Saturday, July 08, 2017

And Trump Speaks in Warsaw. From A Draft Prepared By Putin?

Trump's Warsaw speech is a very interesting one, perhaps from the pen of Stephen Miller, Trump's young Alt Right (white male) nationalist speech writer who made the leap from the extremist fringes to major global influence.  It's interesting in being fluent (for Trump), in appealing to the pride, history and emotion of the Poles and in the fascinating hidden messages it contains.

It's also pretty odd when read carefully, but out of the wider political context.

Consider how it defines the two major enemies the West faces:  Islamic terrorism and bureaucracy!  To present the two as threats of parallel importance is idiotic, until we learn the true meaning of "bureaucracy" in this context.  Molly McKew at Politico enlightens us:

Trump’s diss of “bureaucracy” was an unmistakable code word for the European Union—the institution Putin seeks to dismantle—as was his reference to sovereignty as a core tenet of how he thinks the world should be ordered.
Thus, the president of the United States of America attacked the concept of the European Union in a speech given inside that very union!

McKew convincingly argues that the whole speech follows Putin's ideology and is not a defense of the "West":(1)

In reality, Trump attacked NATO and the EU, the twin pillars of the post-World War II transatlantic architecture, again demonstrating he has no interest in being the leader of the free world, but rather its critic in chief.
Trump did not express a clear commitment to Article 5: He said only that “the United States has demonstrated not merely with words but with its actions that we stand firmly behind it.” At a news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda, he said he was not in a position to discuss guarantees for the U.S. troop presence in Poland. President Duda confirmed this, saying discussions would continue next year.
Trump did not defend Western democracies: In fact, he did not once mention democracy in his speech. As for values, he mentions them seven times: first, in the negative—immigrants who are against them—and second, in the context of traditionalism.

Traditionalism is how McKew sees the values which Putin is promoting:

In 2013 and 2014, Putin’s decade-long redrafting of Russia’s historical narrative culminated in a new definition of Russian exceptionalism. On March 18, 2014, he delivered a powerful speech to mark Russia’s annexation of Crimea, disavowing Soviet history and reaching back to Russian Orthodoxy to define modern Russian identity. He embraced the idea of “orthodox morality,” which rejects Western concepts like inclusivity and focuses on “traditionalism” as the foundation of national identity.
The themes of these speeches—speaking not of values but “civilization,” not of alliances but “sovereignty,” not of minority rights but the defense of the rights of the majority based on concepts of “traditional values”—were all central tenets of Trump’s speech in Warsaw, which was littered with illiberal buzzwords meant to catch the ear of those like-minded while simultaneously placating potential critics. Trump championed rhetoric and ideas that Putin had carefully crafted—ideas that some of Trump’s own advisers embrace.

And traditionalism certainly does not mean equal rights for men and women or protection for sexual minorities!  It means nationalism with a very particular flavor:  Each country is viewed as possessing its own civilization, defined by the "celebration of its ancient heroes and the embrace of its timeless traditions and customs."

Those could be seen as ruling out real democracy, but they can certainly be seen as not looking that different from the ideology crafted by the theologians of ISIS (2).  They, too, wish to celebrate their own ancient heroes.  They, too, refuse to change their timeless traditions and customs.  And they, too, place religion in a central role in this ideology.  Note that Trump's speech does the same:

And when the day came on June 2nd, 1979, and one million Poles gathered around Victory Square for their very first mass with their Polish Pope, that day, every communist in Warsaw must have known that their oppressive system would soon come crashing down. (Applause.) They must have known it at the exact moment during Pope John Paul II's sermon when a million Polish men, women, and children suddenly raised their voices in a single prayer. A million Polish people did not ask for wealth. They did not ask for privilege. Instead, one million Poles sang three simple words: "We Want God." (Applause.)
In those words, the Polish people recalled the promise of a better future. They found new courage to face down their oppressors, and they found the words to declare that Poland would be Poland once again.
As I stand here today before this incredible crowd, this faithful nation, we can still hear those voices that echo through history. Their message is as true today as ever. The people of Poland, the people of America, and the people of Europe still cry out "We want God." (Applause.)

Thus, Trump's speech defines the West's fight against ISIS and other Islamic terror organizations only partly as a clash of values and partly as a war between civilizations with rather similar building blocks: Religion, the worship of ancient heroes, the embrace of unchanging customs and traditions.

Those customs and traditions may be more or less vile, and the ones ISIS advocates are vile indeed, but Trumps focus on nationalistic themes reduces any defense of democracy in his speech to pretty much an emphasis on the freedom of expression and some general kind of undefined "freedom."

I agree with McKew's reading of the speech as something that might have been written by Vladimir Putin.  It cleverly manages to be about the West without being about the Western liberal values of equal rights and fairness for all (3).   As McKew writes:

In stark terms, Trump’s speech was a pivot to illiberalism...


Let's take a moment to see what Trump's speech means for women's rights in the planned alliance of traditionalists/nationalists such as Putin, Trump and the Alt Right boys.

The reference to women looks at first pretty good:

We empower women as pillars of our society and of our success. We put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, at the center of our lives.
But what does it mean to "empower women as pillars of our society?"  Are those pillars the underpinnings of the society?  Or are they standing above it?  The former seems to be the more logical interpretation.  Note that the sentence says nothing about equality or the level to which women are lifted by that empowerment, and neither does it say who the "we" is who does the empowering.

And the next sentence colors the interpretation of the women pillars, too.  If we center faith and family in our lives, rather than government and bureaucracy (who in the whole world would do the latter, by the way?), what kind of faith is it and what kind of family?

It's possible that the faith here is meant to be seen as conservative Christianity which assumes that men are the heads of households, and it's also possible that the intended family concept here is a patriarchal family, or at least one in which women are strongly encouraged to stay at home and do all the unpaid care and home chores whether they stay at home or not (4).

I know that I take the sentences of the speech too rationally.  The most likely intent is to make people feel the shivers of positive and uplifting emotions (we good, they bad), to think of positive concepts, such as "family."  I doubt that there is a single person in this world who wouldn't like "strong families" (another reference in the speech).

It's just that the meaning of a "strong family" can vary greatly, from the kind of patriarchal family where the gentler family violence is accepted to completely egalitarian families, families where the parents are of the same sex and so on, and Trump's speech is unlikely to refer to all of them.

Note, though, the irony of one Donald Trump preaching to us about faith and family.  

 (1) Democracy is mentioned once in the speech, at the very beginning, when Trump mentions Poland's place in a strong and democratic Europe.

(2)  I am not arguing that the two constructs are identical.  ISIS is immeasurably more awful, given its legal sanctioning of torture, slavery and the almost total removal of all rights from women.  My point is, rather, that the basic "values" Trump mentions can be argued to resemble those adopted by any traditionalist society, however disgustingly its traditions are interpreted.  They are not Western liberal values in the modern sense, but rather general tribal values.

(3)  In terms of gender, race, ethnic origin, disability, sexual preference and so on.  Indeed, it is human rights which are absent in the speech, with the one exception of this reference:  "We value the dignity of every human life, protect the rights of every person, and share the hope of every soul to live in freedom.. "
But note that "dignity" is not a defined concept (and could be code for forced-birth values), that the rights of persons are not defined, either, and that nothing needs to be done about the hope that every "soul" could live in freedom.

And yes, the West has not necessarily acted on the basis of those values, but past US presidents have given them at least lip service.

(4)  This is a much kinder and gentler version of the views ISIS theologians have, by the way.  Both ideologies share the importance of women being home-centered, though ISIS uses much stronger restrictions to achieve its goal of keeping women hidden.