Trump and the Speech About the West

Since I tend to think and write a bit about our terrible educational institutions leaving generations of Americans ignorant about civics and the values of Western Civilization, I feel like I should have some thoughts about Pres. Trump’s Warsaw speech about “The West.”

Of course, by Monday, there have been plenty of takes on the speech, hot and otherwise.  If you want an interesting discussion about defining The West in this context, you should check out the most recent Editors’ podcast at NR.  Rehan Salam largely posits the The West as an historic concept distinct from “The Free World,” while Charles C.W. Cooke argues for the latter as the current iteration of the former.

They both have a point, though I tend to side with Cooke in the context of discussing the speech, in which National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster finally succeeded in getting Trump to publicly acknowledge NATO’s Article 5 principle.

Moreover, thinking of The West as something of an epic tale that begins in pagan Rome and Greece and continues on to today’s iteration– primarily led by the Anglosphere — is a useful corrective to the progressive meatballs who simply dismiss The West as an ideology of white Christian supremacy.  It’s obviously a far more complex and interesting story than that, lost on the very people who have been cheated by our educational institutions, as noted above.

My main thought about the speech, however, arrives from my reaction to the marginally less stupid and yet marginally more depressing argument that while Trump’s speech was mostly in line with speeches by prior Presidents, including JFK and Reagan, it should nonetheless be heard in the context of its delivery by Donald Trump, who is nationalist, nativist, etc.

Unlike some conservatives, I won’t summarily dismiss the idea that Trump’s speeches should be considered in the political context that they are delivered by Trump.

However, my main problem is not — as the progressives seem to believe — that we should start with the premise that Trump is a bad person to read bad intent into the speech.  Rather, we should start with the premise that Trump is generally not interested in ideas (and perhaps not capable of grasping complex ones).

If you are among those inclined to believe the anonymous White House sources claiming that Trump labored for hours over this speech, you’re doing it at least as wrong as those uncritically accepting the anonymous leaks from anti-Trump sources regarding the Trump-Russia probe.  The dissonance between the speech and Trump’s unscripted comments during this foreign jaunt ought to be the tell here.

Once you remember that Trump generally doesn’t know what he’s talking about, it becomes much harder to see the Warsaw speech as promoting a clash of civilizations, any more than his Riyadh speech (less than two months old now) was serious about disclaiming any such clash.  The White House has competing factions which Trump is not inclined to referee, not only because of the aforementioned lack of interest or capacity, but also because he has rationalized this into a theory of personnel management.  The speech reflects the office politics of a moment, not a policy or a philosophy.

In short, we got a serious (if flawed) speech about serious matters that will likely further polarize any debate serious people want to have about Western Civ, mostly because the the speechmaker is not a particularly serious man.  Or, as the kids might say, This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.

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