Trump: An unapologetic defense of ‘Western civilization’
President Trump put his worldview on display before meeting with G-20 leaders last week, said Peter Beinart in TheAtlantic.com, and it’s dripping with “racial and religious paranoia.” On a side trip to Warsaw, Poland, Trump delivered an alarming defense of “Western civilization” of a kind never heard from a U.S. president. He spoke not as the elected leader of a multicultural, heterogeneous nation, but “as the head of a tribe.” In a thinly veiled reference to the Islamic world and to other nonwhite, non-Christian nations, Trump warned of forces “from the South or the East, that threaten…to erase the bonds of culture, faith, and tradition that make us who we are.” In the speech’s “most shocking sentence,” the president said that “the fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.” This only makes sense if you see “nonwhite, non-Christian immigrants as invaders” and an existential threat. Tellingly, Trump’s defense of “Western values” contained no mention of human rights and just one reference to democracy, said Jeet Heer in NewRepublic.com. It was also no accident that he chose to expound on “white-grievance politics” in Poland, whose rightwing ruling party is strongly nationalistic and anti-immigrant and has aggressively sought to curb the independence of the country’s judiciary and media.
That’s “nonsense on stilts,” said John O’Sullivan in National Review.com. American leftists who swooned over Barack Obama’s “postnational” globalism obviously found Trump’s speech horrifying, but it was “an unabashed celebration of Western culture and values” at a moment in history when those values are under concerted attack. Trump’s critics are upset that he promised the West “will prevail” against “radical Islamic terrorism,” said David Harsanyi in TheFederalist.com, as if such bellicose rhetoric were unnecessarily divisive. But “shouldn’t we want Western values of pluralism and liberty to prevail over Islamism?” Some cultural relativists, apparently, find it offensive to suggest that “some long-dead white guys might have had some good ideas about civilization.”
What does Donald Trump know about Western values? said David Frum in TheAtlantic.com. This is a president who admits he reads no books and clearly knows nothing of history or art. He denounces the journalists exercising freedom of the press as “enemies of the people,” disdains the rule of law, and is visibly more comfortable with authoritarians like Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Russia’s Vladimir Putin than he is with democratically elected leaders from Western Europe. In his speech, Trump dared to speak of “our own fight for the West,” yet he’s alienated our allies with boorish behavior and his withdrawal from the Paris climate accords. His primary foreign-policy objective seems to be “to smash the unity of the Western alliance.”
Trump’s critics are right about one thing, said David French in NationalReview.com. He did sharply disagree with George W. Bush’s contention that “God has planted in every human heart the desire to live in freedom,” and with Obama’s insistence that “the longing for freedom and human dignity is not English or American or Western.” In that naïve faith, our previous presidents have been “wrong. Dangerously wrong.” As horrific events in the Middle East and other continents have shown, a belief in individual liberty, religious freedom, tolerance, and democracy is not universal. Trump may be an imperfect vessel for this message, but he’s right: “The ideas that define and govern our nation come from a specific culture,” which is uniquely “valuable and vulnerable” and needs to be protected. “That’s not racism. That’s just truth.” ■