Donald Trump made his first major foreign speech on Thursday, July 6, at the memorial to the Warsaw Uprising in Warsaw, Poland. He was surprisingly clear, coherent, and projected conviction and belief in the words he uttered.
I don’t agree with Trump on everything and believe that his personal conduct leaves much to be desired and does not give due respect and reverence to the office he holds. However, the reaction to this speech was disproportionate to what was actually said and reveals the ulterior motives of those making the point.
After the usual diplomatic flim-flam thanking the Polish dignitaries and saying how much he loved to be in Poland, a country placed at the centre of the European continent and witness to some of its defining historical moments, trials and tribulations, he got down to his speech. It was a long one, and the transcript is available here.
Trump, however, gave a realistic picture of the threats facing the Western world today. He talked about a variety of geopolitical security issues, from radical Islamist terrorism, to cybersecurity issues, to a commitment to Article 5 of NATO, to Russian meddling in the Ukraine.
Of course, because he didn’t spout the same platitudes about ‘hope and change’ and say everything would be fine if we just hold hands and sing ‘Imagine’, his speech led to the predictable circles in the media to weep and wail about how dark it was, how lacking in hope, how deprived of optimistic visions of the future.
They proclaimed that he had regressed to his ‘American Carnage’ rhetoric seen in his inauguration speech. Sorry, the world isn’t a pretty place and there are people who would be quite happy to see the West enfeebled, in retreat and in eventual ruin. Facing up to that, with a degree of honest realism, is now beyond the pale. Maybe that’s why we’re in such bad shape.
After this, Trump really plunged into the heart of his message. And of course, the commentary classes went crazy. The New Republic and Vox.com called it an ‘alt-right’ speech based in xenophobic nativism speckled with a dusting of white grievance. (Compare Trump’s speech with that of Kennedy in 1961)
Eric Foner of Columbia University on BBC’s Newsnight repeated the idea that Trump was espousing white nationalism and alt-right xenophobic nativism. According to him, saying that Europe and the West are based on Judeo-Christian values is basically evidence of white pride.
I’m sure those who also subscribe to Judeo-Christian values who aren’t white, like Coptic, Syriac and other Middle Eastern Christians and Israeli Jews are thrilled at this incredibly solipsistic and narcissistic display of privilege on the part of some well-to-do academic.
He also implied that James Burnham, an ex-Trotskyist turned conservative writer was far-right because of the popularity of some of his works among Trump supporters. Finally, he claimed that Trump’s warnings about ‘creeping bureaucracy’ were redolent with far-right panic over the deep-state.
Maybe if he’d actually listened properly, or read the speech, Foner might have realised that Trump was warning against the weight of big government on individual liberty, so casting those who aim for smaller government as also beyond the pale. Messiah College History Professor John Fea tweeted “The West will never be broken.’ We will defend ‘civilization.’ Trump’s speech in Poland has [Steve] Bannon written all over it.“
These are just several examples of the reaction among the commentary class, who basically broke Trump’s speech down to their old stand-by of “fascism!” They don’t realise that their overuse of hyperbolic language concerning Trump’s rhetoric is simply turning people off to their white noise levels of hysteria and angst regarding some opinions they don’t agree with from a man they can’t control, who speaks his mind (often to the worse rather than better) and who doesn’t need them anymore, who doesn’t need their benediction as a member of their club.
They fail to realise that by continuing with their screeching about the impending fascist takeover, about Trump stirring up violence against journalists by tweeting a meme, about Trump supporters being the most violent (Antifa, anyone?), about the whole right of politics being beyond the pale of political and civil society, that they are driving the polarisation of America, and of the wider West. Leaders like Roosevelt and Reagan would now be beyond the pale for making very similar points. I mean Churchill even talked about defending “Christian civilisation” before the Battle of Britain. The horror.
Meanwhile, Trump explicitly said that new arrivals would be welcome and that those who would not be welcome are those who would wish to do us harm and destroy us. In other words, Islamist terrorists. That doesn’t sound tyrannical to me, that sounds like prudent control of a nation’s borders.
If and when something comes along that really is tyrannical in nature, what then? No-one will listen to them, because they will have worn out their tactics of offense, and their quivers will be empty should the situation arise where there really is a risk of something truly totalitarian in nature.
The fact that Trump’s focus on family, freedom, country and God, on the ideas brought to fruition at great sacrifice over millennia that made the West great, such as individual liberty, property rights, freedom of speech, equality before the law, all of which allow these people to have and express the opinions they do, and also the fact that that nation states have a right to be sovereign and have defined and defended borders, all of that is inherently bigoted and all that can be said is that defending these values and ideas is a sign of inherent bigotry, is crazy.
The alternative is apparently to oppose these values because they are now Trump’s values, so even worse than they already were due to their growth in a part of the world that has never done anything good and has only got to where it is by oppressing everyone else. If you’re a liberal and you support Western civilisation that is built on the aforementioned values, then you’re a white nationalist. Even if you’re a person of colour.
Standing up for Western values does not make one alt-right, and to say it does only drives us further apart, cutting us further off from one another and inflaming the each side’s view of the other, risking further violence seen on the ideological extremes.
There can be serious questions about Trump himself, and rightly so. But the fact that Trump said that Poland and the West could be saved, and could go into the future with its head held high if we rediscover our roots and values, who we are, and from that draw the will to survive and prosper, isn’t and shouldn’t be controversial.