Alan Keyes
Trump's speech made me yearn for Reagan
Alan Keyes criticizes candidate's 'appeal to narrow nationalism'
By Alan Keyes
May 2, 2016

Donald Trump's foreign-policy speech Wednesday reminded me of my years of service to Ronald Reagan. Each day brings new cause to regret the inevitable loss of Reagan's typically American statesmanship. Wednesday was no exception.

During his tenure as president, the most important thing President Reagan provided was a sense of the deeply-rooted purpose that America's foreign and domestic policies ought to serve. During my service as an ambassador and assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration, I often found myself grateful for his consistency in this respect. Like all our truly great presidents, Ronald Reagan spoke and acted on the premise that America's purpose is inevitably connected with the ideas on which the United States is founded, ideas that, from the beginning, informed the character and shaped the identity of the American people.

In this regard, President Reagan was thoroughly ideological, in the literal sense of the word. Thanks to the word's association with soulless, God-hating socialist individuals and tyrannical regimes, Americans at large are understandably prejudiced against the term. But its root meaning is something we cannot afford to forget. In terms of politics and government, it refers simply to the ideas, logically thought through, that form the basis for understanding good and bad, right and wrong, justice and injustice.

The political ideology that is the basis for America's constitutional republic is summarized in the words of the Declaration of Independence, words that still ring true not only for many Americans, but for people around the world:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it...."

Because these words are rooted in respect for the goodwill of our Creator, God, they are enduring. Because they set His will as the standard of right, against which all human governments are to be judged, they are permanently revolutionary. That combination of endurance and dynamism, rooted in respect for the God-endowed moral nature of humankind, has expressed and inspired the exceptional character of the American people since before the nation began.

Madison distilled the most important practical and strategic consequence of the Declaration's ideas when he wrote, in Federalist 51, that "Justice is the end of government; it is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit." Especially in times of war, the statesmen who answered to the call of God's Providence for our nation acted in light of the aim of justice set forth in Declaration. By recalling us to our dedication to just liberty for all, they recalled us to our vocation as a people. They recalled us to the deep moral purpose that defines not only our identity, but its cause, which is to serve God's goodwill, which we were intended to represent, not just for ourselves, but for all of humankind.

Given this historic standard for successful American statesmanship, I was interested to hear that Donald Trump spoke "of a foreign policy of 'purpose,' one that replaces 'ideology with strategy'"; and that "His overall mantra was that his administration's direction 'will return us to a timeless principle' of putting America first." From even our brief review of the enduring principles of the nation, however, it should be clear that any "timeless principle" actually puts God and His justice first, in accordance with the instruction of Jesus Christ to that effect. (See Matthew 6:33.)

In all our nation's existential crises, our truly great statesmen put the life and death those crises involved in the context of this acknowledgment of the primacy of God's justice. When they called upon our young men and women to risk and give their lives in service to their country, they inspired them with the thought that JFK put into words when he said "let us go forth...asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own."

In his speech, Donald Trump speaks as if ideology and strategy are mutually exclusive. Yet from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz to Herman Kahn, the masters of strategic thought have understood the primacy of what Kahn called "human and moral factors." Indeed, the grand strategic aim of all-out warfare is to demoralize the enemy, a word that literally refers to breaking down the sense of moral purpose that inspires and focuses his will to resist the forces you array against him.

With this in mind, we can see the fatal flaw in Donald Trump's understanding of the strategic imperative of America's foreign policy. We are a nation whose morale and internal cohesion depend on our common sense of justice. In a sense unprecedented in human history, we are a nation of nations, gathered under a banner that has, from the beginning, defined our common good in terms that encompass all human beings. Donald Trump's appeal to narrow "nationalism" is actually an attack on this common good, one that operates along the same lines as Obama's demoralizing attacks on the premises of God-endowed right our nation was founded upon.

Trump's "America first" strategy boils down to survivalism. But if the American people are truly to survive, survival is not enough. If we lose our sense of justice, the land will survive, but our identity as a people will perish. If we sacrifice our commitment to securing God-endowed right, buildings like Trump Tower will still rise, but our spiritual legacy to posterity will fall away. Thus our strength as a nation, our integrity as a people, is not now, nor will it ever be the artifact of a single person's arrogant will. The lines that we must ultimately defend are not on some map, to be drawn by an individual and respected for his sake. They are in our hearts, drawn by the hand of our Creator, to be respected for His sake, not only by our enemies but also by ourselves.

In his speech, Trump speaks like the arrogant tyrants of old, who mistook their will and strength for the be all and end all of their nations' hopes. But our true hope is in God, and God alone. So Donald Trump's foreign policy speech caused me to think of Ronald Reagan – and Lincoln and Washington and JFK – but only because Trump is nothing like them. His promise of peace, like his promise of "greatness," ignores what truly has rescued our society from chaos and disorder, when push comes to shove – which is the good account we have given of ourselves whenever the premises of right that God has instilled in us required it. Isn't that what did in fact put America first?

To see more articles by Dr. Keyes, visit his blog at and his commentary at and

© Alan Keyes


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Alan Keyes

Dr. Keyes holds the distinction of being the only person ever to run against Barack Obama in a truly contested election – featuring authentic moral conservatism vs. progressive liberalism – when they challenged each other for the open U.S. Senate seat from Illinois in 2004... (more)


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