What might a contemporary American audience make of their president on Memorial Day complimenting the people on their cultivation of “refinement without extravagance and knowledge without effeminacy”—with an added up-from-the-bootstraps flourish that “wealth, we employ more for use than for show, and place the real disgrace of poverty not in owning to the fact but in declining the struggle against it”?

And would they be further aghast if our Commander-in-Chief turned to foreign affairs in the same self-assured vein: “We have forced every sea and land to be the highway of our daring, and everywhere, whether for evil or for good, have left imperishable monuments behind us”? Would such a president be judged unhinged—either homophobic in applying stereotyped constructs of masculinity, or cold and uncaring in demanding responsibility from the impoverished? Or perhaps triumphalist in assessing...