• Daniel Ethan Finneran

The Message Or The Man

July 2017

An overwrought and overzealous scene awaited President Trump yesterday when he arrived in Poland. It was his first stop in anticipation of the G 20 Summit, a conference in which the world’s leading dignitaries converge, rub shoulders, and attempt to forge friendly or, at the very least, useful relationships. Descending into Warsaw, Trump was met with what’s come to be expected of visits abroad: pomp and sycophancy. The Polish government, led by President Andrzej Duda, crafted a sneaky little scheme to ensure it would impress itself upon Trump. At Duda’s urging, busses were packed with fawning countrymen, most living outside the city, who were shipped to the city square in order to receive the American President.

Although the Summit takes place in nearby Germany, Poland was a natural first stop. Among constituent NATO nations, only five meet the defense-spending stipulation. This calls upon any and all members to contribute at least 2% of their GDP to military expenditures. Poland, though just barely, meets this requirement (It endows its military at just a smidge over 2% of its GDP). Until now, this requirement has been one in ink, but not in enforcement; it’s been on the books, but no one has been beholden to it. President Trump has made quite clear where he stands on the matter. Any country choosing to ignore this is in arrears, so far as he’s concerned.

That—Poland’s commitment to the 2% mark—was the main reason for his choice to land first in Poland, but there are a few more. Symbolism aside, Poland has a longstanding commercial relationship with the U.S. It is a trusted and dependable purchaser of American military equipment. A friend to the American merchant, be he in the military industry or any other, is a friend to this President and, I’ll admit, a friend to me. In the mercantilist’s mind, which I’ve concluded is Trump’s, any nation importing American goods pays for them, yes, but it earns his respect.

Aside from the economics, there’s a human factor. Many people of Polish descent live in large swaths of middle America. This includes states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, all of which were integral to Trump’s 2016 win. Was this a tip of the hat to the blue-collar Polish worker in Columbus, Detroit, or Milwaukee? In some ways, and in some eyes, it might’ve been. His presence there could be a subtle nod to the unexpected voters who raised him to where he is.

President Trump stood before the Warsaw Uprising monument in Krasinski Square, that chilling monument commemorating the Polish people’s desperate, mettlesome bravery, and their unfortunate defeat. There, he delivered a speech in which he took a stance, as the resistance fighters tried to do decades ago, against the attacks on Western values. He exalted the goodness and the worth of our cherished liberal thought. In the modern, enlightened world, such an ideology seems little in need of having to be defended, but it’s recently come under attack. Trump reminded us of the values, the only of their kind, that are worth life and death.

But as is too often the case with all things Trump says, his message was lost on the Left. Liberals heard not the defense of our bruised and damaged ideology, and a call to arms against incivility and barbarism, but an ugly chauvinism unfit for the modern day. They failed to hear, as I did, the paean to the ideals we hold dearest. They were deaf to the words of an encomium to the very essence of our way of life. They took for granted, as I do and we all do, the fact that this ideology of ours—the one forged by Locke, hardened by Hobbes and Hume, enlivened by Voltaire, and carried across the Atlantic by Thomas Paine—is an enduring achievement, not a one-time bequest. It’s a light that burns, sometimes in a blaze, other times in a soft flicker, but it needs our attention. It should demand that much, but it only humbly asks. We all too often fail to listen.

Nearer the end of his speech, Trump said, “The fundamental question of our time is whether the west has the will to survive”. Some think it’s already gone—the will, that is. Others see it needs a little help in going away and staying there. Amongst them, on one side, are those who champion radical inclusivity, and on the other, those wanting rigid homogeneity. The former wants to dissolve all boundaries of country and kin; the latter, to subject us to the driveling nonsense of an ancient text.

The president implored of us three things: to protect our borders, to preserve our civilization, and to defend our values. This, in three movements, is the protocol all conservatives abide by and have since the beginning of time (or, at least, since that earliest time when there was something, anything worth conserving). It’s a message that could’ve come to us as easily from an Edmund Burke, a James Monroe, or a Calvin Coolidge. The fact, though—and, possibly, the fatal flaw—is that it didn’t; it came from Donald Trump. The message means nothing if you can’t stand the messenger. The words wilt away if you can’t get around the voice. We need to work to acknowledge good, rooted, fundamental ideals, even if rolled out by someone we loathe.

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