Sydney M. Williams
Thought of the Day
“Trump in Warsaw”
July 17, 2017
“Finally, on both sides of the Atlantic, our citizens are confronted with yet another danger – one firmly
in our control. This danger is invisible to some but familiar to the Poles: the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains vitality and wealth of the people. The West became great not because of paperwork
and regulation, but because people were allowed to chase their dreams and pursue their destinies.”
Krasinski Square, Warsaw
July 6, 2017
Put aside, for a moment, the hysteria over the alleged collusion between team Trump and Russia and no matter one’s personal feeling toward the President, consider the importance of what was said in Warsaw.
Where else but in the West have people and nations benefitted from the democratic concepts of self-rule, rule of law, the sanctity of private ownership, freedoms of movement, press, religion and speech? What else, other than free-market capitalism, has positively transformed people’s financial well-being, lifted them from poverty, improved their environment, and given them the means to help others? Where else have people been able to question their leaders without endangering themselves and their families?
Should we not, then, as Donald Trump suggested in his July 6th speech, ensure we have the “will” to defend those ideals? Or should we, as Lawrence Summers suggested in a recent op-ed in The Financial Times, stay silent for fear of alienating “the vast majority of humanity that does not live in what the President considers to be the West”? It was liberty, and its defense, about which Mr. Trump spoke so eloquently. “Americans, Poles and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty. We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out…”
Krasinski Square, the sight of the failed Warsaw uprising against the Nazis in 1944 was the right venue for Mr. Trump to speak about the rarity and fragility of democracy, of how difficult it is to gain and how easily it can be lost. He talked of outsiders who wish to do us harm and of insiders, professing to do good but in truth seeking power. Poland was brutalized by the Nazis for five years, and then occupied for another forty-five years by Soviet Communists who shut down opposition and killed dissenters. It has been 242 years since we had to fight for our rights. Poles have had to do so for most of my lifetime. They understand what tyranny, no matter its origin, can do to the human spirit and to civilized society.
Over the past decade, the world has become more unstable, and more dangerous. Russia has reasserted herself from the Ukraine to the Baltic. China has threatened trade routes through the South China Sea. Conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites, along with the expansion of myriad Islamic extremist groups from Pakistan to Egypt, have destabilized further an already unstable Middle East, and unleashed a wave of refugees into Europe. Syria’s civil war has caused the death of 12% of its population and displaced another 50%. With its arsenal of nuclear weapons and its desire to produce a stable of intercontinental ballistic missiles, North Korea threatens nations from Asia to the United States. This has happened within the context of a slow-growth global economy where lax immigration rules have allowed in terrorists, and where migrants perform cheap labor for industrial countries like Germany. It is a world in which excess regulation has hampered economic growth, and in which technological changes challenge traditional businesses, affecting everything from retail and communications, to banking and energy. And making things even sketchier has been the threat of cyber-attacks and the proliferation of social media. Mark Zuckerberg’s influence on our culture risks becoming more powerful than our Christian-Judeo heritage.
When not beating him up on charges of “colluding” with the Russians, mainstream media claims Mr. Trump’s policies augur a withdrawing into a nativist fortress, pulling up the drawbridge and waiting out the storm. But that’s not what I read in his Warsaw speech: “Defense is not just a commitment of money, it is a commitment of will…The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who subvert and destroy it?” He spoke of the need for a strong defense: “A strong Poland is a blessing to the nations of Europe, and they know that. A strong Europe is a blessing to the West and the world.” “There is nothing,” he added, “like our community of nations.” These are not the words of an isolationist, or of a man who would choose to act unilaterally. These are the words of a realist, a world leader who challenges his fellow Western leaders to not falter in the face of those who would harm us. It was a speech of hope to people who understand tyranny and know repression.
It wasn’t just the threat of Islamic terrorism that Mr. Trump addressed in Poland, it was also the insidious growth of government agencies and bureaucracies, something denied by its progenitors, today’s progressive Western leaders. The danger is the one quoted in the rubric at the head of this essay: “…the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and the wealth of the people.” These forces, Mr. Trump said, “…threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are. If left unchecked, these forces will undermine our courage, sap our spirit, and weaken our will to defend ourselves and our societies.” Mr. Trump’s concern is not unlike the one H.G. Wells expressed of in his 1895 novel The Time Machine, where he wrote of the Eloi – a people weakened by a government that provides cradle-to-grave care and who were subsequently terrorized by Morlocks. Mr. Trump quoted the Polish martyr Bishop Michael Kozal who was killed at Dachau in 1943: “More horrifying than a defeat of arms is a collapse of the human spirit.” The President’s message would have reverberated through classrooms, if students were studying history and classics, instead of politically-correct, designer courses meant to promote self-esteem.
Within this fast-changing world, many in the West seem heedless of the hurricane bearing down. Instead of addressing real concerns in Hamburg, leaders chose to issue toothless communiques designed to make them feel good. Style, to these smug bureaucrats, is more important than substance. Today’s Western leaders and bureaucrats are eerily reminiscent of the “sleepwalkers” who led Europe to catastrophe in 1914. They remind one of Russian aristocrats, nonchalant in their obliviousness and comfortable in their servant-infested parlors, in early 1917, unconcerned about revolutionaries amassed outside their palaces. The world is changing, and they sit snug in their complacency.
It was for these reasons that Mr. Trump’s speech in Warsaw’s Krasinski Square was so needed and so important. It was a celebration of Western values, which have been side-lined, but which have brought individual liberty. It highlighted the demarcation between a subversive state, which may appear “caring” but that promotes dependency, versus one in which a free people make choices, to rise or fall based on merit, which, at times, may seem heartless, but which guarantees the liberties embedded in our Bill of Rights. A “caring” state promises the comforts portrayed in the “Life of Julia,” or offers the God-like attitudes of the British state toward little Charlie Gard. But the risks of such bureaucratic growth is the subtlety in which it endangers personal liberty. We don’t want anarchy, but we don’t want to be suffocated. We want the freedoms guaranteed us. To paraphrase William Buckley, it is, after all, the self-righteous elite who are more dangerous to freedom than a nation’s masses.