Donald Trump’s speech before the brutalist-style Warsaw Uprising (1944) memorial (take a look at the dark, gargantuan Nazi overshadowing Trump in the accompanying picture–this is an irony the planners of the speech seemed not to account for) in the run-up to the G-20 meeting this week, was a horror show. Commentators have compared it to his “American carnage” Inaugural Address. They are right to do so. It has all of the dark and dire rhetoric of that miserable address written for him by his alt-Right Rasputins, Bannon and Miller. But there were a few passages that stood out in their execrableness.
In seeking to rally his audience with a transcendent message of humanity and hope he didn’t appeal to “the better angels of our nature,” as did Abraham Lincoln. He didn’t appeal to our sense of altruism as JFK did in his “Ask not what your country can do for you” address. Nor did he offer a dream of tolerance, diversity and dignity as Martin Luther King did in Washington DC in 1963. Instead, he offered fear of The Other. He offered vague conspiracies to overthrow our way of life:
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.
In one word, No. Islamism does NOT threaten all of humanity. As Peter Beinart wrote in The Atlantic piece I linked above, it doesn’t even threaten a country (it’s even been wiped out inside Iraq and will shortly be driven underground in Syria). Certainly not a western nation. In short, what Trump has offered is a chimera, a bogeyman to frighten children and timorous adults unsure of their own identities.
Note as well, that in the closing line of the passage above, Trump welcomes to America’s shores only those who share his (not “our” as he states) values and people. That is, the values of white, Christian America. Not the values of diversity or heterogeneity for which America is justly admired around the world. The message here is that Trump’s America will forever mistrust The Other: the non-white, the foreigner, the non-Christian. His America will even mistrust American citizens who don’t represent those qualities (Hispanics, African-Americans, LGBT, journalists, even Jews). And what is “extremism” in Trump’s America? Not just Islamist terror, but any message that threatens his narrowly construed American consensus.
While Trump felt the pain of Poles deeply, the pain of Polish Jews martyred in the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising…not so much. He is the first president since 1989 to visit the city without seeing the separate ghetto memorial, which was only blocks away from the site of his speech. The junior Trumps were delegated to perform that mission. So while Trump made sure to briefly mention the Jewish uprising, it was a glancing reference at best, and only in the context of the long list of centuries of Polish (i.e. non-Jewish) suffering. He also made no reference to the most infamous memorial to Polish Jews: Auschwitz. It is an extermination camp within Poland and the final resting place for the bones and ashes of the millions of European Jews murdered there. Auschwitz? Not a word (h/t to reader Bobyleff).
Trump wasn’t even above a bit of arch hypocrisy in mouthing this phrase:
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.
He has the chutzpah, after Vladimir Putin rigged his election as president, to warn about “aggression, propaganda and cyber-warfare?? Really? Does he take us for fools? Or is he one himself?
This passage is the one ringing echo of Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations. It is a clarion call to arms that would’ve been more appropriate during the Crusades or even the 15th century Battle of Vienna, when the Ottoman Turks were stopped at the gates of Europe. In it, you will hear all the paranoia, fear and hysteria that is at the heart of Trump’s political vision:
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.
…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?
…the West was saved with the blood of patriots; that each generation must rise up and play their part in its defense and that every foot of ground, and every last inch of civilization, is worth defending with your life.
Yes, it’s the Mongol hordes who swarm the gates seeking to overwhelm us, pillage our cities and defile the flower of our womenhood. It’s Lt. Mandrake in Dr. Strangelove, paranoiacally warning about the Communists seeking to ‘sap our vital bodily fluids.’ This is a frightening message delivered by a man who is a monomaniac, if not pathological.
As he moved on to expounding his commercial and cultural vision, his words could’ve been lifted from Ayn Rand:
We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers.
Symphonies–from a man who detests classical music. He continues:
We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence, and cherish inspiring works of art that honor God. We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression.
How much art do you know that “honors God” aside from cathedrals and other religious works of art, very little of which is being created today? In fact, I’d venture to say Trump has no interest in art whatsoever, except the sort of trophy art to decorate his glittering towers and board rooms.
As for free speech and the rule of law: this is laughable considering that neither Trump nor his right-wing Polish hosts have any regard for such rights. They both detest journalists, immigrants, constitutional rights, and speech by anyone other than themselves. In this passage, he may just as well have whipped out a copy of the U.S. constitution and trampled it under foot. That’s how much of an outrage these words are to that foundation-stone of American democracy.
We empower women as pillars of our society and of our success.
If he means that we dress our women in designer fashion and set them on a pedestal as an empty cipher to speak to the multitudes in words stolen from other women, then perhaps we do empower certain women. The ones we’re married to solely because of their youth and beauty and other less lofty attractions. But other women? Poor women? Minority women? Women who want abortions? Them, not so much.
In the following passage, Trump has achieved an obliviousness that passeth all understanding:
This great community of nations has something else in common: In every one of them, it is the people, not the powerful, who have always formed the foundation of freedom and the cornerstone of our defense.
Spoken like a true demagogue. Like a man oblivious to the fact that he is neither one of ‘the people,’ nor their leader. He is the epitome of the ‘powerful.’ The corrupt. The venal. The spiteful. The vicious. The brutal. He is the tyrant every one of the people seeks to topple because of his cruelty and the suffering he causes. He is, to his people, as Marie Antoinette was to hers. He doesn’t even tell his people to eat cake because he knows most can’t afford it. He doesn’t care what they eat, or that they eat at all. As long as he continues to enjoy fine French dining with his golf buddies at his country clubs.
David Frum masterfully eviscerates Trump’s speech here. No one can lay naked the hypocrisy of a Republican president better than a fellow Republican.