I finally had some time over the weekend to catch up and watch Trump’s speech in Warsaw. Worth watching if you haven’t seen it, though most of it is Trump providing a history lesson.
I don’t think it was an accident that Trump made this speech in Poland. It’s odd to me that the one example he (or his speechwriter) didn’t provide for Poland’s historical role in defending Western civilization from threats to the “East and South” was King Jan III Sobieski’s victory over the Turks at the Siege of Vienna. Best account of it you’ll ever read is this 2003 article by Ralph Peters.
This speech, more than any Trump has made so far, is extremely significant in that it provided a coherent “vision thing” on par with Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech and Reagan’s Evil Empire one. I’m not saying that it’s as good as either of those speeches or that he orates as well as Churchill or Reagan, only that it provides the same sort of clarity and direction for facing the challenges of its time as those earlier speeches did.
I’ve referenced Clash of Civilizations before and readily recognized its influence on this speech. The people who usually look for racism and xenophobia in everything Trump says can surely find it here if that’s what they want to see. But what should be concerning us all is that Trump has apparently fully embraced the concept of the Clash of Civilizations, stated that it’s happening now, and clearly announced that the United States is leading it on behalf of Western Civilization.
If any of you have had any lingering doubts about whether or not Trump really wants to be president or has any direction or plan for his Administration beyond feuding with the media on Twitter, this should be the moment when you put those doubts to rest for good. This speech signals an entirely new direction in core American foreign policy as it’s been practiced since the end of the Cold War. It’s different from anything we’ve seen since Reagan decided to commit the US to seeing the Soviet Union and international Communism thrown on “the ash heap of history” (to which Poland also played a decisive role). No detente, no coexistence. Only one could survive.
Trump isn’t advocating that we wipe out other civilizations though. What he has said is that we have to recognize is that other civilizations do not necessarily share our values. If we want our values to survive, it’s going to be up to us to defend them instead of allowing other cultures to supplant them. He’s not wrong.
After 9/11, Bush and then Obama clearly rejected the idea that a Clash of Civilizations occurring. They both instead focused on “universal values”. Bush believed that the Middle East would embrace democracy and liberty if we established it in Iraq and Obama thought that all of our friction with Islamic nations was because of our own lack of understanding and malignant foreign policy. Trump’s Warsaw speech was very much a reversal and repudiation of Obama’s Cairo speech.
As we’ve since learned, the warlords of Afghanistan aren’t going to stop diddling little boys or embrace women’s equality anytime soon no matter how committed we are to these ideas. Additionally, removing dictators in their countries won’t result in democratic rule based on individual rights and the rule of law and instead, as in Iraq and Libya, result in internal warfare among factions divided by ancient tribal and religious grievances. And when we encourage Islamic countries to overthrow governments themselves and hold elections, they just might choose the Muslim Brotherhood.
How well are the ideas of universal values and multiculturalism working out for us? From my perspective, it isn’t so great everywhere we’ve had the opportunity to put it to work overseas. I would think that the greatest lesson of the 21st Century so far is that we can’t force foreigners to accept the rule of law, respect minority and women’s rights, or much else even with military force. They’re going to be who they want to be and we don’t have any real control over that. We can only decide who we want to be.
The West is struggling not only with the question of what its values are, but seemingly whether or not Western Civilization is even worth continuing. To me, the biggest indicators are the declines in both religious belief and the birth rate. Trump addressed this in his speech and made the declaration that if we collectively just choose to perpetuate it–to survive–we will. I agree with that attitude. If we can just figure out what we want to be, we can become it.
Notably, I thought Trump made the strongest affirmation he has to date that NATO should be preserved, so long as the Europeans meet their obligations to it. Whether they like it or not, they are allowing themselves to be pressured into standing up for themselves against threats from other civilizations. How far along will they go for this ride? That remains to be seen.
Regardless of what your concept of “Western values” is or what they should be, I strongly suggest that you bookmark this speech in your mind as a key moment in our shared history. It’s either going to represent the last gasp of the dying, Christian West and the completion of its slide toward the secular West that promotes “universal values” and multiculturalism or it’s going to be remembered as the start of classical Western Civilization’s revival.
Trump has moved beyond mere politics. Everything he wants to do with regard to border and immigration control, national defense, education, and foreign policy is ultimately serving his vision of Western Civilization. Everything else that happened with Trump and Putin, the G20 and Merkel’s eye-rolling, and Trump fetching a Marine’s cover are meaningless stories that will be forgotten. They’re distractions. This speech is consequential but I’m hardly surprised that it isn’t getting much more attention paid to it by the press.
The time is coming when all of us who live in Western nations will have to determine once and for all who it is we want to be. This is something we all have to do, for better or for worse. Either Trump’s vision or someone else’s will succeed over the next generation. We all have a stake in this.
This post’s absolutely epic featured image is “The Battle 1683” by wildheadache.deviantart.com