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Donald Trump offers fresh evidence of his selective patriotism

Donald Trump has claimed to be the pillar of patriotism. He also routinely condemns the U.S. as “evil,” “corrupt” and “crooked.” The contradiction matters.


A leading politician, with a prominent presence on the international stage, used some striking language this week while criticizing the United States. This politician, who’s previously referred to the United States as an “evil” country, accused the U.S. of being filled with “crooked” politicians and home to a corrupt judicial system.

This same figure concluded that the United States is a “failing nation” and a “nation in decline.”

Those trying to guess which politician said this might look to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, or perhaps some other notorious anti-American critic. But they’re not the ones who made these comments.

Donald Trump did. In fact, the Republican put all of this in writing, as part of a message published on his social media platform.

It’s not exactly a secret that the former president is an unusual candidate for national office, but Americans have never heard a White House hopeful run a campaign while condemning his own country — or more to the point, condemning his own country again.

In October 2022, for example, as legal troubles intensified, Trump published an item online that read, “Our Country is Rigged, Crooked, and Evil — We must bring it back, and FAST.”

As we discussed soon after, the rhetoric didn’t generate a lot of headlines, probably because much of the political world has grown accustomed to the former president’s selective patriotism: Trump’s love of country is, at best, sporadic, so no one was especially surprised when he lashed out like this.

Indeed, it’s been a hallmark of the Republican’s perspective throughout his relatively brief career in politics.

In December 2015, for example, then-candidate Trump was asked about Vladimir Putin’s habit of invading countries and killing critics. “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader,” Trump replied, “unlike what we have in this country.” Reminded that Putin has been accused of ordering the murder of critics and journalists, Trump added, “Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also.”

It was an early reminder that he doesn't always hold his home country in the highest regard.

In a July 2016 interview with The New York Times, the Republican went on to argue that the United States lacks the moral authority to lead, because, as far as he was concerned, we simply weren’t a good enough country to command respect abroad. “When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger,” he said.

It was around this time when The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg noted that Barack Obama, whose patriotism was routinely questioned by his GOP detractors, “has never spoken as negatively about America as Donald Trump has.”

After his successful campaign, Trump’s position eventually evolved. In the summer of 2019, for example, the then-president condemned those who “speak so badly” about the United States. In the same tweet, he expressed disgust for those who say “many terrible things ... about the United States.”

That, of course, was before his 2020 defeat — after which he started describing his own country as “evil,” “crooked,” “failing,” and “in decline.”

There’s no great mystery here. When Trump is in a position of power, he thinks the United States is the greatest country in the history of the world. When he’s not in office, and he’s facing accountability for his alleged crimes, the Republican can barely contain his disgust.

But that’s not how patriotism is supposed to work. As President Joe Biden has argued, “Democracy cannot survive when one side believes there are only two outcomes to an election: either they win or they were cheated. And that’s where MAGA Republicans are today. They don’t understand what every patriotic American knows: You can’t love your country only when you win.”

Trump, evidently, disagrees. When the Republican wins, he claims the moral high ground on patriotism. When he loses, he denigrates his own country in ways no former president has ever done.

The result is a patriotism gap that probably deserves more attention as the 2024 cycle progresses.

This post updates our related earlier coverage.