A Message With Broad Appeal
An analysis of President Trump’s speech at the Arab Islamic American Summit
Posted May 22, 2017
On Sunday, May 21st, 2017, President Donald Trump gave a speech at the Arab Islamic American Summit (see this link for the transcript), where he directly addressed many leaders of nations in the Middle East. I have highlighted some of the interesting portions below, with my commentary.
Introduction to the Speech
President Trump began by humbling himself to his leadership counterparts in the Middle East (e.g., “the splendor of your country and the kindness of your citizens…the grandeur of this remarkable place and the incredible hospitality you have shown us.”) In doing so, he raised his likability and credibility, both of which made persuasion more likely to occur when he delivered his main message.
He made a nostalgic point of past relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia by noting Franklin Roosevelt’s relationship with King Abdul Aziz. This allowed the audience to conceptualize the U.S. and Saudi Arabia as plausible partners. By invoking the Democrat Roosevelt, he transcended the partisan politics of his own nation, hopefully appealing to U.S. Democrats to a small degree.
His language continued on with a variety of themes. Here in my commentary headings, “you” refers to the audience of Middle Eastern leaders and “us” refers to the United States citizens. This is consistent with President Trump’s general perspective in the speech as representing the American people.
What’s in it for you: “Today we begin a new chapter that will bring lasting benefits to all of our citizens.”
What’s in it for us: “Our time together will bring many blessings to both your people and to mine…a message of friendship and hope and love.”
Why you matter: “The nation that serves as custodian of the two holiest sites in the Islamic faith.”
Who we are: “America will not seek to impose our way of life on others, but to outstretch our hands in the spirit of cooperation and trust.” This is important, as it re-established our more traditional foreign policy of promoting democracy and liberty, not forcing a way of life on a foreign nation.
What we want: “Our vision is one of peace, security, and prosperity in this region and throughout the world. Our goal is a coalition of nations who share the aim of stamping out extremism and providing our children a hopeful future that does honor to God.”
Establishing self-relevance: In the remainder of the speech, President Trump laid out very specific plans for cooperation between the U.S. and the Middle East, specifically for stabilizing the security of the Middle East by “combating extremist ideology located right here in the central part of the Islamic world.” This message was framed around the large costs to the Middle Eastern countries, who President Trump pointed out sustain far more human casualties than the U.S. does, with 95% of the victims of terrorism being Muslim. Here President Trump established the relevance of the problem to the Middle East. Such self-relevant framing increased the likelihood of persuasion occurring in the audience.
Promoting liberty: “American is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens. We are not here to lecture. We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership based on shared interests and values to pursue a better future.” Again, these statements clarified U.S. foreign policy.
A Time for Choosing: “It’s a choice between two futures, and it’s a choice America cannot make for you. A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists. Drive them out. Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this earth.” President Trump also established our motives: “Above all, America seeks peace, not war.”
“We in this room are the leaders of our peoples. They look to us for answers and for action. And when we look back at their faces, behind every pair of eyes is a soul that yearns for justice and yearns for peace. Today billions of faces are now looking at us, waiting for us to act on the great question of our time. Will we be indifferent in the presence of evil? Will we protect our citizens from its violent ideology? Will we let its venom spread through our societies? Will we let it destroy the most holy sites on earth? If we do not confront this deadly terror, we know what the future will bring—more suffering, more death, and more despair. But if we act, if we leave this magnificent room unified and determined to do what it takes to destroy the terror that threatens this world, then there is no limit to the great future our citizens will have.”
These words were reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s “A Time For Choosing,” in which Reagan framed the communist threat to democracy in the U.S. and the world.
Gracious religious ending: “Thank you. God bless you. God bless your countries, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much.”
Conclusions of Commentary
This speech was not racist, xenophobic, or Islamophobic. Instead, it promoted peace through cooperation of nations in combating a common enemy that is destroying the cultures of all of the affected nations. It was tailored to a small degree to appeal to Trump’s voter base by posing solutions to the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. Paleoconservatives should find the connection to U.S. domestic interests somewhat appealing. However, to be sure, these two groups were not the main targets of the message.
More importantly, the speech was crafted for a broad appeal. This message had elements that appealed to varying types of conservatives. Libertarians should like the promotion of liberty. Traditionalists and Religious Right/Social Conservatives should like the appeal to preserve the more traditional practice of Islam in Muslim countries, which should be easily identifiable to those groups as a parallel issue in the U.S. Neoconservatives should connect with the internationalism of the speech, which was largely written for neoconservatives.
This is one of the most important Presidential speeches I can recall recently, and I applaud President Trump for this effort. My hope is that he follows through with this plan and that it receives bi-partisan support.
Reagan, R. (1964). A time for choosing. Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library.
Trump, D. J. (2017, May 21). Transcript of Trump’s speech at Arab Islamic American Summit. Fox News (online).