Has any American political leader claimed so directly to embody the nation, to speak for it, to be its sole hope for redemption?
In 1968, Richard Nixon spoke of a nation torn apart by crime at home, and by wars abroad. But, he promised, better days were ahead. “Without God's help and your help, we will surely fail; but with God's help and your help, we shall surely succeed.”
In 1980, Ronald Reagan painted a similarly dark picture of a troubled nation, and offered a similar message of redemption. But his acceptance speech called on Americans to work together to solve their problems. “I ask you not simply to ‘Trust me,’” Reagan said, “but to trust your values—our values—and to hold me responsible for living up to them.”
In 2000, George W. Bush called a troubled nation to renewal, and ended with a note of humility. “I know the presidency is an office that turns pride into prayer,” he said, “But I am eager to start on the work ahead.”
In 2016, Donald J. Trump mounted the stage, and told America that the nation is in crisis. That attacks on police and terrorism threaten the American way of life. That the United States suffers from domestic disaster, and international humiliation. That it is full of shuttered factories and crushed communities. That it is beset by “poverty and violence at home” and “war and destruction abroad.”