The Falsehood at the Core of Trump’s Warsaw Speech

President Donald Trump

The Falsehood at the Core of Trump’s Warsaw Speech

The problem was not so much the speech as the speaker.

David Frum | The Atlantic

Sunday was “trivialize violence against the media” day for President Trump.Thursday was “fly to Warsaw and champion Western values day.”

As presidential speeches go, Trump’s address in Warsaw was fair – Ish. If you forget who is speaking and what that person has been saying and doing since Inauguration Day — since the opening of his campaign in 2015 — and really through his career.

But if you remember those things, the speech jolted you to attention again and again.     

“We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression.” This must be an example of what the grammarians should rename the “disjunctive we”: a “we” that does not include the speaker of the words. Rule of law? Free speech? Shortly before boarding the plane to Europe, President Trump’s advisers were reportedly discussing a pending CNN merger with AT&T as leverage against the news network — a possibility that, if realized, would be a perversion of anti-trust law.

And so it went through the catalogue of effrontery.

A president who has made lewd remarks about assaulting women said, “We empower women as pillars of our society and of our success.”

A president who won’t read his briefing books declared, “We seek to know everything so that we can better know ourselves.”

A president who once seemed unsure whether the abolitionist Frederick Douglass is alive or dead congratulated himself: “We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs.”

A president whose brand is notorious worldwide for gaudy hideousness preened: “We strive for excellence, and cherish inspiring works of art.”

In Poland, President Trump at last delivered the pledge he omitted from his speech at Brussels’s NATO headquarters. “To those who would criticize our tough stance, I would point out that the United States has demonstrated not merely with words but with its actions that we stand firmly behind Article 5, the mutual defense commitment.”

But who now will be reassured by these glib words? The whole world has seen how long and how fiercely President Trump squirmed to avoid pronouncing them — and the world, friendly and hostile, will draw conclusions accordingly.

As President Trump rightly noted, “Words are easy, but actions are what matters.” Trump’s actions reveal a president disturbingly infatuated with Russia first as a businessman, then as a candidate for president. Trump’s actions reveal a seeming affinity for Putin-style authoritarianism.

His actions reveal that his words about NATO cannot be trusted — and they will not be trusted.

Trump took credit in Warsaw for the increases in defense spending announced by Germany and Canada, among other NATO countries, since his inauguration. But increases — small in scope, but symbolic in importance —were explicitly explained as reactions to decreasing trust in the U.S. guarantee and decreasing confidence in U.S.A. leadership.

“The times when we could completely rely on others are – to an extent – over,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel, and while she did not in that speech name Donald Trump as the reason, her meaning could have been rapidly completed for her by her hearers.

Donald Trump devoted much of his speech to the heroic memory of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.

Those heroes remind us that the West was saved with the blood of patriots; that each generation must rise up and play their part in its defense and that every foot of ground, and every last inch of civilization, is worth defending with your life.

Our own fight for the West does not begin on the battlefield — it begins with our minds, our wills, and our souls. Today, the ties that unite our civilization are no less vital, and demand no less defense, than that bare shred of land on which the hope of Poland once totally rested.

A less obtuse president might notice something amiss in comparing the challenges of the wealthy and powerful nations of the West today to the desperate and doomed struggle of the Polish Home Army. The phrase “the blood of patriots” does not belong in the mouth of a president who “likes people who don’t get captured” and demeans the sacrifice of a family that lost its son in the service of the United States of America.

Bad taste aside though, it’s even stranger to hear Donald Trump speak of “our own fight for the West.” If his foreign policy has had one theme since January 2017, it has precisely been to smash the unity of the Western alliance.

The spinal column of the Western alliance is the U.S.A.-Germany relationship, and Trump has undermined it since Day One.

This speech itself amounts to one more such blow against unity: Trump traveled to Warsaw to praise and reward a Polish government that all America’s other leading allies in Europe have been reproving for its suppression of free media and politicization of its legal system. Trump’s speech in praise of the unity of the West predictably and perversely ended up being an attack on the unity of the West.

Perhaps the weirdest moment in the whole weird speech was this.

“This great community of nations has something else in common: In every one of them, it is the people, not the powerful, who have always formed the foundation of freedom and the cornerstone of our defense.”

But Donald Trump always represents himself as the most powerful person anywhere around him. He revels in a self-image of brutish dominance over others. “Anybody who hits me, we’re gonna hit them 10 times harder.”

He and his spokespeople have boasted or threatened that dozens of times since 2015. This man who always yearned to be seen as powerful says the powerful can’t be trusted? Now he tells us!

But of course the president did not intend to criticize himself. He was throwing a jab at those sinister elites he’s always contending against — and the transnational institutions they have built.

If “the West” exists as more than a figure of speech, it exists because Western countries share intelligence against threats — sharing that Trump sabotaged by his reckless false accusations that Britain wiretapped him. It exists because we trade freely with each other — trade that Trump has denounced over and over as “unfair” and “very bad.”

It exists because of the military alliances that Trump has condemned as obsolete, and because of shared ideals of democracy and freedom as opposed to the thugs and dictators Trump admires.

Peter Beinart heard in Trump’s speech some nasty religious and ethnic exclusion.

[W]hen Trump warned Poles about forces “from the south or the east, that threaten … to erase the bonds of culture, faith, and tradition,” he was talking not about Christianity but about Christendom: a particular religious civilization that must protect itself from outsiders.

Yet the most troubling thing about the speech was the falsehood at its core; the problem is not with the speech, but with the speaker.

The values Trump spoke for in Warsaw are values that he has put at risk every day of his presidency — and that he will continue to put to risk every day thereafter. Trump’s not wrong to perceive a threat to the Euro-Atlantic from the south and east. But the most recent and most dramatic manifestation of that threat was the Russian intervention in the U.S.A. election to install Donald Trump as president.

The threat from outside is magnified by this threat from within — and it is that truth that makes a mockery of every word President Trump spoke in Warsaw.

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President Donald Trump’s   Speech To The People Of POLAND – 7/6/2017

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  • Clyde Duncan  On July 9, 2017 at 5:58 am

    Ethics director who clashed with Trump resigns

    By Megan R Wilson | The Hill

    Walter Shaub, the leader of the federal government’s ethics office who previously criticized President Trump over the president’s business interests, submitted his resignation on Thursday.

    He will leave office nearly six months before the end of his term.

    Shaub will officially step down from the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) on July 19, according to a letter to Trump that Shaub posted on his Twitter account.

    The letter was a veiled shot at the Trump administration, which has routinely clashed with the small independent agency over the appearances of conflicts of interest.

    “The great privilege and honor of my career has been to lead OGE’s staff and the community of ethics officials in the federal executive branch,” Shaub wrote. “They are committed to protecting the principle that public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws, and ethical principals above private gain.

    “I am grateful for the efforts of this dedicated and patriotic assembly of public servants, and I am proud to have served with them,” the letter closes.

    Schaub has served in OGE under both Republican and Democratic presidents, starting his tenure during the George W. Bush administration. He became director under former President Barack Obama.

    Shaub told CBS News on Thursday evening that he doesn’t know whether Trump is profiting from his businesses, but that’s not the point.

    “I can’t know what their intention is. I know that the effect is that there’s an appearance that the businesses are profiting from his occupying the office of president,” he told CBS News correspondent Julianna Goldman during the first televised interview following his resignation.

    “And appearance matters as much as reality, so even aside from whether or not that’s actually happening, we need to send a message to the world that the United States of America is going to have the gold standard for an ethics program in government, which is what we’ve always had,” he continued.

    “America should have the right to know what the motivations of its leaders are, and they need to know that financial interests — personal financial interests — aren’t among them,” Shaub told CBS News.

    OGE Chief of Staff Shelley Finlayson is the first in line to succeed Shaub as acting director, but rules allow the White House to pick from senior officials at the office to fill the top slot.

  • Clyde Duncan  On July 9, 2017 at 6:30 am

    Trump Handed Putin a Stunning Victory

    From his speech in Poland to his two-hour summit in Hamburg, the president seemed determined to promote Russia’s dark and illiberal view of the world.

    by Molly K. McKew | Politico

    President Donald Trump needed to accomplish two things this week during his visits to Poland and the G-20 Summit in Hamburg.

    First, he needed to reassure America’s allies that he was committed to collective defense and the core set of values and principles that bind us together.

    Second, he needed to demonstrate that he understands that the greatest threat to that alliance, those values, and our security is the Kremlin.

    Trump delivered neither of these. In very concrete terms, through speech and action, the president signaled a willingness to align the United States of America with Vladimir Putin’s worldview, and took steps to advance this realignment.

    He endorsed, nearly in its totality, the narrative the Russian leader has worked so meticulously to construct.

    The readout of Trump’s lengthy meeting with Putin included several key points.

    First, the United States will “move on” from election hacking issues with no accountability or consequences for Russia; in fact, the U.S.A. will form a “framework” with Russia to cooperate on cybersecurity issues, evaluating weaknesses and assessing potential responses jointly.

    Second, the two presidents agreed not to meddle in “each other’s” domestic affairs — EQUATING American activities to promote democracy WITH Russian aggression aimed at undermining it – an incalculable PR victory for the Kremlin.

    Third, the announced, limited cease-fire in Syria will be a new basis for cooperation between the U.S.A. and Russia; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went so far as to say that the Russian approach in Syria — yielding mass civilian casualties, catastrophic displacement, untold destruction and erased borders — may be “more right” than that of the United States of America.

    Each of these points represents a significant victory for Putin. Each of them will weaken U.S.A. tools for defending its interests and security from the country that defines itself as America’s “primary adversary.” Trump has ceded the battle space — physical, virtual, moral — to the Kremlin. And the president is going to tell us this is a “win.”

    ***
    Trump’s unusual speech in Warsaw earlier in the week foreshadowed this catastrophic outcome, despite some analysts’ wishful thinking to the contrary.

    The initial reaction to the speech was far more positive than to his previous attempt at NATO. After all, the president seemed to challenge Russia, acknowledge the importance of the alliance’s commitment to mutual defense, and mount a defense of Western democracies and values.

    But this assessment missed the forest for the trees — and the fact that its intended audience was Russia, not Europe. In reality, Trump attacked NATO and the EU, the twin pillars of the post-World War II transatlantic architecture, again demonstrating he has no interest in being the leader of the free world, but rather its critic-in-chief.

    Trump did not express a clear commitment to Article 5: He said only that “the United States has demonstrated not merely with words but with its actions that we stand firmly behind it.” At a news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda, he said he was not in a position to discuss guarantees for the U.S. troop presence in Poland. President Duda confirmed this, saying discussions would continue next year.

    Trump did not defend Western democracies: In fact, he did not once mention democracy in his speech. As for values, he mentions them seven times: first, in the negative — immigrants who are against them — and second, in the context of traditionalism.

    Trump’s challenge to Russia came with an olive branch, offering it a place in a “community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself.”

    This signal to Putin that there is a common “civilization” to which the U.S.A., European nations and Russia all belong — absent the usual rhetoric of democracy or shared Western values — is a critical gesture.

    Previous U.S. presidents have said that Russia has a place in the community of democracies if it chooses to, but Trump’s approach was more in line with Putin’s own thinking, steeped in traditionalism and history and a narrative of a clash of civilizations.

    In 2013 and 2014, Putin’s decade-long redrafting of Russia’s historical narrative culminated in a new definition of Russian exceptionalism.

    On March 18, 2014, he delivered a powerful speech to mark Russia’s annexation of Crimea, disavowing Soviet history and reaching back to Russian Orthodoxy to define modern Russian identity. He embraced the idea of “orthodox morality,” which rejects Western concepts like inclusivity and focuses on “traditionalism” as the foundation of national identity.

    The themes of these speeches — speaking not of values but “civilization,” not of alliances but “sovereignty,” not of minority rights but the defense of the rights of the majority based on concepts of “traditional values” — were all central tenets of Trump’s speech in Warsaw, which was littered with illiberal buzzwords meant to catch the ear of those like-minded while simultaneously placating potential critics.

    Trump championed rhetoric and ideas that Putin had carefully crafted — ideas that some of Trump’s own advisers embrace.

    In stark terms, Trump’s speech was a pivot to illiberalism, and a tacit acknowledgement that, in his view, the U.S.A. has as much in common with Russia as any European ally.

    As President George W. Bush once said in an interview describing Putin, “It speaks volumes if you listen to what somebody says.”

    The same is now true of Trump. We need to evaluate what he is saying with clarity, rather than projecting upon it ideas and concepts we hope will be there.

  • Clyde Duncan  On July 10, 2017 at 10:41 am

    Opinion: Trump Just Made It Harder to ‘COME OUT’ as Jewish in Poland

    When the U.S.A. president joined Poland’s leaders in airbrushing out Jewish suffering and identity, he affirmed the stigma many still feel about their Jewish roots, and that Jewish community groups are trying hard to combat

    Chloe Rose | Haaretz

    U.S.A. President Donald Trump, in his first visit to Poland this Thursday, stood before a massive, cheering crowd in Warsaw and told them exactly what they wanted to hear.

    Polish people are wonderful and the heroes of WWII. Trump will need their help to end terror, money-laundering and cyber warfare. He will free them from Russia’s meddling. He will give them troops and he’ll give them God.

    Through it all he praised the Polish spirit and strength, calling Poland the “soul of Europe.”

    But the darkest corner of Europe’s soul is in Poland; a shameful legacy of betrayal.

    The largest Jewish community in the world was destroyed there, one non-Jewish Pole for every ten Polish Jews.

    There are so many small memorial sites to the Holocaust around Warsaw and Krakow that they’re nearly impossible to avoid.

    The fact that Trump successfully dodged them all boggles the mind, but it’s not surprising given the climate of denial in Poland’s current government.

    Polish President Andrzej Duda and other right-wing politicians have been peddling a slightly diluted Holocaust narrative for years, making war with historians and survivors over the facts.

    In August of this year, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro proposed legislation that would criminalize the use of the term “Polish death camps,” to be punishable with up to three years in jail.

    In 2016, President Duda publicly threatened historian Prof. Jan Tomasz Gross for his book about a Polish village massacre of Jews in WWII.

    In December, the director of the Polish culture institute in Berlin Katarzyna Wielga-Skolimowska was removed from her position for including “too much Jewish themed content,” according to German media reports.

    Combating this growing stigma are Poland’s only two [JCC] Jewish Community Centers, one in Krakow, the other in Warsaw. The elder of the two, JCC Krakow, is just nine years old. Poland’s Jewish population is about eighty thousand.

    The community’s now-miniscule size contrasts with the over 115 JCCs representing 7 million Jews across the United States of America and Canada.

    As Poland’s Jewish youth work to rebuild what was lost, they fight more than just politically motivated denial. It’s not uncommon for grandparents, after years of practicing alone in secret, to admit being Jewish on their deathbeds.

    Jewish mothers and fathers, inheriting the fear of their own survivor parents, usually baptize their children as protection. As a result, most Polish Jews today have no inkling of their family history until they reach college age. As their history gets steadily erased by Poland’s leaders, it’s hard to imagine it getting any easier to ‘COME OUT OF THE JEWISH CLOSET.’

    Last month I went to Poland with the Global Leadership Institute. On the last day of the trip, after visiting both JCCs and countless memorial sites, we were asked to list the challenges facing Poland’s Jewish communities today.

    The question felt impossibly vast; what role do other governments play in preserving Poland’s Jewish heritage and memory? The answer is certainly not to ignore it completely, even if the host government of the day would prefer silence.

    Trump acknowledged in his address that “Polish Americans have greatly enriched the United States.” He even listed a few Polish street names in Washington as proof. Yet the New York business mogul avoided mentioning the biggest subgroup of Eastern European immigrants: Jewish Poles fleeing anti-Semitism.

    Despite all odds, the Jewish community in Poland is getting a second wind. JCC Krakow puts up posters all over the city with colorful graphics of dreidels and challah bread. A friendly invitation at the bottom reads: “If you’ve seen these around the house, come see us!”

    Chloe Rose is a graduate of the BFA Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia. She has written for Macleans, Lilith Magazine, The Garden Statuary and The American Pilgrims Association and worked at Haaretz in Tel Aviv. Twitter: @chloerosewrites

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