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Democracy is Western

President Donald Trump warred with every institution of America’s democracy: the mass media, the judiciary, and the Congress. He called the press enemies of the people and purveyors of fake news. He threatened retribution against entertainers who spoofed him. His disparagement of the judiciary became so routine and vitriolic that Chief Justice John Roberts reprimanded him for undermining the guardian of the Constitution. And in his feud with Congress, he declared an emergency just so he could get around legislative constraint.

In contrast, Trump repeatedly expressed fondness for autocratic leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. It is all summed up in a headline for an op-ed piece in the New York Times of June 3, 2018: “Trump thinks he is a king.” It would seem then that he is an unlikely articulator of Western values.

Yet, like his predecessors, Trump extolled it exuberantly. In one of his first major speeches after the inaugural, he told an audience in Warsaw, Poland, that Western values were under threat from inside and out and from the south and the east. Under Western values, he said:

[W]e debate everything. We challenge everything. We seek to know everything, so that we can better know ourselves. And above all, 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. That is who we are. Those are the priceless ties that bind us together as nations, as allies and as a civilization.1

In thus suggesting that these values are the West’s—and the West’s alone—Trump spoke in the tradition of other Western leaders and analysts. As Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Prime Minister of Denmark, prepared to step down as the Secretary General of NATO in 2014, he was equally unequivocal in contrasting Western values with those of others. In a farewell address at Carnegie Europe, Rasmussen evoked those values in making the case for continued strengthening of NATO:

“We are confronted by forces that reject our liberal democracy and our liberal, rules-based order,” he said.

Their agendas and ideologies are different. But they are virulent, violent, and viciously anti-Western. They will grasp every opportunity to undermine our values of individual liberty, freedom, democracy, respect for the rule of law, and human rights. And to impose their backward-looking vision on others.2

By “they” Rasmussen was referring to Russia to the east and the “so called Islamic State” to the south. Even then, he left no doubt that the political and civic ethos he listed are all uniquely Western.

Steve Emerson and Pete Hoekstra, of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, also cast Islamist terrorism as a mortal threat to Western values. Even as they note the incidence of Islamist terrorism in the non-Western continents of Africa and Asia, they issued a dire but more narrowly focused warning. “Western leaders must take measure of the defeat confronting them and understand that radical Islam directly jeopardizes Judeo-Christian civilization,” they wrote for on April 1, 2016. In effect, though Islamists are a menace around the world, they are a threat to just one civilization.

Walter E. Williams, a distinguished professor of economics at George Mason University and a syndicated columnist, is pointedly effusive. “Western values are superior to all others,” he writes in a column carried by the Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle on August 29, 2013. “Why? The greatest achievement of the West was the concept of individual rights.... It’s no accident that Western values of reason and individual rights have produced unprecedented health, life expectancy, wealth and comfort for the ordinary person.” Williams made these assertions in the context of explaining his opposition to multiculturalism and equal opportunity programs.

Traversing the worlds of politics and scholarship, Patrick J. Buchanan, the political columnist and former White House aide, was apocalyptic in his book Suicide of a superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?' Despite the title, the book actually pursues the broader theme of the demise of Western civilization resulting from liberal domestic and international policies.

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