Poland, Trump, and the clash of civilizations

How long ago was it that President Trump gave his speech in Poland? To me, it seems like months, so much having happened since. Actually it was less than three weeks.

The speech was excellent, a high point of the Trump presidency in my view. Our friend Grant Starrett wrote about it in this op-ed for the Tennessean.

Grant pointed out that Trump’s speech, which identified the “fundamental question of our time” as “whether the West has the will to survive,” echoed the concerns expressed by Samuel Huntington in his 1996 classic
The Clash of Civilizations
. He also noted that Trump, like Huntington, wisely highlighted a series of domestic threats to the West.

Trump pointed to “the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people” and offered prescriptions of honoring faith, protecting families, and prizing meritocracy. He quoted the Polish martyr Bishop Michael Kozal: “More horrifying than a defeat of arms is a collapse of the human spirit.”

“Leftist critics,” Grant observed, “dismissed these as forced tangents without realizing they are core to the conservative worldview.”

Leftists also attacked Trump for not criticizing the Polish government’s move to curtail the power of the nation’s judiciary. This became a major left-wing talking point. It seemed to me, however, that it would have been inappropriate for the U.S. president to lecture the Poles about internal political matters while a guest in the country.

Subsequent to Trump’s visit, in a development little noted by the mainstream media, the State Department expressed concern about the legislation regarding the role of the judiciary in Poland. Was this done at the urging of the White House? Was it a decision made by Secretary of State Tillerson? Or did some mid-level bureaucrat decide?

Given the current state of affairs at Foggy Bottom, it’s difficult to say. Nonetheless, the U.S. government went on record, and it did so the right way.

Very soon thereafter, in what was considered a surprise move, Andrzej Duda, the president of Poland, vetoed the legislation that would have cut back on an independent judiciary. Lech Walesa, the Nobel Peace Prize winning former head of Solidarity, called the veto “difficult and brave.”

The American left, which made such a talking point out of Trump’s wise unwillingness to talk about Polish domestic political controversies, is not about to acknowledge the administration’s contribution to the difficult and brave veto by Poland’s president. But objective observers in Poland don’t share this reluctance.

Bartosz Weglarczyk, director of a major Polish news outlet, called the State Department’s expression of concern “probably one of the key elements of the pressure” that led to the veto. He found it more significant than the months of hand-wringing by the European Union and its member nations.

Naturally. In the clash of civilizations, the Trump administration stands with Poland. It’s less certain that the EU does.

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