Stolen shamelessly from the Wall Street Journal, July 13, 2017:
Trump Teaches Western Civ
It was a speech about values and traditions that neither Hillary Clinton nor any Democrat would give anymore.
President Trump in Warsaw, Poland, July 6.
By: Daniel Henninger
July 12, 2017 6:35 p.m. ET
If Donald Trump recited “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a baseball game, it would be criticized as an alt-right dog whistle. So naturally spring-loaded opinions rained down in Poland after he delivered a defense of Western values.
Only this particular American president could say, “Let us all fight like the Poles—for family, for freedom, for country, and for God,” and elicit attacks from the left as sending subliminal messages to his isolated rural supporters, and from the anti-Trump right as a fake speech because he gave it. We live in a cynical age.
Angela Stent, a professor at Georgetown University, provided the reductio ad politics analysis: “He wants to show at least his domestic base that he’s true to all of the principles that he enunciated during the election campaign.”
The Trump “base.” It’s still out there, isn’t it?
It was conventional during the presidential campaign to think of the Trump candidacy as a beat-up bus caravan of marginalized American citizens, who someone called the deplorables. In the event, about half the total U.S. electorate somehow voted for the man who in Warsaw gave a speech that his opponent, Hillary Clinton—or any current Democrat—would never give.
To simplify: One side of this debate will never be caught in anything it considers polite company using that phrase of oppression—“the West.” Ugh.
For an enjoyably trenchant takedown of the left’s revulsion at the Trump speech, I recommend Robert Merry’s essay in the American Conservative, “Trump’s Warsaw Speech Threw Down the Gauntlet on Western Civilization.” As Mr. Merry says, this is a big, worthy debate, and one I think the Trump “base” instinctively understood in 2016.
In fact, that Warsaw speech on Western Civ was really about the current edition of the Democratic Party and its two-term leader, Barack Obama. Mr. Trump momentarily suppressed the urge to call out his opposition, so allow me.
The Trump “base” knew the 2016 presidential election—the contest between Mr. Obama’s successor and whoever would run against her—wasn’t just another election. It was a crucial event, deciding whether America would go on in the Western tradition as it had developed in the U.S. or continue its steady drift away from those ideas.
Progressives have an interest in ridiculing the Trump speech as a stalking horse for the heretofore obscure and microscopic alt-right because it deflects from their own political values—on view and in power the past eight years.
If there is one controlling Western idea developed across centuries in Europe, including by resort to war, it is that the individual person deserves formalized protection from the weight of arbitrary political authority, whether kings, clergy or dictators.
Bernard Bailyn, the great historian of the pre-revolution politics of the U.S. colonies, showed through a deep reading of colonial pamphleteering that the early Americans were ardently resentful of distant, central authority.
The Founders were obsessed with this idea—and for that see Jefferson’s “He has” bill of particulars against King George in the Declaration of Independence. They designed a government explicitly to protect smaller units—individuals, local governments—from being overwhelmed by too-powerful political authority.
The American left has never been altogether comfortable with the U.S.’s decentralized, “difficult” political system. Once it identifies a universal political good, it is impatient to put it in place. One of the first American ideas resisted by the left was federalism: The states, they believe, can’t be trusted to do the right thing.
In the 1950s and ’60s, this had to do with remedies for racial discrimination. With Mr. Obama, the federalist disdain accelerated. His Environmental Protection Agency imposed regulations on behalf of universalist climate claims. The Eric Holder Justice Department filed lawsuits alleging racial disparities against police departments, towns and local school systems. The Obama Labor Department did the same to coerce private employers; its secretary, Tom Perez, now leads the Democratic National Committee.
No more settled part of the West’s tradition exists than due process and presumption of innocence, which are embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Believing this Western tradition impeded sexual abuse allegations at colleges, the Obama Education Department issued “guidance” that reversed due process and legitimized the presumption of guilt.
Eventually, the “base” somehow intuited that a permanent reformulation of their political traditions was happening here.
The progressive alternative to the Western experience extends to culture, especially religion. When Donald Trump, of all people, says the Poles in Victory Square chanted “We want God” in 1979, it was like nails on a blackboard to postmodern progressives.
One way to understand American politics today is to think of our divisions as resonant of the decade before the Revolutionary War, when rebellion’s trigger was King George and his Parliament in London.
In our time, the struggle is about an aggressive elevation of central authority over the smaller units of American life. The progressive Democrats are the new King George, ruling 50 postcolonial states from distant Washington. The “base” objects.