Ask Dr. Land: Was Trump's Mount Rushmore speech provocative?

Question: Why all the controversy over President Trump’s Mount Rushmore Speech on 4th of July weekend?

Unless you have been on a spiritual retreat and completely cut off from electronic communication, you know there has been an amazing kerfuffle over President Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore on the Friday of July 4th weekend.

(Photo: The Christian Post/Katherine T. Phan)

If you have not seen the speech, I would encourage you to watch it. Whether you are a Trump fan or not, it was without doubt the best speech of his presidency.

The president, against the dramatic backdrop of Mount Rushmore, delivered a full-throated, eloquent defense of American exceptionalism in a speech that was both inspirational and aspirational.

However, you would never know this, or be able to deduce it, from the reporting in the mainstream media. These mainstream media mavens hated the speech so much that they would not, or could not, report it accurately. Perhaps the most egregious example was the “news” article on the speech by the Washington Post’s Robert Coats and Philip Rucker. These “reporters” commenced their account of the event with this lead: “President Trump’s unyielding push to preserve Confederate symbols and the legacy of white domination, crystallized by his harsh denunciation of the racial justice movement Friday night at Mount Rushmore. . . .”

Big problem. President Trump made absolutely no reference to the Confederacy or anything related to it. His only mention of the Civil War was to praise President Lincoln for the abolition of slavery.

Picking up this theme of falsely reporting Mr. Trump’s remarks, Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois (evidently on Joe Biden’s short list for a running mate), said that Mr. Trump “spent all his time talking about dead traitors.” One assumes she was not referring to Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, or Theodore Roosevelt — former presidents all — who were the historical figures Mr. Trump most prominently defended.

Whether President Trump is your “flavor of the month” or not, the speech itself was a powerful narrative both of America’s uniqueness and its ongoing promise.

As Rich Lowry of National Review Online described the president’s speech, “It would be difficult to get a more textbook expression of the American civic religion than the speech at Rushmore . . . or a more affirming account of the greatness of America and its meaning to the world.”

Lowry went on to characterize the speech as “a celebration of America’s Founders, its ideals and freedom, its capacity for self-renewal, its astonishing variety of geniuses, adventurers, warriors, inventors, and great musicians and athletes.”

The president asserted that our Founding Fathers in 1776 “founded not only a revolution in government, but a revolution in the pursuit of justice, equality, liberty, and prosperity.”

The president then put his finger on the one thing that truly separates the Declaration from many other documents: “They enshrined a divine truth that changed the world forever when they said, ‘. . . all men are created equal.’ These immortal words set in motion the unstoppable march of freedom. Our Founders boldly declared that we are all endowed with the same divine rights — given [to us] by our Creator in Heaven.”

As I said at the beginning, the speech was aspirational as well as inspirational.

Upon this ground, we will stand firm and unwavering.  In the face of lies meant to divide us, demoralize us, and diminish us, we will show that the story of America unites us, inspires us, includes us all, and makes everyone free.

We must demand that our children are taught once again to see America as did Reverend Martin Luther King, when he said that the Founders had signed “a promissory note” to every future generation. Dr. King saw that the mission of justice required us to fully embrace our founding ideals.  Those ideals are so important to us — the founding ideals.  He called on his fellow citizens not to rip down their heritage, but to live up to their heritage.   

 Above all, our children, from every community, must be taught that to be American is to inherit the spirit of the most adventurous and confident people ever to walk the face of the Earth.

And then the president said,

From this night and from this magnificent place, let us go forward united in our purpose and re-dedicated in our resolve.  We will raise the next generation of American patriots.  We will write the next thrilling chapter of the American adventure.  And we will teach our children to know that they live in a land of legends, that nothing can stop them, and that no one can hold them down. They will know that in America, you can do anything, you can be anything, and together, we can achieve anything. 

So, what was the problem? Perhaps it was that the president’s assertion that we are the greatest country in the world is under severe and sustained attack.

Make no mistake: this left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution.  In so doing, they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress.

To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage.

In specific relation to Mount Rushmore, the president said,

This movement is openly attacking the legacies of every person on Mount Rushmore. They defile the memory of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. Today, we will set history and history’s record straight. 

I must say that the actions of protesters defacing and destroying statues to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt, among others, coupled with the apoplectic denunciation and mischaracterizations of his speech, certainly furnish evidence favoring the president’s assertion.

Before leaving the subject of the president’s Mount Rushmore speech, however, it must be said that the president did identify the most important thing about the Declaration, the distinction that has given it its enduring power — a belief that human rights come from God.

Contrast that with the French Revolution, which began with the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, a mere 13 years after the American Declaration of Independence commenced the American Revolution. While many contemporaries thought they were essentially the same revolution (including Thomas Jefferson), they were wrong.

While there may have been superficial similarities, the enormous philosophical difference soon became apparent to all. The French Revolution in extremely short time degenerated into a horrendous and bloody “reign of terror” and a Napoleonic dictatorship that became the model for modern totalitarian regimes. In contrast, the American Revolution led to the longest, sustained democracy in the history of the world — the United States.

The essential and defining difference in the two revolutions can be identified in their foundational statements. As the president has pointed out, the American Revolution declared to the world, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”  

The French Revolution asserted the principles of “liberty, equality, and fraternity,” based purely on the human assertion of those rights, as opposed to the American Revolution’s basing them on the Creator and natural law.

The American Revolution did not declare its independence from God — the French Revolution did. In fact, the French Revolution was virulently anti-religious and sought to go all the way back to the pre-Christian roots of European civilization, back to Greco-Roman paganism. They dressed up a famous French actress as the “goddess of reason,” placed her on the altar of Notre Dame Cathedral, and worshiped her.

The Judeo-Christian roots of the American Revolution laid the foundation that protected human rights instead of sacrificing them to the false glory of the secular state.

Thank God our forefathers were American, not French, and they worshiped the one true God, not themselves.

Our second president and one of the more prominent authors of the U.S. Constitution, John Adams, emphasized the importance of this difference. In 1798, which serving as president, he explained, “We have no government armed in power capable of contending in human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made for a moral and a religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”

President Adams understood that this new and unique experiment in self-government was a bold attempt to wed Judeo-Christian values and beliefs with Enlightenment ideas of self-government, which gave unprecedented freedom and liberties to ordinary people. However, John Adams also understood that such a deliberately limited self-government depended on an understanding that the vast majority of the citizenry would voluntarily obey the law even when no one was watching because they were aware of being accountable to a higher moral authority, namely God. If there were to come a time when human passions were no longer controlled by the internal morality and religion of the people, then the freedoms made possible by such limited government would ultimately collapse into moral license, social chaos, and economic disaster. In other words, America’s unprecedented liberties were inextricably intertwined with her Judeo-Christian beliefs, and societal abandonment of one would inevitably end in the loss of the other.

Given the events unfolding on the streets of our major cities in the last two months, John Adam’s words are indeed sobering.

Dr. Richard Land, BA (magna cum laude), Princeton; D.Phil. Oxford; and Th.M., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, was president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) and has served since 2013 as president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC. Dr. Land has been teaching, writing, and speaking on moral and ethical issues for the last half century in addition to pastoring several churches.

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