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“Our Civilization” Is Foghorn Message From Donald Trump To White Xenophobes

July 7, 2017

Over the past days this disturbing theme has been the one that is most damaging from President Trump’s European trip.  If you care about international policy and the larger connections of how nations share a path going forward, then this is a must read.

In his speech in Poland on Thursday, Donald Trump referred 10 times to “the West” and five times to “our civilization.” His white nationalist supporters will understand exactly what he means. It’s important that other Americans do, too.

The West is not a geographic term. Poland is further east than Morocco. France is further east than Haiti. Australia is further east than Egypt. Yet Poland, France, and Australia are all considered part of “The West.” Morocco, Haiti, and Egypt are not.

The West is not an ideological or economic term either. India is the world’s largest democracy. Japan is among its most economically advanced nations. No one considers them part of the West.

The West is a racial and religious term. To be considered Western, a country must be largely Christian (preferably Protestant or Catholic) and largely white. Where there is ambiguity about a country’s “Westernness,” it’s because there is ambiguity about, or tension between, these two characteristics. Is Latin America Western? Maybe. Most of its people are Christian, but by U.S. standards, they’re not clearly white. Are Albania and Bosnia Western? Maybe. By American standards, their people are white. But they are also mostly Muslim.  

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In 2003, Bush returned, and in his main speech didn’t use the terms “West” or “civilization” at all. After celebrating Poland’s achievements, he said America and Europe “must help men and women around the world to build lives of purpose and dignity” so they don’t turn to terrorism. He boasted that America was increasing its funding to fight global poverty and AIDS because “we add to our security by helping to spread freedom and alleviate suffering.” And he said “America and Europe must work closely to develop and apply new technologies that will improve our air and water quality, and protect the health of the world’s people.”

Bush’s vision echoed Francis Fukuyama’s. America and Europe may have been further along the road to prosperity, liberty, capitalism, and peace than other parts of the world, but all countries could follow their path. And the more each did, the more America and Europe would benefit. In deeply Catholic Poland, Bush sprinkled his speeches with religious references, but they were about Christianity as a universal creed, a moral imperative that knew no civilizational bounds. By contrast, when 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.

In his 2003 speech, Bush referred to democracy 13 times. Trump mentioned it once. And for good reason. Ideologically, what links the current American and Polish governments is not their commitment to democracy—both are increasingly authoritarian. It is their hostility to Muslim immigration. The European Union is suing Poland’s government for refusing to accept refugees. Among Trump’s biggest applause lines in Warsaw was, “While we will always welcome new citizens who share our values and love our people, our borders will always be closed to terrorism and extremism of any kind.” Given that Trump had linked “our values” to America and Poland’s “tradition,” “faith,” “culture,” and “identity,” it wasn’t hard to imagine whom that leaves out.

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