This is the first in a series of five posts on Donald Trump. They reflect on two recent major addresses: Trump’s September 19 speech at the UN General Assembly, and his speech at the Heritage Foundation on October 17.
Trump presents himself as an American patriot. He calls upon the American people to treat the flag with reverence, honor the national anthem, and recite the pledge of allegiance. He considers the Constitution of the United States to be the greatest political document in human history.
Moreover, he believes that all men and women should love their nation, regardless of what particular nation they belong. “In remembering the great victory [the allied victory in World War II] that led to this body's founding [the United Nations], we must never forget that those heroes who fought against evil also fought for the nations that they loved. Patriotism led the Poles to die to save Poland, the French to fight for a free France, and the Brits to stand strong for Britain.” He called upon the leaders of the world to be patriotic, for patriotism is the foundation for the construction of a peaceful, better world.
Patriotism is not a sentiment with which the Left is entirely comfortable, in part because the Left has consciousness of the history of using patriotism to attain public support for imperialist wars. However, Trump is right. Patriotic sentiments are central to the construction of a better world. We can clearly see this when we observe the Third World revolutions of national and social liberation, which were led by men and women who were patriotically defending their nations. Great revolutionaries, like Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro, were great patriots (see “Patriotism” 1/28/2016)
So all of us in the United States ought to be patriotic, and as Trump asserts, this requires knowledge of its history and heritage, and commitment to its values. However, Trump misreads American history, albeit in a common form. In celebrating the U.S. Constitution and its opening words, “We the people,” he ignores the fact the Constitution, while partially recognizing the rights of the people, included components that ensured elite control of the political process (see “The US popular movement of 1775-77” 11/1/13; “American counterrevolution, 1777-87” 11/4/13; “Balance of power” 11/5/13).
It indeed is the case that the Constitution of the United States is one of the great documents of modern popular struggles for democracy. Moreover, as the constitutional foundation of the U.S. legal system since 1787, it ought to be regarded as sacrosanct by the people of the United States. Trump, however, has a fixed image of the Constitution, without appreciation of the fact that it is a living document, influencing and influenced by an evolving national political process. The U.S. Constitution has evolved, first, through new interpretations of the judicial branch and new applications by the executive and legislative branches, made necessary by economic and social national and international development; and secondly, through amendments to the Constitution, which have been enacted as a result of the demands of popular movements, particularly in historic moments of popular revolution in the United States. The first ten amendments to the Constitution, for example, were enacted as a concession to the inquietudes of the people, who were concerned that the new Constitution would concentrate power in the hands of the elite (see “American counterrevolution, 1777-87” 11/4/13). Later, reflecting the influence of the abolitionist movement, three amendments in the period 1865 to 1870 protected the rights of persons of color. The XIII amendment (1865) abolished slavery; the XIV amendment (1868) ensured that no persons could be denied life, liberty, or property without due process; and the XV amendment (1870) ensured that no person could be denied the right to vote on account of race or color. In 1920, the XIX amendment prohibited the denial of the right to vote on account of sex. During the renewed women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s, an equal rights amendment (ERA) for women was proposed, but its passage was blocked by the conservative counterrevolution of the 1980s.
So let us American patriots understand the Constitution as a sacred yet living document, which is amended in times of challenge and change. On the basis such an understanding, we can discern that the current historic moment calls for further amendments to the Constitution. Four new amendments are necessary, and they should be proposed by the Left. These four amendments would guarantee (1) gender equality; (2) the protection of the social and economic rights of all, including education, health, nutrition, and housing; (3) the protection of the environment; and (4) respect for the sovereignty of all nations in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Such proposals from the Left for constitutional amendments would imply a recognition of the sacred character of the Constitution, as Trump rightly insists, but with awareness that the Constitution is a living document. With such proposals, Leftists would be presenting themselves as constitutionalists with respect for American heritage, but as dynamic constitutionalists who envision a constitutional process that responds to the challenges that humanity today confronts.
In his address to the UN General Assembly, Trump proclaimed: “It is an eternal credit to the American character that even after we and our allies emerged victorious from the bloodiest war in history [World War II], we did not seek territorial expansion, or attempt to oppose and impose our way of life on others. Instead, we helped build institutions such as this one [the United Nations] to defend the sovereignty, security, and prosperity for all.” This is a common interpretation in the political culture of the United States, but it ignores the characteristics of American imperial domination. The territorial expansion of the United States ended at the end of the nineteenth century, and it was made possible the conquest of the indigenous nations and Mexico and by the acquisition of territory claimed by the French, Spanish and British colonial empires,. With its extensive territory intact, the United States during the course of the twentieth century fueled its economic ascent through economic, commercial, and financial penetration, without placing the penetrated zones under formal political control as a part of U.S. territory. Accordingly, the United States in the first half of the twentieth century was the originator of a new form of domination, which in the post-World War II era would replace the structures of the European colonial empires. In this new form of neocolonial domination, the institutions developed under the U.S. tutelage (United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Organization of American States) were instruments. In not seeing this, Trump is unwittingly asking the neocolonized peoples of the world to appreciate the new forms of domination, disguised by the apparent but not true sovereignty of their nations.
With this myopic view, Trump is able to assert: “The United States of America has been among the greatest forces for good in the history of the world, and the greatest defenders of sovereignty, security, and prosperity for all.” This notion is central to the American narrative, especially believed in the United States and, to some extent, in the entire world, when the USA was at the height of its power and glory. However, it has limited political and cultural viability today, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the imposition of the neoliberal project, the economic decline of the United States, and aggressive wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. With these developments, the interest of the United States in preserving its global hegemony has been revealed.
Trump is right in calling the people to moral responsibility on the basis of appreciation of American heritage and the American Constitution. The true patriots, however, are those that recognize America’s limitations, in order that they can be overcome. The Left has the duty to formulate an alternative narrative that, while recognizing American contributions to modern democracy, also educates the people concerning the limitations of the American theory and practice of democracy, calling the people to a responsible road in this historic moment of global crisis, on the foundation of an integrated philosophical-historical-social science (see “Universal philosophical historical social science” 4/2/2014).