The American Sun King

By Troy Kuersten

At a rally in Nashville on March 15, 2017, in response to multiple federal courts placing holds on the enforcement of his executive order barring immigration and refugees from six majority Muslim countries, President Donald Trump said, “This ruling makes us look weak, which, by the way, we no longer are. Believe me.”  The key word is “us.”  This is not the first time the President has conflated his own personal issues with the strength of the country.  If you follow his twitter account and TV interviews, President Trump has consistently said similar things for years.  Nevertheless, the March 15 comment is particularly novel in that it came from a sitting President.  It brings to mind another leader known for his theatricality: King Louis XIV of France, also known as the “Sun King,” who once declared, “Je suis l’etat” (“I am the state”).

It’s important to remember that the United States does not look weak, nor has it looked weak in any period of its history since at least the Civil War, when two halves of the country crashed against one another in a conflict that caused phenomenal national destruction.  And one could argue that the military force and manufacturing productivity the country brought to bear in that conflict shows that even then it was not weak, thus pushing back the last clear instance of American weakness to the War of 1812.

The U.S. Military today is far and away the most powerful in the world, capable of completely destroying any other military head-to-head.  A single U.S. Missile Cruiser has the capacity to wipe out most countries’ entire navies from beyond the horizon where it cannot even be seen, and the U.S. Navy has 22 of the Ticonderoga Class alone.  In Libya in 2011, the last place and time the U.S. Military actively engaged another country’s armed forces, it destroyed Libya’s entire national air defense network in a matter of hours for the cost of, essentially, a rounding error on the national defense budget.

And that’s just hard power.  American soft power can be felt the world over; evinced by the fact that it’s almost impossible to go to an inhabited part of the globe short of North Korea where you cannot get a Coca-Cola or a Snickers bar, and I’m not entirely sure about North Korea.  American culture can be found in the farthest corners of the world, with pirated American television shows, music, and movies available in any street bazaar you care to shop at.  In addition, American brands such as Apple and Facebook are international status symbols and control the majority of the world’s information flow.

There is also the power and reach of the American diplomatic corps and spy agencies. The fact is that very little of note in the world happens that the U.S. is not aware of within hours, and capable of reacting to on a similar timescale.

Based on all of this, it is quite apparent that the U.S. is not weak, has not been weak for a very long time, and has not appeared weak over the same period to any intelligent observer.  And that’s where King Louis XIV comes in.

How can one reconcile a President who says, “We look weak,” with a factual reality in which the U.S. is and appears strong?  It is important to notice that whenever President Trump says that the country is or looks weak, he’s in a predicament—he’s not president yet and doesn’t control things; his signature executive order has just been struck down by the courts; his main legislative priority is on the rocks.  How is the President’s weakness the nation’s?  Je suis l’etat.

Picture: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Donald Trump with supporters) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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