After giving Trump’s Inaugural Address a couple of days to marinate, the one bit that stuck with me was this:
At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.
If you wish to lead people from A to B, you need to do two things.
• You need to convince them that B is far superior to A, that A is not acceptable and B is much better, and
• You need to paint a believable picture of the path from A to B.
People will want to go somewhere if they think it is sufficiently better than where they are, and to get on board the bus they need to see a road to the new place that they think is actually possible. If you can provide them with those two things, and they believe you, you can lead them from A to B.
Now, because he knows how to sell a deal, Trump began this process of leadership with the first sentence of the speech, viz:
We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people.
No messing around, there’s the final goal, first thing out of the box—a rebuilt and restored country. He shows that B is superior to A by the phrases “rebuild our country” and “restore its promise”. Both of these contain the implicit assumption that something that is “rebuilt” and “restored” is far superior to its original condition.
A couple of points about technique. Note that the first word is “we”. He is establishing the nature of the discussion. It’s about “we”, about everyone.
Note also that he does not propose that we join together in a great national effort—he tells us that the great national effort is already underway!
The new Captain is nothing if not audacious … one sentence into the speech and we’re shanghaied, he casually notifies us we’ve already set sail on a new adventure.
In any case, he next emphasized this difference between B and A, that B (a rebuilt and restored USA) is better than A (the current situation) by talking about today’s conditions in brutally realistic terms:
But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
This passage led a number of commentators to describe the speech as “dark”. This represents a total misunderstanding of what is going on. He needs to get people to board his bus to a better future, and for them to do that, the current situation needs to be undesirable. Today’s conditions cannot be described in the dulcet golden wonderful tones the commentators seem to desire … because then people would have no reason to join the movement to improve the current situation.
So that is the reason for the two tones of the address, of a dark today and a bright tomorrow. While this contrast has puzzled the commentators, Trump knows that showing that the present is bad and the future is much better is central to getting people moving.
Now, Trump is no fool. He knows that he needs to get everyone behind him. He also knows he faces a huge problem on the road to that bright future of bringing the US together—racism and prejudice. Ugly, but there it is.
He needs to appeal to everyone, but he knows that scattered among his supporters are a number of white folks who range from the minor kind of unconscious white racists who simply don’t know when they are being insulting, all the way across the spectrum to the Aryan white power lunatics who read the Diaries of Nat Turner and believe in the coming race war and their inherent white-guy superiority.
Here’s the odd part. I grew up with these people. I know them well. Setting aside their peculiar racial monomania, most often they are good folk, patriotic and proud, full of energy, often outdoor people, dedicated to their families, and in general flag-waving Christian good old boys and girls, salt of the earth. I don’t know how racism fits with Christianity, but humans are endlessly ingenious …
And that racism and prejudice is a big problem, because there are more of those prejudiced folks in the US than either you or I might think. Put on your hip boots and turn over some rocks on the internet and you’ll get your eyebrows singed by their ranting, they are only a few clicks away. And it’s not just white folk, there are racists of all shades in our lovely land.
So … there is the puzzle. He wants to bring all the US together … but how do you stop a bunch of otherwise rational racists from being racist for long enough that they can stop and look around and notice that it is 2017? Even if they are your followers you can’t just say “Snap out of it, suckers!”
With all of that as prelude and context, I’d like you to take another look at Trump’s statement I quoted above:
When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.
Ah, that sneaky Donald! He’s grabbed them where they are most vulnerable. He’s realized that the racists are mostly flag-waving Constitution-worshipping patriotic folk, so he is giving them a patriotic path out of racism that is decent and honorable. He is speaking directly to his followers, and telling them in a most enticing manner that there is a way out of their prejudice.
Guess where he goes next in his speech …
The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.
Commenters have seen this as filler in his speech, simple Biblical pabulum for the masses. It is nothing of the sort. The Donald knows his audience. He is telling them that both patriotism and Christianity say that there is no room for prejudice, no room for racism, no room for hatred.
Consider the genius of this. He’s attacking the undeniable racism, large or small, of many of his patriotic Christian followers with a one-two punch of the Flag and the Bible. It’s a combination which they cannot resist because of who they are, and he knows it because he knows them.
Not only that, but he is offering them a way out of racism and pushing them hard in that direction, and more amazing, doing it without accusing a single one of them of being a racist … and best of all, rather than resenting or resisting his chastising them, they are loving him for it.
Brilliant. Just brilliant.
Finally, he binds it all together by acknowledging the differences, and finishes (as he should) by pointing again to the final goal, the shining city on a hill, that desirable future of a restored and rebuilt America:
We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.
How odd this world is. Trump’s followers take him very seriously. As a result, I’d wager that Trump has just done more to reduce and defang the racism and prejudice among millions of patriotic Christian white people than any other single action I know of … and almost nobody noticed. Well, nobody but his patriotic Christian white followers noticed … and you never, ever see them on TV being asked their opinion.
One final point. He’s done a curious shifting of the goalposts here. He started by uniting people through patriotism. He then moved to uniting them through Christianity.
And now, here in the conclusion, the goal has nothing to do with patriotism or Christianity. Now the goal is the uniting itself, pursuing solidarity among all Americans.
Leadership. Go figure.
What a time to be alive!
My very best to everyone, saint and sinners, sharks and dolphins, inlaws and outlaws, white, black, and all the colors of humanity—I do think we can pull this off.