President Trump’s defense of Western Civilization in Poland last week was one of his better moments in office.
In using Poland’s struggle against the Nazis during World War II and Soviet dictatorship as a backdrop, Trump issued a call for the West to stand against those forces that wish to undermine both Western values and Western political alliances.
“The triumph of the Polish spirit over centuries of hardship gives us all hope for a future in which good conquers evil, and peace achieves victory over war,” he said.
He pressed the point by saying:
“Through four decades of communist rule, Poland and the other captive nations of Europe endured a brutal campaign to demolish freedom, your faith, your laws, your history, your identity -- indeed the very essence of your culture and your humanity. Yet, through it all, you never lost that spirit. Your oppressors tried to break you, but Poland could not be broken.”
Trump then transitioned into a comparison with today’s world and the threats it faces:
“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……
“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.
“We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its 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.”
As speeches go, it was a stirring defense of freedom in a world where multiple forces seek to undermine the core values of the Western world.
In North Korea, an unstable dictator has acquired both nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them in a bid to intimidate and threaten Asia and the United States.
In the Middle East and Africa, Islamic radicals threaten the stability of several nations as various factions fight over control. Even worse, some of those radicals are exporting terrorism to the West in a bid to undermine our own government institutions.
In Russia, a brutal dictator is playing games all over the world — partnering with Iran and Syria to foment turmoil in the Middle East; invading parts of the Ukraine and other former Soviet republics in a bid to extend Russia’s sphere of control; and meddling in last year’s U.S. elections in an effort to undermine public confidence in our democratic system.
None of this is particularly new, of course. For seven decades, the U.S. and the West were locked in a Cold War with the Soviet Union. North Korea has been a destabilizing force since the end of World War II. And the Middle East has always been a cauldron of competing ideologies and seething tribal hatreds.
Some of this goes back to the 1990s theory from Samuel Huntington whose “Clash of Civilizations” essay predicted the intense conflict between the West and radical Islamic forces.
The fall of the Soviet Union shifted the world’s balance of power and in that void, new players and powers were bound to emerge.
There are those who downplay Huntington’s thesis and who are reluctant to embrace a rousing defense of Western values. The West, of course, doesn’t have a perfect history. At one time, the West was an alliance of an abusive church and political system that brutalized and murdered its critics at an alarming rate.
And our own nation’s history is stained with the blood of Native Americans and slaves who perished because of old distorted cultural values.
Still, the West has experienced something many other parts of the world have not had — enlightenment and reformation.
The West secularized its political institutions such that abusive theocrats no longer pull the levers of power. And we’ve confronted our own shortcomings in human and civil rights for minorities.
That is unlike the Muslim world where the blending of politics and religion have become a breeding ground of today’s Islamic radicalism. There has been no enlightenment or reformation in that part of the world.
The West puts a premium on freedom of expression, the rule of law and social openness unlike so many other parts of the world which reject anything that runs counter to their own narrow cultural ideology.
While President Trump was right in his defense of Western values, the dangers run deeper than just Islamic terror or Russian meddling in world affairs.
Perhaps an even bigger danger is the West seems to be retreating from the values it claims to hold dear. The resurgence neo-fascists, a growth in isolationism, the inability to agree on facts with the rise of fake news, and a retreat from engaging in the rest of the world are all hallmarks of a culture in decline, not a culture on the rise.
Ironically, Trump himself has assaulted both free expression and the rule of law by attacking the media stories and court rulings he disagrees with. Perhaps with his Poland speech, the president is adopting a new, more enlightened attitude.
The West is strong because the West has adopted cultural traditions that value all voices, even those that dissent from the majority. It is strong because it values the law over the whims of individuals.
If we lose those core values and fracture along our own narrow tribal boundaries, then the West doesn’t need to worry about radical Islam, North Korea or Russia.
If we lose our core Western values, we will collapse from within by rejecting the very freedoms President Trump said in Poland he wants to protect.
Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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