MILLIONS of women protesters around the world failed to dampen Donald Trump’s inaugural as the 45th President of the United States, and the consumerist elite of American women seemed to pay more attention to the style of the First Lady’s gowns than to any burning national or global question. But Trump’s triumphalistic and jingoistic bid to make “America First” in every human enterprise has certainly instilled anxiety and fear among many thoughtful (and nervous) governments and peoples around the world.
It was the simplest and most readable inaugural speech by any American President. Made up of 1,400 words and delivered in 16 minutes, it made no attempt at literary elegance, like John F. Kennedy’s or Abraham Lincoln’s at his second inaugural. One cognitive scientist and writer online (Julie Sedivy) gave it an 8th grade readability rating on the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Scale, a method developed by Rudolf Flesch and J. Peter Kincaid for the US Navy in 1975 for assessing difficulty in understanding technical materials. Its plain English is easily understood by 13- and 15-year-old students.
Using this method, Readers’ Digest gets a readability index of 65, Time magazine 52, and Harvard Law Review 30.The longest word in the English language—the chemical name for titin (a giant protein that functions as a molecular spring responsible for the passive elasticity of muscles) —which is made up of 189,819 characters and 72,443 syllables, and takes three and a half hours to correctly pronounce, scores minus 6,128,472.
Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural address gets a 9th grade level rating, while Lincoln’s 700-word 1865 address, which he himself wrote, and uses literary syntax, poses philosophical questions and tries to reconcile seemingly irreconcilable perspectives, gets a 12th grade level rating. This is the speech that is nearly as famous as the Gettysburg Address and ends with the immortal lines: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gave us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
President Rodrigo Duterte described the speech as “superb.” It struck me as the best “campaign speech” Trump ever delivered. It offered no great ideas, but it inflated, if not inflamed, great personal emotions. Analysts noted that the egotistic billionaire used the pronoun “I” only three times, but the other pronoun “you” 20 times. “This is your country, this is your day, this is your celebration. We are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.” It was demagoguery at its best.
I first heard the words, “this country can be great again” from Ferdinand Marcos, who ran on that slogan in 1965 and built his program of government on the same theme, “we will make this country great again.” Sen. Arturo Tolentino had used the same line before Marcos did, but not in a successful presidential campaign, where it was constantly repeated before huge crowds and became the signature of a popular movement. So, it was legitimate to associate it with Marcos. Now the line belongs to Trump. “Together, we will make America great again.”
Trump disturbs no one with his promise to make America great again. Putting America First in everything does. But in reality, Trump is not the first American President to proclaim it. Despite Trump’s gripe that America has made other countries rich while America’s wealth, strength and confidence have disappeared, the truth is that all his predecessors had tried, in various ways, to put their own vision of America First, in their dealings with other governments and nations. In his 7th annual message to Congress in 1823, President James Monroe proclaimed the Western hemisphere as the sphere of America’s special interest, neutral in all European conflicts, and warned European powers that it would not tolerate interference in the hemisphere.
This stemmed from US worries about Russia’s attempt to expand its influence in the Alaska region, a resurgence of Spanish colonial influence in Central and South America, and excessive British dominance in the Anglo-American alliance, reducing the US to a subservient role. Assertion of the Monroe doctrine led to the 1898 Spanish-American war, which resulted in the US acquisition of the Philippines from Spain, among others; and to the US quarantine of Cuba in 1962, when the Soviet Union, upon Fidel Castro’s invitation, began building missile sites on the island.
The explosion of American exceptionalism brought the US into war with Germany, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam; and into international anti-terrorist action against Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, and into Cuba as mentioned earlier. All American Presidents have always insisted on America as the exceptional nation; all nations are exceptional in their own ways, but Americans tend to give the impression that America is the only exceptional nation. This is the first time that a US President has used the phrase “America First,” like a blunt instrument.
After thanking former President Barack and Michelle Obama profusely for their role in the transition—“they have been magnificent,” he said—Trump proceeded to tear apart whatever legacy Obama claimed or was hoping to leave behind. The inaugural had a very special meaning, he said, because “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 people.
“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people didn’t share in its wealth. Politicians prospered but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs and, while they celebrated in the nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.”
A familiar description
While Trump was saying that this was what happened to America under Obama and his predecessors, I thought he was describing what was happening to the Philippines under DU30 right now. A small group from Davao, or at least from Mindanao, has taken over the levers of government, without the necessary qualifications or competence, and without any hint of understanding of the basic dignity and rights of the human person, and has parceled out among themselves the spoils of what is now turning out to be unaccountable political power, using the terror created by the extra-judicial drug killings. The tyrant rules above the law, condones his most outrageous crimes and those committed by his lackeys and subalterns, but orders swift punishment without due process of those who cross his path and incur his displeasure.
“What truly matters is not which party controls our government,” Trump said, “but whether our government is controlled by the people…The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.” By this, Trump seeks to define what he means by ‘America First’; what in my view he has succeeded in describing is “We, the People, First.” In many countries of the world today, the competition is no longer between political parties or personalities, nor between the administration and the opposition (where it exists), but between the people and the politicians.
This is evident in our own situation, and this is what Trump is saying.
Is everyone else last or second?
But the proper response to that is not and should never be “America First.” For this means everyone else will be secondary or last, which should never be the case. A colleague of mine on this page wonders when will we ever have a leader who will have the courage to proclaim “the Philippines First”? In his time, President Carlos P. Garcia launched his Filipino First policy anchored on a strong faith in a Filipino national destiny. This was quickly shot down by the country’s elite who thought the policy was antagonistic to the US. When the late Salvador P. Lopez was Secretary of Foreign Affairs, he gave an Asia for the Asians speech, where, if memory serves, he asked the question, if Asia is not for the Asians, for whom is it? Within a few days after that speech, he was removed from his office. Our limited experience tells us that the advocates of “America First” have always been there, ready to protect their interests, long before Trump proclaimed it.
Making America great again
But what America and the world need most is a powerful intervention in the affairs of men and nations that puts God and Humanity first. America is called upon to provide this relief, after it has become the primary promoter of abortion around the world. The Founding Fathers built America under a “sacred canopy,” as some of the most perceptive writers see it, and Alexis de Tocqueville testifies that religion was its first political institution.
Legal positivism, judicial activism and moral relativism have combined to rob America of its original virtues, and reduced it to a degraded power. First under Bill Clinton, and then under Obama, Ronald Reagan’s 1984 Mexico City Policy, which prohibited the use of US funds to support foreign organizations that perform and promote abortion, was suspended to allow Washington to promote abortion as its primary foreign policy export to the rest of the world.
Trump’s first executive order has been to reinstate the Mexico City policy, and to proclaim the right to life of the unborn around the world. This is what DU30 should be able to call “superb” and hopefully imitate. Policies like this, which seek to confirm and enhance the dignity of man, are what will make America and other nations great again.