Protecting troops deployed overseas. Cherishing the Constitution. Defending the rule of law. Without exception, the 12 Democratic presidential candidates who took the debate stage in Ohio tonight pitched themselves as the True American Patriots who will restore the country’s dignity after four years of President Donald Trump.
In an election season driven by ambitious, populist proposals and vicious tweets, this rhetoric stood out: It’s a callback to an older, putatively more civilized time in Washington, when everyone agreed on the president’s role as the leader of the free world.
In today’s angry political climate, are voters still looking for a message of statesmanship?
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg led the way with an abundance of patriotic rhetoric. In Buttigieg’s telling, Trump’s recent decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria and abandon America’s Kurdish allies has left the people deployed overseas asking, “What the hell happened to American leadership?” When he was in the military, Buttigieg said, “I knew one of the things keeping me safe was the fact that the flag on my shoulder represented a country that kept its word.” Now, he said, soldiers are feeling ashamed of their country for the first time because of Trump’s actions.