06 July 2017

Trump on western values: "We want God."

The President is in Poland today to address a summit meeting of the Three Seas Initiative, an informal organization of central and eastern European nations. He's there in part to tout the U.S. as an alternative energy supplier that would never withhold energy supplies for the sake of political intimidation, unlike You Know Who. In case you don't know, in one of his speeches today Trump pointedly recounted the sad fate of the Warsaw Uprising during World War II, when Poles were slaughtered by Nazi occupiers while Russian (I mean Soviet) armies stood by within striking distance, presumably content to let a resistance unbeholden to Moscow get annihilated. In case anyone was still confused, the President explicitly admonished Russia to "cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere." Ukraine is not a member of the Three Seas Initiative, but many actual members were formerly part of the Warsaw Pact or the Soviet Union itself and are hardly fans of an assertive Russia. For what it was worth, Trump also called on the Russians to end "support for hostile regimes, including Syria and Iran, and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself." At this point a Russian might interject that Syria and its Iranian ally are frontline states in the defense of civilization as hands-on opponents of the self-styled Islamic State. One Russian in particular may well remind the President later this week that his nation, which claims to have killed the IS's self-styled caliph in an airstrike, is doing more in the defense of civilization than Trump has in his preoccupation with so-called "hostile" states. Choose your own side in that theoretical discussion but acknowledge that the President's Warsaw speech is not what you should expect to hear from someone supposedly in bed with the Russians, unless Trump is more subtle and devious than anyone could believe.

In fact, despite his acknowledgment that Europe "no longer confronts the specter of communism," his idea of western civilization seems to have been shaped by the Cold War. His civilizational rhetoric seems to have gotten the most attention in the media, perhaps because liberals worry that such talk, coming from an old white guy, is implicitly exclusionary. I suppose it was to some extent, given how much it sounded like simple Republican conservatism. He told the Poles that big government was virtually as grave an internal threat to western civ as terrorism was an external threat.

This danger is invisible to some but familiar to the Poles: the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people.The West became great, not because of paperwork and regulations, but because people were allowed to chase their dreams and pursue their destinies.

Just as much as terrorism, bureaucracy "threaten[s] 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, [it] will undermine our courage, sap our spirit and weaken our will to defend ourselves and our societies." In western civ, Trump says, "We put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, at the center of our lives....We can have the largest economies and the most lethal weapons anywhere on Earth, but if we do not have strong families and strong values, then we will be weak and we will not survive." Religion appears to be inextricable from the rest of it. To listen to Trump today, it wasn't Ronald Reagan who won the Cold War, but John Paul II. Of course, the President may simply have meant to flatter his Polish hosts by praising their national hero, but I had the feeling that he really believes what he said.

[W]hen the day came on June 2nd, 1979, and 1 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.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, 1 million Poles saying three simple words: ``We want God.'' In those words, the Polish people recalled the promise of a better future....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.''

I hadn't noticed many Americans crying for God, but perhaps I'm not in the right social-media bubble. In mine -- which for all I know may be a bubble of one --  the defense of civilization Trump seems so gung-ho for has little meaning if it doesn't defend our right to say "We don't want God" and not just "We don't want Allah." Today, at least, that didn't seem like a high priority for the President. Perhaps he was pandering to a more devoutly Catholic country -- he definitely got the "Donald Trump! Donald Trump!" chants he presumably wanted -- and perhaps he meant the speech to play well with his Christianist constituents at home as well. But an American President can go too far with this God talk, however much it pleases the pious. It can alienate many who identify fully with western civ without identifying with religion at all. The last thing Trump should want to do is tell these people that they're wrong.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Considering that tRump pretty much epitomizes what the founder of Christianity said is NOT Christian, tRump should watch what he asks for - - - if he actually got it, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't like it. Of course, I'm pretty sure someone like tRump doesn't actually believe in god at all. So he's finally learning to act, somewhat, like a politician. Too bad.