Where you are on the political spectrum may determine your judgment of Donald Trump’s speech in Warsaw. Cathy Young has written a brilliant dissection of this process. I agree with her that on both sides, more nuance in evaluating the impact and meaning of Trump’s Warsaw speech is necessary.
Many conservatives see the speech as a triumph and a strong reassertion of American leadership and power. For them, it’s a welcome move away from Obama’s policy of retrenchment. This includes National Review’s Rich Lowry, and Roger Kimball and David P. Goldman in these pages. I agree there are many portions of Donald Trump’s speech that are excellent, including a solid defense of Western values and an appreciation of the role played by the Poles during WW II in the fight against Nazism and later against communism. Moreover, Trump’s words about how the West is bound together “as nations, as allies and as a civilization” are correct, as is the belief that liberal democracy, as Young points out, is rooted in European and North American culture and values.
While conservatives have described the speech in glowing terms, leftist and liberal critics have gone overboard, condemning Trump for offering “dog whistles” meant to be a call-out to the alt-right and racist supporters of Trump. Just take a look at Sarah Wildman in Vox, Peter Beinart and James Fallows in The Atlantic, and TNR editor Jeet Heer. These writers are hardly far left; they are rather typical mainstream liberal journalists, all of whom can see only the worst in Donald Trump. Instead of serious criticism, they search his words trying to prove he is a white nationalist. Despite what Beinart and others argue, words defending the West and its values are not code words for “white and Christian.”
Some critics made other points. In Politico, Annie Karni notes how Trump, unlike previous American presidents, did not go to the Warsaw Ghetto site to honor the brave Jewish resistance fighters who, rather than surrender, fought to the last man and woman, making the Nazis suffer high casualties, despite the overwhelming odds against them. It was seen in Poland, she writes, “as handing a victory to the ruling Polish right-wing nationalist party – the Law and Justice Party by highlighting the role the Poles played fighting Nazi Germany while downplaying the persecution of 3 million Polish Jews who perished in the Holocaust.”
Had he gone, Alan Dershowitz told Karni, it would have “sent a powerful message about Western civilization” at a time when the Polish government is pushing a nationalist agenda. The Warsaw Ghetto memorial is only a short block away from the Warsaw Uprising Monument that he visited. Both could easily have been visited. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, program director of Warsaw’s Museum of the History of Polish Jews, explained: