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Senator Duckworth and Most of the Press Are Lying about Trump’s Speech

President Donald Trump speaks prior to signing an executive order on police reform at a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House, June 16, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Senator Tammy Duckworth says that, during his address at Mount Rushmore on Friday, President Trump “spent all his time talking about dead traitors.”

This is a flat-out lie. It is entirely untrue. It is invented from whole cloth. You can read the speech here and see for yourself.

One doesn’t have to like President Trump — or to have enjoyed his speech — in order to acknowledge that Duckworth is lying. One needs only to read what was said.

Trump’s two references to the Civil War came in passages praising Lincoln and condemning slavery.

Here is the first:

Abraham Lincoln, the savior of our union, was a self-taught country lawyer who grew up in a log cabin on the American frontier. The first Republican president, he rose to high office from obscurity based on a force and clarity of his anti-slavery convictions. Very, very strong convictions. He signed the law that built the Trans-Continental Railroad. He signed the Homestead Act given to some incredible scholars as simply defined ordinary citizens free land to settle anywhere in the American West, and he led the country through the darkest hours of American history, giving every ounce of strength that he had to ensure that government of the people, by the people and for the people did not perish from this earth. He served as commander in chief of the U.S. Armed Forces during our bloodiest war, the struggle that saved our union and extinguished the evil of slavery. Over 600,000 died in that war, more than 20, 000 were killed or wounded in a single day in Antietam. At Gettysburg 157 years ago, the Union bravely withstood an assault of nearly 15,000 men and threw back Pickett’s Charge. Lincoln won the Civil War. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation. He led the passage of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery for all-time and ultimately his determination to preserve our nation and our union cost him his life. For as long as we live, Americans will uphold and revere the immortal memory of President Abraham Lincoln.

Here is the second:

By tearing down Washington and Jefferson, these radicals would tear down the very heritage for which men gave their lives to win the Civil War, they would erase the memory that inspired those soldiers to go to their deaths, singing these words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, “As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, while God is marching on.” They would tear down the principles that propelled the abolition of slavery and ultimately around the world ending an evil institution that had plagued humanity for thousands and thousands of years. Our opponents would tear apart the very documents that Martin Luther King used to express his dream and the ideas that were the foundation of the righteous movement for Civil Rights. They would tear down the beliefs, culture and identity, that have made America the most vibrant and tolerant society in the history of the earth. My fellow Americans, it is time to speak up loudly and strongly and powerfully and defend the integrity of our country.

Quite how Duckworth gets from there to “spent all his time talking about dead traitors,” I don’t know.

By contrast, I do know why she said what she said. Duckworth said what she said because almost the entire press corps said the same thing within seconds of the speech’s conclusion, and, in so doing, it signaled to her and to everyone else that she could get away with it.

Which, of course, she will. The press will, too. Try to point out that her claim isn’t actually true, and you will be met with a series of non sequiturs, along with some pointed questions as to your motivations. “Well he says other things.” “Well, he’s not a good person in general.” “Well, I doubt he wrote it himself.” “Well, last year he said . . .” Or: “Why do you care, anyway?”

Why do I “care”? I care because (a) I don’t think it’s good for America to have a press corps that lies as brazenly as ours does, and (b) because what Trump actually said is exactly what we should want American presidents to say. The Confederacy was a monstrous and unsalvageable tyranny, led by figures who explicitly rejected the American Founding. It needed crushing, and it is a good thing that it was crushed. The Revolution, by contrast, was a unparallelled leap forward, the consequences of which have been almost entirely salutary, not only for America, but for the world.

At Mount Rushmore, Trump made a speech about the Revolution, not about the Confederacy. I know this because I can read. “Declaration of Independence” appears in the speech three times. “Revolution” and “Founders” appear four times each. “1776” appears five times. The phrase “all men are created equal” is singled out as a set of “immortal words” that “set in motion the unstoppable march of freedom.” By contrast, “Confederacy” isn’t there at all, nor are “Stephens,” “Davis,” “Lee,” or “Forrest,” and the sections on the Civil War are vehicles for the adulation of Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation.

Trump did mention statues, but the names he mentions in connection are “George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, abolitionists, and many others,” as well as “Andrew Jackson.” In addition, he mentions the other two men on Mount Rushmore — Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt — and, in a variety of contexts, name-checks the “Reverend Martin Luther King,” “Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody,” “the Wright brothers, the Tuskegee airmen, Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Jesse Owens, George Patton, General George Patton, the great Louis Armstrong, Alan Shepard, Elvis Presley, and Muhammad Ali,” Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Irving Berlin, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Bob Hope.

None of these people were “traitors” — not one — which may go some way to explaining why The Hill approvingly quotes Senator Duckworth’s lie, and cites a CNN tweet that claims that Trump “defended Confederate monuments” but provides only this as evidence:

Trump blasted demonstrators who are requesting the removal of statues, saying they want to “overthrow the American Revolution” at Mount Rushmore’s Fourth of July event.

If the truth matters, it matters all the time, including when reporting on Donald Trump. That Trump lies himself does not change this. That Trump is often incoherent does not change this. That Trump has said some awful things over the past five years does not change this. This was not a speech about Confederate monuments, it was not a speech about traitors, and it was not a speech that equivocated on the question of racial equality. Senator Duckworth is lying, and the press is helping her do it. Do they think we’re incapable of reading?

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