are patriotic, freedom-loving, working-class Americans who support him precisely because he offers an entirely different brand of politics. They like Trump because he hears their voice of anger at the very establishment elite Pitney seems to prefer will remain in control in Washington. Are they “un-American” too?

Why has Pitney even been a Republican his whole voting life?

If he is a life-long Republican, does he not see it a good thing that Trump has created a much more conservative federal judiciary and has made major strides in dismantling the bureaucracy? Does he not prefer that Mike Pompeo and not a liberal like Susan Rice is running the State Department? Is it not a good thing that Betsy DeVos—and not a teacher’s union stooge—is the education secretary? Would he prefer a climate alarmist heading up the EPA? Would he prefer that we have a Democrat in office signing off on progressive legislation?

And does Pitney honestly believe that the Democrats care about character and civility? Has he forgotten the Paul Wellstone memorial? Does he not see that Republicans are routinely vilified in the media and on university campuses? Does he not see that it has been the Left, not Trump, that has divided America with their rhetoric? The Left certainly does not believe America is exceptional, but rather that it is a nation built on bigotry, slavery, greed, and imperialism.

The Republicans have tried (and failed) continuously with the kind of morally decent candidates that Pitney likes. Mitt Romney arguably ran the most honorable presidential campaign in decades, yet his opponents still portrayed him as a sinister demon who wanted to kill their grandmothers and put African-Americans “back in chains,” and a sexist for asking for women’s résumés to be brought to him in binders. And Romney stood by and took it. Why does Pitney not see the necessity of having someone who fights back?

The most cringe-worthy section of the book is the one where he tries to psychoanalyze Trump. According to Pitney, Trump’s many harsh words for Obama are motivated by “envy and psychological projection.” And before comparing these two presidents’ academic records, as if that matters, Pitney adds, “Obama is younger, thinner, smarter, and more physically vigorous than his successor.” He asserts that Trump is subconsciously jealous of his predecessor’s intelligence, charm, and physique. It seems that, like Chris Matthews, Pitney also gets a tingle up his leg at the thought of former President Obama.

It would be helpful if Pitney reexamined his animosity to Trump and his misguided nostalgia for Democrat presidents. Republican political scientists are a rare commodity and Republicans on campus can use all the help they can get.

So, Professor Pitney, instead of leaving the party and writing angry books about Trump, why not make your criticisms constructive? Why not help Trump to be better?

About Adam L. Fuller

Adam L. Fuller is an associate professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Youngstown State University in Ohio.

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

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