Reflexive anti-Trumpism is all the rage amongst the liberal elite. Whereas President Obama could do no wrong, President Trump can do no right. Every action, every word, every gesture is parsed, looking for the slightest bit of scandalous innuendo that may exist between syllables, and where none can be found a Plan B consisting of baseless accusations of mental illness is deployed.
It would be comical if it wasn’t so destructive. Nevertheless, it was hard not to chuckle as the left collectively donned their tin foils hats to dissect the words of President Trump’s speech in Warsaw. In it, he praised a strong Europe, called on Russia to stop its aggression in Ukraine, embraced the mutual defense commitment of NATO, highlighted women as pillars of society and success, shared his hope that every soul may live in freedom, and extolled the importance of faith and family and freedom. And he did it all while displaying an impressive knowledge of Polish history, tying the bloody defense of Jerusalem Avenue against the Nazis in World War II with the defense of our collective freedoms against those who seek to oppress us.
It was an incontrovertibly powerful speech, one that spoke of the importance of preserving, and indeed spreading, our liberal values. And for his trouble President Trump was accused of offering up an “alt-right manifesto” by Vox’s Sarah Wildman, and one that evoked “racial and religious paranoia” and treated “non-white, non-Christian immigrants as invaders,” according to The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart.
“In his speech in Poland on Thursday, Donald Trump referred 10 times to “the West” and five times to “our civilization,” Beinart writes. “His white nationalist supporters will understand exactly what he means. It’s important that other America do, too.”
Chasing the ghosts of words that are not there is the core task of today’s liberal thinkers. And listening for dog whistles that no one can hear are how the left enjoys wiling away its hours in the minority. But to what end?
As the National Review’s editors noted:
“We’ve reached a very weird pass if our civilization and all its glories are effectively considered the property of Pepe the Frog.
In a more reasonable time, Trump’s speech would have been uncontroversial. The values to which “the West,” traditionally understood, has committed itself may be inscribed on the human heart, but it’s also a plain fact that the commitments Trump defended in his speech — to “the dignity of every human life,” the elevation of women “as pillars of our society,” the defense of “the rights of every person” — grew up in a particular part of the world and not in others, and that certain parts of the world are dedicated to defending those things and others are not.”
Unfortunately, we are not in a “more reasonable time.” When President Trump extols the virtues of “the West,” it is assumed to be a menacing code aimed at denigrating and “othering” the East. Never mind that progressives consistently espouse the policies and ideals of the lily-white Nordic countries without batting an eye. And never mind that Trump is clearly not talking about race, but instead about certain values that societies have fought for, bled for, and must be defended by others who share them. That’s an ideal not based on skin color, it’s based on a shared understanding of the world and a shared respect for people who live in it.
“Whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots. We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all value the same great American flag,” President Trump said in his inaugural address. “And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the wind-swept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator.”
Taken together these statements imply a lot of things that make liberals uncomfortable. They imply a society that is not post-national nor secularist. And although we should feel free to debate the outlines of those tendencies, it shouldn’t be tainted with accusations of racial or religious animosity. To suggest otherwise proves the importance of one of President Trump’s central questions in his Warsaw speech: can we still “summon the courage and the will to defend our civilization?” It’s sad that we’ve reached a point that it’s even a question.