World View: Donald Trump’s Speech in Warsaw Poland Evokes the Clash of Civilizations

Spectators wave as US President Donald Trump gives a speech in front of the Warsaw Uprising Monument on Krasinski Square during the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Warsaw, Poland, July 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI (Photo credit should read JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Donald Trump’s speech in Warsaw Poland evokes the Clash of Civilizations
  • Remembering the horrors that Poland suffered in World War II

Donald Trump’s speech in Warsaw Poland evokes the Clash of Civilizations

A large American flag-waving crowd greets Donald Trump in Warsaw Poland on Thursday
A large American flag-waving crowd greets Donald Trump in Warsaw Poland on Thursday

When President Donald J. Trump gave his inauguration speech on January 20, I wrote that the speech links today’s America to the 1930s, because it evoked the 1930s mood of nationalism and isolationism.

Thursday’s speech in Warsaw, Poland was even more strongly linked to the 1930s, suggesting that we are facing a Clash of Civilizations world war in the same way that Poland was devastated by World War II. The theme of isolationism was still present in remarks about the need to “protect our borders.”

More interesting were the themes around nationalism. Themes about American nationalism – pride in America and loyalty to American values – have been broadened to encompass pride in Western civilization and loyalty to the values of Western civilization: individual freedom, security, free speech, free expression, empowering women, striving for excellence, valuing human dignity, honoring God, treasuring the rule of law, putting faith and family at the center of our lives.

Trump gave the speech to a large, extremely enthusiastic and euphoric crowd in Warsaw, frequently chanting, “Donald Trump! Donald Trump! Donald Trump!”

The comparison is to candidate Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin in July 2008. There was a large, extremely enthusiastic and euphoric crowd. As I wrote at the time in “Barack Obama in Berlin calls for greater European militarism”, the lines that drew the greatest and most euphoric responses were the anti-American statements, like “Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law?”

Trump must have had the speech in mind when he delivered his own on Thursday, with its emphasis on preserving and honoring Western civilization, and particularly when he said the following:

This is my first visit to Central Europe as President, and I am thrilled that it could be right here at this magnificent, beautiful piece of land. It is beautiful. Poland is the geographic heart of Europe, but more importantly, in the Polish people, we see the soul of Europe. Your nation is great because your spirit is great and your spirit is strong.

We can be pretty certain that phrases like “the heart of Europe” and “the soul of Europe” were directed at Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom Trump will be meeting on Friday. Merkel has openly taken on the task of proving that Trump is so awful that he is isolated in the world, and so saying that the Polish people are “the soul of Europe” is a preemptive strike.

Remembering the horrors that Poland suffered in World War II

Much of Trump’s speech reminded that enthusiastic audience of the the horrors that Poland went through in World War II:

In 1920, in the Miracle of Vistula, Poland stopped the Soviet army bent on European conquest. Then, 19 years later in 1939, you were invaded yet again, this time by Nazi Germany from the west and the Soviet Union from the east. That’s trouble. That’s tough.

Under a double occupation the Polish people endured evils beyond description: the Katyn forest massacre, the occupations, the Holocaust, the Warsaw Ghetto and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the destruction of this beautiful capital city, and the deaths of nearly one in five Polish people. A vibrant Jewish population — the largest in Europe — was reduced to almost nothing after the Nazis systematically murdered millions of Poland’s Jewish citizens, along with countless others, during that brutal occupation.

In the summer of 1944, the Nazi and Soviet armies were preparing for a terrible and bloody battle right here in Warsaw. Amid that hell on earth, the citizens of Poland rose up to defend their homeland. I am deeply honored to be joined on stage today by veterans and heroes of the Warsaw Uprising.

Trump then related those horrors to today’s dangers to Western civilization:

This continent no longer confronts the specter of communism. But today we’re in the West, and we have to say there are dire threats to our security and to our way of life. You see what’s happening out there. They are threats. We will confront them. We will win. But they are threats.

We are confronted by another oppressive ideology — one that seeks to export terrorism and extremism all around the globe. America and Europe have suffered one terror attack after another. We’re going to get it to stop.

During a historic gathering in Saudi Arabia, I called on the leaders of more than 50 Muslim nations to join together to drive out this menace which threatens all of humanity. We must stand united against these shared enemies to strip them of their territory and their funding, and their networks, and any form of ideological support that they may have. While we will always welcome new citizens who share our values and love our people, our borders will always be closed to terrorism and extremism of any kind.

We are fighting hard against radical Islamic terrorism, and we will prevail. We cannot accept those who reject our values and who use hatred to justify violence against the innocent.

Today, the West is also confronted by the powers that seek to test our will, undermine our confidence, and challenge our interests. To meet new forms of aggression, including propaganda, financial crimes, and cyberwarfare, we must adapt our alliance to compete effectively in new ways and on all new battlefields.

Trump mentioned Russia’s “destabilizing activities” and urged it to join in the fight “in defense of civilization itself.” He did NOT mention the current growing crisis with regard to the North Korea, nor did he mention the growing belligerent militarization of China in the South China Sea and the development of advanced missile systems. However, he did say the following:

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. If left unchecked, these forces will undermine our courage, sap our spirit, and weaken our will to defend ourselves and our societies.

I interpret the phrase “forces… from the South or the East” as acknowledging that there are other existential threats to America and Europe, especially from North Korea and China.

Finally, he tied it all together by asking whether the West has the will to survive:

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?

CNN and LA Times

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Warsaw, Poland, Clash of Civilizations, Germany, Angela Merkel, Russia, North Korea, China
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