Opinion: America, we have always been greater than this

(AP)

In a lengthy new interview with the Associated Press, our president once again reveals himself in all his dismal, self-obsessed splendor. He whines incessantly about all the wonderful things that he’s accomplished — “I’ve done more than any other president in the first 100 days,” he tells reporter Julie Pace — and how he keeps getting robbed of the credit that he deserves. He has the best relations with foreign leaders, he has the best relations with Congress, he has singlehandedly revived the U.S. economy and military.

You get the gist.

The whole interview is worth a read, but I want to focus on a particular portion in which Trump talks about a speech that he gave back in February to a joint session of Congress. The passage is brief, yet it contains two startling moments, the first intimately human, the second with implications on the larger stage.

It goes like this:

TRUMP: A lot of the people have said that — some people said it was the single best speech ever made in that chamber.

AP: You seem like you enjoyed it.

TRUMP: I did. I did. I believed in it and I enjoyed it. It was a great feeling to introduce the wife of a great young soldier who died getting us very valuable information….

(AP)

I remember watching that speech and sharing in the empathy for the anguish of Carryn Owens, widow of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens. It also made me uncomfortable, as if her private grief had been put onto national display to make the rest of us feel more patriotic and virtuous. Trump, however, seemed even then to revel in that moment, as if the applause and emotion that washed over the House chamber was somehow his creation.

Given how his mind works, I’m sure that Trump has no concept how callous it now sounds to focus on how much he enjoyed that moment. He wouldn’t grasp it even if someone tried to explain it to him. Likewise, I’m also sure that he has no grasp on how historically grotesque it is to proclaim that speech as the “single best speech ever made in that chamber,” even as he slyly puts those words in someone else’s mouth.

That chamber, the Hall of the House of Representatives, has been in use for almost 160 years. Over those decades it has seen a lot of history:

It was in that chamber, on Dec. 8, 1941, that President Franklyn Delano Roosevelt famously rallied the nation after the attack on Pearl Harbor, calling it “the day which will live in infamy.”

“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory,” FDR promised a shaken country, and although he did not live to see that promise kept, it was kept nonetheless.

Three weeks after FDR’s speech, an orator of some skill by the name of Winston Churchill also stood in that same chamber to speak. His mission was to warn America against the difficult days ahead and to welcome us to the fight, to celebrate that in the struggle against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, the United States had finally “drawn the sword for freedom and cast away the scabbard.” As Churchill also reminded us, putting up walls against the outside world doesn’t work in the long term, because “pestilences may break out in the Old World which carry their destructive ravages into the New World.”

In the House chamber on Nov. 27, 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke to Congress and a grieving nation in the aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, reminding us of that we reap what we sow and urging America to continue the work of the slain young president:

“The time has come for Americans of all races and creeds and political beliefs to understand and to respect one another. So let us put an end to the teaching and the preaching of hate and evil and violence. Let us turn away from the fanatics of the far left and the far right, from the apostles of bitterness and bigotry, from those defiant of law, and those who pour venom into our nation’s bloodstream.”

Two years later, just a week after the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma had ended in police violence, Johnson again stood at that same House podium, this time to beg and plead with Congress to pass a Voting Rights Act and by doing so redeem the nation’s pledge made a century earlier with the Emancipation Proclamation.

“Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote,” Johnson said in a deeply personal speech. “There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right.” He told the nation that even “as a man with deep Southern roots,” he understood that “it’s not just Negroes, but really it’s all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.”

He continued:

“The real hero of this struggle is the American Negro. His actions and protests, his courage to risk safety and even to risk his life, have awakened the conscience of this nation. His demonstrations have been designed to call attention to injustice, designed to provoke change, designed to stir reform. He has called upon us to make good the promise of America. And who among us can say that we would have made the same progress were it not for his persistent bravery, and his faith in American democracy.”

Standing in that chamber in 1947, Harry Truman urged a massive increase in foreign aid to war-ravaged Turkey and Greece because as he put it, “The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms. If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world. And we shall surely endanger the welfare of this nation.”

In taking the country into World War I in 1917 to defend democracy, Woodrow Wilson stood before members of Congress assembled in the hall and told them that unlike other countries, “We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall cheerfully make.”

In September of 2001, President George W. Bush summoned the righteous anger of the nation as had FDR some 60 years earlier, this time in response to the terror attacks by Islamic extremists that had struck New York and Washington. But even in that anger, Bush took time to call upon the better angels of our nature.

“I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them.” 

“We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.”

One hundred years ago, suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt also addressed a joint session, pressing for passage of the 19th Amendment. She was not shy or demure; she demanded that women be given what was theirs by birthright as human beings, and she boldly threatened political retribution against those who continued to deny them that right.

“The time for woman suffrage has come. The woman’s hour has struck. If parties prefer to postpone action longer and thus do battle with this idea, they challenge the inevitable. The idea will not perish; the party which opposes it may. Every delay, every trick, every political dishonesty from now on will antagonize the women of the land more and more, and when the party or parties which have so delayed woman suffrage finally let it come, their sincerity will be doubted and their appeal to the new voters will be met with suspicion. This is the psychology of the situation. Can you afford the risk? Think it over.”

And in 1999, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel warned us all against the seductiveness of indifference, against the belief that we have to look away from human suffering “simply to keep one’s sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine.”

“The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.”

And while acknowledging the immense sacrifices of those who had fought and died in World War II, Wiesel summoned up the shameful, seldom-told tale of the MS St. Louis, a ship carrying almost 1,000 Jewish refugees that in 1939 was turned away and refused permission to dock in Cuba, Canada and the United States. It was eventually forced to return to Europe, where many of its passengers later died in concentration camps.

As Wiesel reminded us:

“That happened after the Kristallnacht, after the first state-sponsored pogrom, with hundreds of Jewish shops destroyed, synagogues burned, thousands of people put in concentration camps. And that ship, which was already in the shores of the United States, was sent back. I don’t understand. Roosevelt was a good man, with a heart. He understood those who needed help. Why didn’t he allow these refugees to disembark? A thousand people — in America, the great country, the greatest democracy, the most generous of all new nations in modern history. What happened? I don’t understand. Why the indifference, on the highest level, to the suffering of the victims?”

It’s not enough to merely note that each of these speeches, and many others as well, far outrank Trump’s Feb. 28 speech in eloquence and impact. What’s important is why. These speeches — all of them from the podium in the Hall of the House — echo through history and always will because they attempted to push us forward, because they called upon and reinforced what is best about us, because they challenged us to reach higher.

And every one stands in direct contradiction to Trump’s America, the country that would go to war to seize another country’s oil, that proclaims no interest in world affairs other than its own narrow self interest, that invents three million illegal voters as an excuse for making voting more difficult, that attempts to suppress and delegitimize the ambitions of those still struggling under the burdens of poverty and of ethnic, racial and gender bias, that embraces the rise of authoritarian rule and that treats bridges as a threat and walls as protection.

Each of those speeches from America’s past stands as a rebuke to the America of today and, we must ensure, as an inspiration to the America of tomorrow.

Reader Comments 0

1474 comments
Corey
Corey

It is now and has been clearly obvious that Trump will leave no lie behind only to make himself look good. I do not believe any of Trump's supporters here will invite a constant braggart into their homes into their homes without cringing throughout the encounter. I have no respect for the character that is D.J. Trump. Will people sell their souls to the devil in exchange for tax cuts and business friendly policies? Does not character, integrity and decorum matter anymore? Typhoid Mary makes the best prime rib and I really do not care about her illness I want that darn steak.

Peachs
Peachs

I think The FBI director went after Clinton, thinking she was the obvious winner and Trump didn't stand a chance. If he had thought Trump had a shot at being president I think he would've brought him to a public light. His main concern was Clinton being president, and six months later the FBI investigation becoming a topic of concern.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@KUTGF


Trump backing down on wall to keep the government running. Thought the mexicans paying for the wall. Guess we shouldn't take the POTUS so literal. I mean its only the highest position of leadership in our country

StraightNoChaser
StraightNoChaser

@DownInAlbany Since you keep on insisting on calling others a  lie.


Speaking to reporters Tuesday after a closed committee gathering to review a batch of classified documents, including a financial disclosure form, Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz and ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings said they have “grave concerns” and called their findings “extremely troubling.”

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

BTW: The speech Bush gave after 9/11, I could see him get scorched by the current right wing voters. Sad just how far down the road Trump has lead republicans. Or vice versa?

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Oh dearies, I've gone and upset Mary.


These questions from a couple guys that said taking a baby in the last trimester is perfectly ok. 

I painstakingly outlined the heartbreaking, tragic circumstances under which late-term abortions typically are performed. To the point where DiA couldn't even bear to answer my hypothetical (which is fine, but it is what it is).

This becomes "taking a baby in the last trimester is ok", how?


"Even a tadpole has a heart beat". 

Uh yes, it does, which is why I don't buy the notion that an embryonic heart beat should define a legal cutoff point for elective abortion. it's a dumb appeal to emotion, rather than about the viability of embryonic life.


VC, was it not you that said yesterday that Sessions "could not die soon enough?"

I said that he can't kick off soon enough to suit me, yes. And I stand by this--the world would be a better place if he were gone. There are very few people about whom I'd ever say this, but Jeff Sessions has gone out of his way to harm people throughout his professional career and he has done NOTHING to mend his ways upon becoming AG. I wouldn't do anything to cause his demise, but I'd be lying if I said I would mourn his passing.


And before you go nuclear on me about abortion rights and all that lib stuff, lets be clear, its the law and go have one if you want one, I don't care what you do. But, try being a little less sanctimonious about life.

I'll go right on pointing out that td is fine and dandy with killing innocent, defenseless, real people. You can find it "sanctimonious" if you like.

Brosephus
Brosephus

@Visual_Cortex

I second the motion on Sessions.  Don't like him, don't like his actions, and I won't mourn him when he's gone.


Maybe Mary needs a safe space.  I hear they're in vogue nowadays anyway. 

honested
honested

@Brosephus @Visual_Cortex 

Apparently, any CVS is a safe space for cons.

At least that was what seemed to generate the most outrage when damaged.

DownInAlbany
DownInAlbany

@StraightNoChaser @HDB0329  Anyone that suggests that a woman should stay home and bake cookies is a sexist.  Period.  No defending or deflection will change that.

StraightNoChaser
StraightNoChaser

@DownInAlbany @StraightNoChaser Where did he say he didn't?  He made the comments after leaving a closed door secret meeting on Russia gate?  Would that not be a perfect time to say the evidence is not there to support the claim that Flynn broke the law?

Paul42
Paul42

@DownInAlbany

If a judge says you did not comply with the speed limit, did you speed (and break the law) or not?

Sometimes this obtuseness goes too far.

TetoLeo
TetoLeo

Paul42,

But if the judge said there is no evidence you complied with the speed limit, as that is what Chavez said, then it is not shown you did speed either. As of now is it not the job of the justice system to prove guilt and not the job of those accused to prove their innocence?

StraightNoChaser
StraightNoChaser

@stefpe @StraightNoChaser @HDB0329 I have seen a lot of men who refused to vote for Trump because they have daughters wives and sons and do not want them to think that they support Trump's sexist behavior. I just saw a patriot last week who made comments similar to mine which is why he did not go to the White House.  

HDB0329
HDB0329

@DownInAlbany @StraightNoChaser @HDB0329 Anyone that suggests that a woman should stay home and bake cookies is a sexist.  Period.  ......that is a CONSERVATIVE orthodoxy, isn't it???


....remember: YOU voted for someone who said he'd "grab 'em by the p*ssy"......

StraightNoChaser
StraightNoChaser

@HDB0329 @DownInAlbany @StraightNoChaser He also said that it's not his job to raise his kids, he just gives the money.  Well whose job is it?  Isn't that sexist?  That's the same as saying a woman needs to stay at home and bake the cookies.  Am I right?

HDB0329
HDB0329

@DownInAlbany @StraightNoChaser @HDB0329 ....interesting that the Orange One wanted NY State to execute five men exonerated in a court of law....talk about truth and justice, DiA....


......like Richard Pryor stated....'when you're looking for justice, that's just what you find....JUST US!".....

honested
honested

@HDB0329 @DownInAlbany @StraightNoChaser 

I find the refusal to accept the obvious by the cons slithering among us quite hilarious.

I find the faux outrage over every instance of intentional identification of their rank hypocrisy even more hilarious.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

from the Dept. of Credit Where Due:


TD. Got to let this one go. It was a total cluster from the Governor on down. The NG has NO business firing weapons at private citizens.


ITM2, you're all right sometimes.

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@Visual_Cortex  He's all right all of the time - he's alright some times.  From the Dept. of Pedantry

KUTGF
KUTGF

@PaulinNH And don't you dare grade him on his own 100 day plan he promised!  That would be like actually expecting Mexico to have already paid for the wall as he promised!

HDB0329
HDB0329

@PaulinNH ....delusions of incompetence as competence.....


.....wonder was the Orange One left behind by an alien culture???

DownInAlbany
DownInAlbany

So, you lunatics don't like Ivanka and one suggested that she stay at home and bake cookies.  But, nooooo, they aren't sexist.  Wow!

stefpe
stefpe

@DownInAlbany I don't really have an opinion about her.. she seems nicer than her dad but, you know, it's hard not to be.

rimsky
rimsky

@DownInAlbany Think whatever you want about libs.  Ivanka defended her daddy, the P grabber, to be good to women.  That is a lie and may sit well with you cons but the rest of the world don't see it that way..

stefpe
stefpe

@BuckeyeGa Yeah I'm not a fan of that either but.. it's probably not unprecedented.

DownInAlbany
DownInAlbany

@BuckeyeGa  And, I can respect THAT opinion, but, the "bake cookies" part was over the top.  Not that I expected any liberals to call him out for the comment.  And, I was not disappointed.

honested
honested

@DownInAlbany @BuckeyeGa 

I don't really care what you 'respect' and I am not seeking your approval or respect.

I do EXPECT the Executive Branch of the Federal Government to be staffed by TRAINED PROFESSIONALS.

Sorry that cons don't expect the same.

honested
honested

@rimsky @DownInAlbany 

As she will likely continue to do, whether it is in the best interest of the United States.....or not.

BuckeyeGa
BuckeyeGa

I didnt see that comment as I go in and out..yeh that comment was over the top

HDB0329
HDB0329

@DownInAlbany ....we didn't say she had to stay home...but she needs to escape the bubble she's been in.......


.....now that's she put herself on the world stage, she'll start to see how Daddy is REALLY viewed in the world....

BuckeyeGa
BuckeyeGa

I dont agree with her having a white house position because she is the presidents daughter. Nothing personal.

Brosephus
Brosephus

@DownInAlbany

Don't know about anyone else, but Ivanka can do as she pleases.  If she's going to be a part of the administration, then she should be subject to the same rules and regulations as I am, including conflict of interest rules.  If she wants to make mud pies, i don't give a rodent's rear end.  If she wants to play CEO, then have at it.  Just quit trying to conflate private sector and public swcror work.