Former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump are diametrically opposite in their public personas and political worldviews, like the positive and the negative ends of a flashlight battery. This was no more obvious than when they spoke at their respective first inaugurations. Obama said America was a great country with a legacy of “hope.” Trump said America was not great and was scarred by “carnage.”
With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents,
and endure what storms may come.
- President Barack Obama
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
Though polar opposites personally and politically, these men were united in one important matter: their love for country. In this regard, they were like two bees competing against and stinging each other while also indulging themselves inside the very same nectar-rich sunflower.
We know by their first inaugural speeches that they both were united in their love of country and their respect for America’s core principles. They both well understood that America is a gleaming, red, white and blue, 18-wheeler tractor trailer barreling down the political highway. Big rhetorical ideas are used like fog lights that guide the machine through cloudy patches of uncertainty and confusion and turmoil.
Obama and Trump understood that Americans love to talk big ideas. From street corners, water coolers and coffee shops, public debates on Twitter and other social media, to talk shows, conferences, lectures, barbershops, beauty shops, town hall meetings, college campuses, churches and the halls of congress, we love to speak our minds and share our opinions about today’s breaking news and debate about history and the major issues facing the nation.
As discussed in The War in America, Volume 1, there are some exceptions to this truth—such as when blacks and whites avoid talking about race when they are in mixed company. They clam up and talk about everything else.
We consider ourselves good speakers, we Americans. Maybe not good public speakers, but when talking one-on-one average Americans can chat up a tornado. And, oh we so love to talk about ourselves and gossip about others. We consider our right to free speech as a license to tell stories whenever we want and wherever we go. We’re comedians and soothsayers and witty storytellers. I think we invented the short story, didn’t we? America probably invented the talk show as well.
We know that thoughtful eloquence is the engine of democracy. But there is no power in free speech or eloquent storytelling, per se. The right to talk freely is only powerful when it is used to communicate clear messages that are relevant. Talking for the sake of talking is meaningless. Americans derisively describe this sin as “blowing hot air.” Or as James Brown put it: “talking loud but saying nothing.”
Good rhetoric expresses at least one distinct idea.
Obama’s and Trump’s inauguration rhetoric sought to crystalize four distinct ideas: the rule of law, rights of man, responsibilities of freedom and the ever-enduring call of patriotism.
Let’s listen in:
First on the mic was the loquacious President Obama, who spoke these words on January 20, 2009:
“Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man—a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world … We are the keepers of this legacy … We will not apologize for our way of life … [H]onesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and Patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history … What is demanded, then, is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world … This is the price and the promise of citizenship.”
Fast forward eight years to January 20, 2017. The poser-president, Donald Trump, grabs the mic and picks up the Patriotic theme, stating: “No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America … 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 … The Bible tells us, ‘How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity’… It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of Patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag.”
Which neophyte president was more sincere? Obama or Trump?
Obama’s eight years in office rendered much evidence regarding his character and integrity. The man always appeared sincere, unless he was at a roast. Trump had been in office for a short while—less than two years—when this book was released. During that nascent era, there was far less evidence. However, from the start of his presidency, as he did during his entire campaign, Trump displayed a tendency, mainly through incessant tweets, a tendency—some would say a maniacal—addiction to being cunning and dramatic rather than sincere.
His grasp of reality has been widely questioned. On xxx, xxx, called Trump “the ignorant president.” Later that week, author xxxx revealed that in an interview with him, former president George W. Bush called Trump a “blow-hard.”
In his acerbic but kumbaya inaugural address, Trump stated that “We all bleed the same red blood of Patriots.” That definitely was not his message during this campaign, during which he urged his supporters to attack their fellow Americans who protested against him. So, it would be fair to conclude that the man was not sincere when he uttered those conciliatory words.
Trump talks loud and says nothing. He is a politically philandering white whale that was washed upon the steps of the White House by a huge and—for all practical purposes—all-white wave of voters. His base of supporters comprised a minority of the general population, but represented a strategic Electoral College majority (XX%). To solidify the lion’s share of the white vote (he took 70 percent of all white votes cast), Trump flirted with falsehoods, sowed racial divisions and stirred hostility throughout his unique campaign.
Now, there he was on the steps of the grand U.S. Capitol overcast by grey weeping clouds attempting to sell himself as a sincere believer in racial harmony.
The slick devil.
But, really none of that matters in the final analysis, because whether or not Obama or Trump was sincere, black men can use both presidents’ idealistic, big-idea rhetoric to power their compelling rhetoric and big ideas. By echoing Obama’s and Trump’s patriotic messages, black men can bond themselves to the ideals and values that the entire nation understands, respects and embraces.
For instance, in a rhetorical flourish during his speech, Obama described two vital American values (bold-faced below) that black men would be wise to use in their discourse on law enforcement reform. Obama stated: “Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man—a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up … “
The Rule of Law
I was impressed to President Obama speak of the Rights of Man. The “rule of law” thing, not so much. Not that I have anything against the rule of law. I love law. Law is good when it levels the playing field, fosters equality and is applied with fairness and discretion. However, in America, the rule of law often means dirty policing, racial profiling, harassment, brutality, the trampling of the innocent, the whims of prejudiced judges, police corruption, racism, abuse, coerced confessions, slipshod legal representation, justice for the rich/injustice for the poor, backroom deals, hidden agendas, and a variety of other tragic and filthy renderings of law.
When administered by honorable hands, the rule of law becomes a cool, unencumbered stream of water—clear and refreshing, and equally available to all. However, when corrupt hands control the rule of law, the stream becomes polluted.
Honorable politicians and police create and enforce laws that require every police officer to wear functioning body cameras. Dishonorable law enforcers twist laws in order to do such insidious things as shackle the hands of judges with mandatory sentencing dictates and Three Strikes You’re Out statutes.
You see, the rule of law depends on who is ruling the law. It can be either manipulated for any reason, or treated as sacred.
The Rights of Man
The Rights of Man can never, ever be manipulated. They are like the sun. You can’t touch them. You cannot reconfigure them. Unlike water, which can sometimes evaporate, the Rights of Man will never fade away.
The Rights of Man are not normally discussed among black men. Normally, we think of civil rights, voting rights, the right to bear arms and other such rights created by government officials to control what the governed can and cannot do.
To understand the Rights of Man is to understand America at its core. For at its core, according to established history, America is a place that was created for men to exercise and enjoy the rights given to them by God. Whenever a man’s God-given rights (aka natural rights) are violated by another man, he is justified to do whatever is necessary to stop him. A man can use reasoning and diplomacy or he can use bare fists and firearms.
No man has to ask another man for permission to exercise his natural rights. You do not have to go to the government and apply for a permit. You do not have to go through any training or certification process. Your rights as a man are inalienable. You are born with them and no one can take them from you.
Someone can interfere with your exercise of your God-given rights, but they cannot separate you from these rights. Not only do these rights never change. They are absolute in number as well, meaning you will never have any more nor any fewer rights than nature gave you when you were conceived.
As John F. Kennedy said during his Inaugural address in 1961: “[T]he rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”
Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, and a contender for president in the year 2013, summarized the Rights of Man even more pointedly, saying that these rights are: “… Endowed by God, not endowed by government, not endowed by Washington, but endowed by God … ”
I first became familiar with the Rights of Man by studying Thomas Paine, a well-known Founding Father who tolerated slavery but never owned slaves and who wrote in 1791 a widely circulated pamphlet called Rights of Man. His small book inspired his contemporaries in America and France to go to war to gain their full freedom. The following is a summary of Paine’s Rights of Man.
Rights of Man posits that popular political revolution is permissible when a government does not safeguard its people, their natural rights, and their national interests. Key Concepts: Human rights originate in Nature, thus, (human) rights cannot be granted via political charter, because that implies that (human) rights are legally revocable, hence, would be privileges . . . (Human) rights are inherently in all the people . . . Government’s sole purpose is safeguarding the individual and his/her inherent, inalienable rights; each societal institution that does not benefit the nation is illegitimate … The book’s acumen derives from the Age of Enlightenment, especially from the Second Treatise of Government, by John Locke, an English philosopher whose writings influenced the American revolutionaries. This influence is reflected in the American Declaration of Independence. In fact, several passages from the Second Treatise of the Rights of Man are reproduced verbatim in the Declaration of Independence, most notably the reference to a “long train of abuses.”
The … Rights … of … Man.
Four Simple but Powerful Words
Black men can blend The Rights of Man into the rhetoric they use when they talk about their relationship with common cops as well as higher ups in the law enforcement/judicial system.
The Rights of Man is a big concept, a big idea that they can use like an interlocking switch on a railroad to take America’s conversation about law enforcement reform in a new direction. The shift in focus attention on black men’s rights to do whatever is necessary to end the tyranny of police abuse—from working within the political system to agitating and disrupting the system.
The rights of man authorize us to undermine any government institution that violates our rights. The Rights of Man forms one of the planks in the Black man’s freedom platform. Let’s step into the Black Man’s War Room, where we can discuss the Rights of Man and the related rights that grant us the power to end The War in America.
Relax. Rushing to judgment can be very dangerous. In this case it could very dangerous for me, so please do not do that.