216 We are still making America, let alone making it great

Kelsey Davis

For my analysis of “Where is America Now?” I have decided to analyze Donald Trump’s inauguration speech from January 20, 2017. I will be looking at how the ideals presented in his speech have been resonating throughout early American literature, but none so much as J. Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer.

Whether or not you personally believe in Trump’s politics, it is important to realize that his rhetoric is not new, and that when Trump says he will “make America great again”, or defines what it means to be an American, he is reiterating what past authors and intellectuals have been doing for many years. He is trying to define what “America” means.

In Crevecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer, he talks about the “modern society [that] offers itself to his contemplation, different from what he had hitherto seen. It is not composed, as in Europe, of great lords who possess everything, and of a herd of people who have nothing… We are a people of cultivators, scattered over an immense territory, communicating with each other by means of good roads and navigable rivers, united by the silken bands of mild government, all respecting laws, without dreading their power, because they are equitable” (18). Further up on the page, Crevecoeur describes the land itself as “fair cities, substantial villages, extensive fields, an immense country filled with decent houses, good roads, orchards, meadows, and bridges, where a hundred years ago was all wild, woody, and uncultivated” (18).  All of these descriptions tell a tale of perfection, a land without issues or problems. In this country, in America, no one is unhappy because what was created is perfect.

Crevecoeur looks at America through a rose-tinted glass, and ignores any issues the country has. He romanticizes the idea of America and what it has accomplished. A little over two hundred years later, Donald Trump sees that America has issues, but only because it does not look how Crevecoeur described it. In his inauguration speech, Trump says “for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.” He continues on to say “One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world… We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.” Trump inadvertently references what Crevecoeur wrote about so long ago, and says that the good things that made America what it is have gone away to other countries, or decayed so much that they are effectively dead.

Trump addresses many things that Crevecoeur did in his work. They both mention how the greatness of the country comes from the equality in its people, the hardworking few who work to make the country what it is. It is important to note that when talking about what America is, or what it should be in regards to Donald Trump, both men only discuss the ideological notion of America, not the reality many Americans face. The only reference to the bigotry going on in the country today in Trump’s speech was when he said, “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” He emphasizes unity, while disregarding the issues facing the persecuted. Yes, in a perfect world, there would be unity, but there is no perfect world. There will always be hate, between any group of people who look/think/believe differently. No one is exempt from this.

Why do we cling so hard to the dream of a perfect utopia? What is the benefit of believing so hard in an ideology that reality is ignored? Why did what Trump, Crevecoeur and so many other early American authors sell the American public become so popular? I think it is because the dream is sweeter than the truth. If we are perfect, then we do not have to put in any work to change.


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The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by Kelsey Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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