Trump’s inauguration, January 20th, 2017, is officially National Day of Patriotic Devotion. Surprised? You could be forgiven for not knowing. It only became official today.
The proclamation, published yesterday in the National Register, makes official what White House press secretary Sean Spicer tweeted about last week. The story didn’t make much of a splash then, probably because it sounded innocuous without the official name and date of observation.
Another day about patriotism? Who is opposed to the 4th of July?
Trump critics would still have been rightly skeptical. He takes patriotism to a nationalist/protectionist level. The great conservative William F. Buckley once said, “I’m as patriotic as anyone from sea to shining sea, but there’s not a molecule of nationalism in me.”
Like Buckley, I’m all for patriotism, but I don’t like nationalism. However, depending on what form it takes and to what degree, it could mostly consist of bad policy (such as protectionism), not a scary political culture.
Trump’s proclaimed holiday is a little scary, because the underlying message goes beyond nationalism by combining it with his cult of personality. Let’s take a look:
A new national pride stirs the American soul and inspires the American heart.
“A new national pride?” Since when? Since Trump? Any national pride I have transcends my president. Certainly Burke was correct when he said that “to make us to love our country, our country ought to be lovely,” but America is lovely in spite of our president, not because of him.
We are one people, united by a common destiny and a shared purpose. Freedom is the birthright of all Americans, and to preserve that freedom we must maintain faith in our sacred values and heritage.
Our Constitution is written on parchment, but it lives in the hearts of the American people. There is no freedom where the people do not believe in it; no law where the people do not follow it; and no peace where the people do not pray for it.
There are no greater people than the American citizenry, and as long as we believe in ourselves, and our country, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.
These two paragraphs sound eerily similar to the progressive idea of “the moral equivalent of war.” War focuses the energies of the whole country to the accomplishment of one goal. But the American ideal is independence, not some collectivist mission. Yet even when progressives attempted to unite the country in pursuit of one idea, it was not bound up in the personality of one man. This proclamation is.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 20, 2017, as National Day of Patriotic Devotion, in order to strengthen our bonds to each other and to our country — and to renew the duties of Government to the people.
The scariest part of the proclamation is the fact that the holiday lands on Trump’s inauguration day. He didn’t pick some random day in the future. The return to patriotic devotion he desires is inseparable, in his mind, from his own election. Trump wants us to re-devote ourselves to American ideals, which is fine in itself, but we have a day to do that already. And when it is requested by our head of state itself, to be observed on the very day he took office, it sounds like something Kim Jong Un would do.
We shouldn’t blow this out of proportion. First of all, this is a one-time thing. Only Congress can create an annual national holiday. CNBC explains:
Presidents can declare a one-time holiday through executive order, but Congress holds the power to create annual federal holidays. In 2004, for example, George W. Bush issued an executive order for a national day of mourning following Ronald Reagan’s death, shutting down the federal government for a day.
Second, this one-time holiday is already past. You missed it. Sorry. You can hold a belated party if you wish, but I doubt anyone will. So there is little danger now of any frightening displays of cult-like nationalism in its observation.
Even so, the tone and objective of this proclamation gives us some insight into the type of political culture Trump might look forward to fostering in the next four years: reinvigorated political participation propelled by the election of one man. If so, it comes dangerously close to seeing the man and the state as one. That never leads anywhere good.