July 17, 2017

Trump in Warsaw

Warsaw, Krasiński Square, July 6, 2017

“This is the speech Mr. Trump should have given to introduce himself to the world at his Inauguration.” That’s how the Wall Street Journal put it the day after the President of the United States gave his “Remarks to the People of Poland,” as the White House described the speech itself. In truth, the remarks were directed at the people of the world, and offered for the first time, six months into Donald Trump’s first term of office, the core of what could become a governing philosophy, that is, in the WSJ’s own words, “a determined and affirmative defense of the Western tradition” and a far better form of nationalism than that of the inauguration address, a nationalism rooted in values and beliefs such as the rule of law, freedom of expression, religious faith and freedom from oppressive government.

Here are some key-passages from the speech:

Americans, Poles, and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty. We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are. (Applause.) If left unchecked, these forces will undermine our courage, sap our spirit, and weaken our will to defend ourselves and our societies.

But just as our adversaries and enemies of the past learned here in Poland, we know that these forces, too, are doomed to fail if we want them to fail. And we do, indeed, want them to fail. (Applause.) They are doomed not only because our alliance is strong, our countries are resilient, and our power is unmatched. Through all of that, you have to say everything is true. Our adversaries, however, are doomed because we will never forget who we are. And if we don’t forget who are, we just can't be beaten. Americans will never forget. The nations of Europe will never forget. We are the fastest and the greatest community. There is nothing like our community of nations. The world has never known anything like our community of nations.

We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers.

We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence, and cherish inspiring works of art that honor God. We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression. (Applause.)

We empower women as pillars of our society and of our success. We put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, at the center of our lives. And we debate everything. We challenge everything. We seek to know everything so that we can better know ourselves. (Applause.)

And above all, we value the dignity of every human life, protect the rights of every person, and share the hope of every soul to live in freedom. That is who we are. Those are the priceless ties that bind us together as nations, as allies, and as a civilization.

What we have, what we inherited from our -- and you know this better than anybody, and you see it today with this incredible group of people -- what we've inherited from our ancestors has never existed to this extent before. And if we fail to preserve it, it will never, ever exist again. So we cannot fail.

This great community of nations has something else in common: In every one of them, it is the people, not the powerful, who have always formed the foundation of freedom and the cornerstone of our defense. The people have been that foundation here in Poland -- as they were right here in Warsaw -- and they were the foundation from the very, very beginning in America.

Our citizens did not win freedom together, did not survive horrors together, did not face down evil together, only to lose our freedom to a lack of pride and confidence in our values. We did not and we will not. We will never back down. (Applause.)

Maybe the WSJ is right, maybe not. In fact, one could argue that the two forms of nationalism—that of the inauguration speech and that of the “Remarks to the People of Poland”—are somehow two faces of the same coin, but this would lead us too far from the main object of this note.. What is certain, however, is that the speech is one that won’t be easily forgotten, nor should it. And this for a number of reasons, among which is the fact that, unlike at least two of his predecessors in the presidency—Barack Obama and George W. Bush—Donald Trump refused to sell the Americans and their Western allies the false ideology according to which all peoples have the same desires, all cultures are equal, and all faiths teach the same things.

This universalism, which conveys the myth of the portability of America’s political and economic principles, is at the heart of the biggest mistakes in U.S. foreign politics in the Middle East, and one reason why so many Western policy makers and opinion leaders fell head over heels for the Arab Spring. They saw the explosion as basically the result of a political crisis and as provoked by a thirst for political freedom, but the deepest roots of the “revolution” were most likely socioeconomic—let’s not forget that for several decades, the Arab world has had the lowest rates of economic growth of all regions of Asia and Africa and the highest rates of unemployment in the world. And they are not issues that can be settled with a new constitution or a mere change of president. They can only be settled through a radical cultural change, involving social, political, and economic structures. Something premature, to say the least. That’s why things went wrong. Take Egypt for instance: the protest movement was initiated by opposition groups, part of which were very radical, but the lead was soon taken by traditional political forces such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists.

Unlike George W. Bush and his neocon advisers, and in opposition to Barack Obama’s idealistic rhetoric about foreign politics, Donald Trump argued that what we call Western values, far from being universal, are a centuries-long and uneven process of acculturation and education. “In this context,” as David French puts it in National Review, “Judeo-Christian ideas have a specific value. The family as a core building block of the culture has a specific value. Constitutional governance has a specific value. They are not necessarily interchangeable with Islam, with alternative family arrangements, or with statism. Thus, a call to protect faith, family, and limited government is a call to protect the culture that has birthed freedom at home and abroad.”

The Warsaw speech also finds President Trump on the trail of Joseph Ratzinger and the lecture “On Europe’s Crisis of Culture” the then-Cardinal gave in the convent of Saint Scholastica in Subiaco, Italy, on April 1, 2005, the day before Pope John Paul II died. It was a very strong warning against “the cynicism of a secularized culture that denies its own foundations.”

By the way, one might ask why the West has turned on itself and seems to be refusing to take even the most rudimentary steps to protect itself against its sworn enemies. Of course there are lots of reasons, not just one: cultural Marxism, ennui, loss of faith in organized religion, the transformation of government schools into babysitting services for subsections of the populace with severe cultural learning disabilities, the marginalization of the very notion of excellence, the mutation of the Left into a suicide cult that wants to take the rest of us with it. This kind of illness being thus indicated, the antidote is also easy to prescribe: the antidote to this, as argued in a July 15, 2016 article by Michael Walsh—the author of The Devil’s Pleasure Palace—is a return to our cultural roots,

including the pre-Christian principles of Aristotle (passed down via St. Thomas Aquinas, among others) and the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Those roots are neither race- nor faith-specific and in fact the genius of Western civilization is that its principles—not “conservative” principles but civilizational principles—have proven so successful that they resulted in the United States of America, the very embodiment of those ideas.
Which is, of course, why Islam and its ally of convenience, the Left, hate America so. We and our cultural heritage are the refutation of every satanic principle they hold so vengefully dear.
Western civilization has defended us for centuries. Isn’t it about time we defended it?

That’s exactly what President Trump did with his Warsaw speech.

Of course, Never-Trumpers, Trump-sceptics across Europe, and the Left in general didn’t like a speech in which the words “civilization” and “West” are each repeated 10 times. Sarah Wildman at Vox compared this battle cry—“for family, for freedom, for country, and for God”—to an “alt-right manifesto.” David Smith, Washington correspondent for The Guardian, wrote that the Warsaw speech “will be remembered not for a quotable zinger but for muddled thinking and dark nativism.”

On the other side of the fence, Victor Davis Hanson at National Review praises the speech as an implicit corrective to Barack Obama’s Cairo speech, that is as the antithesis to the fallacious, appeasing lecture Obama preached to the Egyptians on June 4, 2009. Whereas Obama had blamed the West for many of Islam’s dilemmas, he writes, Trump praised the singular history and culture of the West. Whereas Obama listed supposed cultural achievements of Islam, Trump rattled off examples of Western exceptionalism, its culture, values, achievements.. A great article indeed. In Warsaw Trump warned the West that it’s because of our prosperity, technological advancement, and cultural superiority that we are in great peril, amid failed enemies who hate those who are more successful.

In sum, Trump’s anti-Cairo message is that only a disciplined, strong West — confident in its past and sure of its present success — will deter enemies, appeal to neutrals, and keep friends. Trump should not have had a need to deliver such a self-evident but now rare message. That he alone had the courage to state the obvious — and was criticized for doing so — reminds us that the corrective to our Western malady is seen as the problem, not the cure.

But the most moving passages of the address are those which explicitly recall one of the greatest speeches given in Poland in the modern era: it was delivered in Victory Square in the Old City of Warsaw on June 2, 1979 by John Paul II, the Polish pope.

Warsaw,  Victory Square, June 2, 1979 

Europe was still divided between the politically free democracies of Western Europe and the communist bloc. John Paul celebrated Mass. Halfway through, as Peggy Noonan tells the story in her latest column in the Wall Street Journal, the crowd began to chant: “We want God! We want God!” Then the pope asked the crowd: What was the greatest work of God? Man. Who redeemed man? Christ. Therefore, he declared, “Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude. . . The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man.” The chant turned to thunder: “We want God!” It was the beginning of the end for the communist order in Poland.

And when the day came on June 2nd, 1979, and one million Poles gathered around Victory Square for their very first mass with their Polish Pope, that day, every communist in Warsaw must have known that their oppressive system would soon come crashing down. (Applause.) They must have known it at the exact moment during Pope John Paul II’s sermon when a million Polish men, women, and children suddenly raised their voices in a single prayer. A million Polish people did not ask for wealth. They did not ask for privilege. Instead, one million Poles sang three simple words: “We Want God.” (Applause.)
In those words, the Polish people recalled the promise of a better future. They found new courage to face down their oppressors, and they found the words to declare that Poland would be Poland once again.
As I stand here today before this incredible crowd, this faithful nation, we can still hear those voices that echo through history. Their message is as true today as ever. The people of Poland, the people of America, and the people of Europe still cry out “We want God.” (Applause.)
Together, with Pope John Paul II, the Poles reasserted their identity as a nation devoted to God. And with that powerful declaration of who you are, you came to understand what to do and how to live. You stood in solidarity against oppression, against a lawless secret police, against a cruel and wicked system that impoverished your cities and your souls. And you won. Poland prevailed. Poland will always prevail. (Applause.)

What a great premise for an even greater conclusion:

We have to remember that our defense is not just a commitment of money, it is a commitment of will. Because as the Polish experience reminds us, the defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have. The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it? (Applause.)
Our own fight for the West does not begin on the battlefield -- it begins with our minds, our wills, and our souls. Today, the ties that unite our civilization are no less vital, and demand no less defense, than that bare shred of land on which the hope of Poland once totally rested. Our freedom, our civilization, and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture, and memory.
And today as ever, Poland is in our heart, and its people are in that fight. (Applause.) Just as Poland could not be broken, I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph.

A great speech. The gauntlet has been taken up.

P.S. An interesting little fact (or coincidence). From BreitbartNews.com:

President Donald Trump’s first photo-call in Poland after his arrival in Air Force One was with President Andrzej Duda and saw him sat beside an oil painting of a prominent figure in Polish history and folklore — the 17th-century king who kicked Islam out of Central Europe and is remembered as “the Hammer of the Turks”.
Warsaw’s Royal Palace, where the meeting took place — lavishly reconstructed after it was dynamited by Nazi German troops during the Second World War — benefits from a surfeit of grand rooms and hundreds of works of art.
From oils of kings and statesmen by artists such as Rembrandt to impressive murals and sculpture, the Polish authorities had a great deal of choice for where to host the symbolic first meeting of President Trump’s first European visit.
It may be seen as a remarkable coincidence, therefore, that of all the rooms and of all the paintings, they chose to sit President Trump besides a portrait of one of Poland’s best-known warrior kings. King Jan (John) III Sobieski is today remembered and celebrated in Poland, and elsewhere in Central Europe, for his pivotal role at the Battle of Vienna in September 1683.  [By Oliver JJ Lane, July 6, 2017]

A Portrait of King Jan Sobieski III hangs over President Trump’s right shoulder / AP IMAGE