Say what you want about President Trump’s lack of intellectual and policy depth and the fact that, like other presidents, he doesn’t write his major speeches, but he delivered a major teaching moment in his Warsaw speech in early July. Here is a sample: “Our defense is not just a commitment of money, it is a commitment of will……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?……….If anyone forgets the critical importance of these things, let them come to one country that never has, let them come to Poland and let them come to Warsaw…..”. This was definitely a “let them come to Berlin” moment, and it doesn’t end there.
He evoked John Paul II’s 1979 visit that prompted the chants of “we want God” from the assembled crowd when he said “With that powerful declaration of who you are, you came to understand what to do and how to live”. And by doing so, he clearly aligned himself with Pope Benedict XVI in his warning to Europe at Regensburg in his 2006 lecture on the preservation of Western Civilization that its turn to secularism is a threat to its survival and he warned of a lack of pride and confidence in our values.
Of course, as Daniel Henninger noted, if Donald Trump recited The Star Spangled Banner before a baseball game, it would be criticized as an alt-right dog whistle, and many from the left consider Western Civilization code words for Christian white nationalism. And sure enough, William Galston asked, “what does Trump mean by the West?”, as though this is some reference to a strange culture. Well, Galston knows, but just to be sure, this is a culture and a region informed by Greece and Rome, forged by Judeo/Christian heritage that once was called Christendom, which formed the basis for what became Western Civilization. Yet Galston suggests that the chant of “we want God”, while comfortable in Poland, would now be offensive to most of Europe, and of course this is a big part of the problem Trump addressed.
Even National Review, certainly no friend of Trump’s, had this to say: “What struck a new note was Trump’s insistence that these values arose in the West and required defense. Any history-minded universalist must recognize that, while all men deserve liberty as men, only one civilization–ours–has worked with any consistency to identify and secure it. This Trump boldly and clearly did.”
This speech would have been a great inaugural address. For all his flaws, let’s give the guy the credit he is due.