Hoping for Freedom:
Trump’s Farewell Address

For all his reputation as erratic, distracted, and impulsive, President Trump’s political focus has been amazingly consistent and the most supportive of the freedoms of the American people of any president since Abraham Lincoln. 

An early article of mine supporting Trump’s candidacy in March 2016 began by asking, “Is Donald Trump a demagogue or a voice for justice?” I concluded then that “Trump defends the fundamental principle that legitimate government proceeds only by the consent of the governed. The people remain sovereign.” 

But the elites who have governed preferred the sovereignty of their administrative state and the sophisticated authority or arrogance it embodies. Trump attacked the bipartisan consensus on policies rejected by many if not most Americans of both major parties: on futile Middle East wars, ruinous free-trade dogma, and lawless open borders. Debate over these issues, he complained, was stifled by a mentality of political correctness that invoked curses of racism, xenophobia, and stupidity. 

While demagogues on these themes abound, no one can rightly be called a demagogue who in fact rescues the people from these policies and thereby seeks the restoration of freedom and self-government.

In his inaugural address, Trump elaborated on these successful campaign issues, whose underlying theme was revitalizing constitutional government. I maintained, “In truth, no inaugural address has defended the Constitution so vigorously since Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural.” 

Against bipartisan political and economic injustices, Trump declared, “today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another—but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the American people.” I argued then that “Trump’s challenge is to liberate us from the comforts of the administrative state and the dark caves of our subrational identities and to ask us instead to embrace the freedom and duties of patriotic American citizens.” That was the unifying message of “America First” and “Make America Great Again.”

Being and remaining a Washington outsider, President Trump turned to promising outsiders who had established careers for major positions. Oil executive and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson exemplified the establishment’s hope for containing Trump. Tillerson was immediately captured by his bureaucracy and had little sympathy for Trump’s view of the world and lacked loyalty to him.  

A host of generals, Fox News stars, Republican reliables, donors, and Beltway insiders served and left. The media who deconstructed the proceedings created a narrative of resistance to the hapless racist in the White House.  The politicized Department of Justice, FBI, and the outgoing Obama White House may well get away with their subversive acts. From this perspective, it appears the administrative state (a.k.a, the swamp) triumphed over its most overt enemy since Richard Nixon, producing two impeachments. 

Against these tales, Trump’s farewell address (text and video) reiterated the amazing triumphs of his hobbled four years. Trump was no politician but, as he describes himself, a builder, one who saw how people dream and who understood how to make those dreams real.

But Americans, especially those who find him repulsive even as they support many of his policies, should reflect on how Donald the builder became president. Given his self-indulgence, one feels mawkish in praising him, but he merits this respect. Given the enemies he instantly attracted and those who came to fear his success, it is remarkable that he chose to run for president at all. Thus, one must always keep in mind and honor his courage in doing so. He knew he was putting his wealth, reputation, and even safety at risk. Not only in that regard does he remind one of the patriotism of the American Founders who put their “sacred honor” over their “lives and fortunes.” 

Trump realized that a man of his views and skills (especially in media) was needed by an America whose ruling class was showing itself to be incapable and even corrupt. Trump accurately describes himself as “the only true outsider ever to win the presidency.” Obama, the Clintons, and the Bushes, whatever their virtues, all wounded the country. Neither party had a cohesive view of the common good or justice—to put it starkly, they were no longer patriotic.

By contrast, Trump explains, “I ran for president because I knew there were towering new summits for America just waiting to be scaled. I knew the potential for our nation was boundless as long as we put America first.”

In running and likely ruining himself, whether he won or lost, Trump fulfilled his moral duty to his country while satisfying his ambition. The political situation allowed him to revive the Republican Party against its own suicidal policies, address the grievances of Democratic constituents against their party, and uplift the hearts of patriotic and religious Americans who were feeling shunned and shamed. Such a force was a danger to the established order and had to be stopped, whatever it took. 

In this spirit, we should appreciate his farewell remarks. He echoes his inaugural address: 

Above all, we have reasserted the sacred idea that, in America, the government answers to the people. Our guiding light . . . has been that we are here to serve the noble everyday citizens of America. Our allegiance is not to the special interests, corporations, or global entities; it’s to our children, our citizens, and to our nation itself . . . .

The most poignant passage is his “hope”:

This, I hope, will be our greatest legacy: Together, we put the American people back in charge of our country. We restored self-government. We restored the idea that in America no one is forgotten, because everyone matters and everyone has a voice. We fought for the principle that every citizen is entitled to equal dignity, equal treatment, and equal rights because we are all made equal by God. Everyone is entitled to be treated with respect, to have their voice heard, and to have their government listen. You are loyal to your country, and my administration was always loyal to you. (Emphasis added.)

Far from deserving impeachment and ouster from office, Trump hopes to be ranked with the Founders and Lincoln in restoring the concept of consent of governed and self-government, which arise from the principle of human equality—neither a slave nor a master be. That hope can only be fulfilled if the patriotic energy Trump released in Americans is not only sustained but grows. That understanding of equality, the fundamental principle of the American Founding, was reaffirmed in the Civil War but repudiated by Progressivism and postmodernism. It is his hope that we restore it.

No wonder he fought so hard for reelection. If ever his “Garden of Heroes is constructed—most likely by a private donor—an icon of Donald Trump should grace its entrance. 

About Ken Masugi

Ken Masugi, Ph.D., is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute. He has been a speechwriter for two cabinet members, and a special assistant for Clarence Thomas when he was chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Masugi is co-author, editor, or co-editor of 10 books on American politics. He has taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he was Olin Distinguished Visiting Professor; James Madison College of Michigan State University; the Ashbrook Center of Ashland University; and Princeton University.

Photo: Eric Thayer/Getty Images

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