In an address to the Polish people on Thursday, July 6, President Donald Trump asserted that Western civilization was at risk of decline due to “radical Islamic terrorism” and “the creep of government bureaucracy.” The speech, which had a strong nationalist message, came just a day before the G20 summit in Hamburg that served as President Trump’s second foray into the international arena.
President Trump employed a historical narrative about Poland’s resistance to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as a rallying cry to Western civilization. According to Axios Media, Trump praised the country as brave defenders of freedom in the face of “existential threats,” presumably coming from non-Western nations. “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive,” Trump said. “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?”
President Trump’s praise comes in spite of the European Union’s recent criticism of Poland for the country’s harsh crackdown on journalists and refusal to let in more refugees. Trump also met with Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday morning for a closed door meeting. According to the New York Times, while there were no large-scale protests such as the ones in Hamburg on Friday, there were noticeable signs of dissent.
The chief rabbi of Poland, Michael Shudrich, and other Jewish leaders condemned Trump’s decision not to visit a memorial to the 1943 ghetto uprising, which every American president since the fall of Communism in 1989 has visited. “We deeply regret that President Donald Trump, though speaking in public barely a mile away from the monument, chose to break with the laudable tradition, along with so many other ones,” said Shudrich in a statement. “We trust that this slight does not reflect the attitudes and feelings of the American people.”
However, Trump’s rhetoric was largely well received in Poland. The New York Times reports that swaths of Duda supporters cheered and waved American and Polish flags in Krasinski Square, where President Trump delivered his speech. The crowd chanted “fake news” at both American and Polish reporters. This occurred only about an hour after President Trump and President Duda jointly denounced the journalists who wrote negative stories about them.
Both leaders have an anti-press history. Donald Trump posted a tweet last week of a video depicting him body-slamming a figure whose head had been covered by CNN’s logo and has accused CNN and other networks of being “fake news” on multiple occasions. President Duda’s right-of-center party, Law and Justice, made a proposal to restrict journalists’ access to Parliament last year. Trump used this event as an opportunity to defend his tweet directed at CNN last week, suggesting that it had been simply a “lighthearted tweet.” “They have been fake news for a long time,” said President Trump of CNN. “We do not want fake news.”
Trump’s rhetoric in Poland appears to be an absolution to countries that have sought to suppress free press, as well as an appeal to the potentially dangerous and misguided rhetoric about the “clash of civilizations.” This is the idea that outside cultures trickling into Western countries (whether in the form of violent Islamic extremism or the inflow of political refugees from non-Western nations) pose as threats to Western civilization. During the course of his speech, Donald Trump seemed to present himself as the leader of Western civilization in the fight against outside forces.
“We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten to […] erase the bonds of culture, faith, and tradition that make us who we are,” said President Trump. “If left unchecked, these forces will undermine our courage, sap our spirit, and weaken our will to defend ourselves and our societies.”
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