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Trump’s Warsaw Speech Threw Down the Gauntlet on Western Civilization


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In his Warsaw speech on Thursday, Donald Trump threw down the gauntlet on the meaning and essence of Western Civilization, and it fell at the feet of two writers for The Atlantic—Peter Beinart and James Fallows. They avidly took it up, and in the process distilled a fundamental debate of our time. Of course, Beinart and Fallows don’t see it as a legitimate debate, and they want to snuff it out. But it will continue to roil politics in America and Europe, much to the consternation of media elite figures such as these two writers.

The debate centers on whether American values, however they may be defined, are a legacy of the Western heritage or whether America is “an idea,” as Fallows puts it, that transcends any concept of civilization or the people who created it. Indeed, in the Beinart-Fallows view, merely an overly abundant mention of “the West”’ or “our civilization” constitutes a kind of white nationalism or tribalism.

Trump, as Beinart is anxious to let us know, referred 10 times to “the West’” in his speech and five times to “our civilization.” What business does a U.S. president have in a foreign land, he wonders, tying American values to the civilizational heritage that is also the American heritage? Fallows assaults Trump for giving a speech “that minimized the role of ideals in American identity, and maximized the importance of what he called ‘civilization’ but which boils down to ties of ethnicity and blood.”

Fallows calls Trump’s speech a “shocking departure,” while Beinart, responding to Trump’s question of whether the West has the will to survive, saw that as “perhaps the most shocking sentence in any presidential speech delivered on foreign soil in my lifetime.”

So what was it precisely that stirred these men to recoil in shock in essentially the same way? First, they both score the president for what Fallows called a “seeming indifference to the American idea,” with only “grace note nods to goals of liberty and free expression.” Beinart complains that Trump, unlike George W. Bush, didn’t sufficiently extol the universality of American values or the imperative of promoting them throughout the world as a way of increasing U.S. security. Fallows adds that previous presidents, when speaking on foreign soil, emphasized “an expanded ‘us.’”


Western liberals aghast at the idea of defending the civilization that gave them their ivy league educations.

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Trump: The West’s Suicide Hotline?

Steven Hayward

July 8 2017


I join John in utter amazement (though not surprise) about the left’s freak out over Donald Trump’s defense of the West in his terrific Warsaw speech. From the reaction John and others have highlighted, you’d have thought Trump had called Russia an “evil empire” or something. (Heh.) I hope Trump continues this theme, and provides the left with more beclowning opportunities. If this keeps up Trump is going to carry 45 states in 2020. Who could have foreseen that Donald Trump would become the rhetorical successor to Solzhenitsyn at Harvard in 1978 or Pope Benedict XVI at Regensburg in 2006?

It is a tedious chore to unwrap everything wrong with the left’s reaction to Trump’s speech and the wider issues it raises. (Jonah Goldberg does a nice concise job of it in his most recent G-file.) I decided to dust off James Burnham’s classic, Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism, first published in 1964 but recently reissued by the great people at Encounter Books, for a refresher on why the reaction to Trump is nothing new. There are lots of illuminating passages in Burnham (who is enjoying something of a revival recently), but this one (at pp. 178-178 if you want to look it up) fits nicely for the present moment:



The average liberal is just not too concerned about, not so emotionally involved in, nationhood, national patriotism, sovereignty and Liberty as is a fellow citizen to his ideological Right. It does not shock him when bearded young men say they will never fight for their country, nor is he indignant even when they express preference for a country other than their own. If a mob in an underdeveloped land smashes the consulate or embassy of his nation, he is not much aroused; indeed, he may well conclude, after interpreting the facts, that justice was on the side of the rioters. He feels little thrill when the flag goes by. And quite probably finds pledges to the flag or oaths of allegiance actively distasteful. He approves of many of the weighty books setting out to show the relativity and morality equivalence of diverse religions and cultures, and to decry the backwardness of those Westerners who still believe that in some rather important sense Western civilization is superior to Buddhism, Islam, communism, atheism and animism, and therefore worth preserving. . .

It does not seem to him an anomaly that his own nation’s communications industry should on a massive scale print the books, produce the plays and movies, present the television scripts of those who hate his nation and his civilization, and seek, often avowedly, the destruction of both.


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