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The Trump doctrine

Along with the usual attributes of Western values, Trump added faith. His speech in Warsaw in 2017 generated this variety of headlines:

Trump Just Redefined Western Values Around Faith, Not Democracy

(Bloomberg News, July 6, 2017)

The Racial and Religious Paranoia of Trump’s Warsaw Speech

(The Atlantic, July 6, 2017)

Trump’s Warsaw speech pits western world against barbarians at the gates

(The Guardian (UK), 6 July 2017)

The Guardian’s headline very much reflects the usual dichotomy between the West and everyone else. But the element of faith that The Atlantic and Bloomberg News stress is a radical deviation. That he was speaking in Poland—a staunchly Catholic nation that set off the ultimate demise of communism in Eastern Europe—probably explains why Trump chose that venue to state this doctrine of Western values.

Pope John Paul H’s visit there in June 1979 was a watershed in ridding Poland of communism. When Poles turned out en masse to partake in the Pope’s mass, it was partly for the religious rite and partly a political statement, a rebuff of atheist communism. To Trump, that assertion of faith was an expression of Western values.

“A million Polish people did not ask for wealth. They did not ask for privilege. Instead, 1 million Poles saying three simple words: ‘We want God,’” Trump said.

In those words, the Polish people recalled the promise of a better future.... 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.’

This emphasis on religion in public life is at odds with the secular orientation of liberal democracy. It certainly contradicts the core element of the Enlightenment, the philosophical basis of liberal democracy. In so defining Western values, Trump positions it much closer to the theocratic order of countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, he suggests as much during his visit to Saudi Arabia in May the same year.

In a speech in Riyadh, Trump declared this common bond of faith and values:

I stand before you as a representative of the American People, to deliver a message of friendship and hope. That is why I chose to make my first foreign visit a trip to the heart of the Muslim world, to the nation that serves as custodian of the two holiest sites in the Islamic Faith. We are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership—based on shared interests and values—to pursue a better future for us all.7

Trump avoided the phrase Western values, opting instead for the more inclusive “our shared values.” Though he did not specify what those are, the emphasis on faith provides a clue.

The pattern was repeated two days later, when Trump delivered another major speech, this time at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Again, the recurrent phrase was “our shared values.” In countries as disparate in political culture as Poland, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, the one common factor is the pre-eminence of religion in public life.

It would seem then that the Trumpian doctrine of Western values has faith as the core tenet. But then Trump’s ban of people from seven largely Muslim countries from entering the United States muddles the doctrine. But then that is the norm with all things Trumpian.

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