Trump odd protector of Western values

US President Donald Trump gives a public speech in front of the Warsaw Uprising Monument at Krasinski Square, in Warsaw, ...
LASZLO BALOGH

US President Donald Trump gives a public speech in front of the Warsaw Uprising Monument at Krasinski Square, in Warsaw, Poland, on July 6, 2017.

OPINION: In a peripheral speech during the G20 Summit in Warsaw last week, it turned out that Western values had a new champion.

He was none other than that staunch advocate of liberal values Donald Trump.

Trump spoke at a ceremony to honour members of the Polish resistance who fought against the Nazis during World War II.

It was an occasion for the President to refer to a clash of civilisations in which Western values were increasingly jeopardised by "radical Islamic terrorism".

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"The fundamental question of our time," he said, "is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at all cost?"

Of all the outrageous statements Trump has made over the last couple of years, this, in my view, takes the cake.

Western values are generally considered to revolve around healthy democracy, tolerance, consensus, egalitarianism, internationalism and individual rights such as free speech.

While Trump is not yet a dictator and nobody knows exactly what sort of politician he wants to be apart from a popular one, he cannot yet be described as a bulwark against the worldwide attack on Western values.

Because the United States has traditionally been seen as the world's leading defender of democracy, at least in its rhetoric, Trump's lack of enthusiasm for Western values is perhaps the most serious departure from past American presidencies.

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His lukewarm respect for democracy and its values is the most destructive element of his presidency so far.

Trump has already done enormous damage to the ideal of democracy which, due to its many imperfections, is always vulnerable to calls for authoritarianism and unity through nationalism when things aren't going too well.

For one thing, by adopting the methods of autocrats – putting his children in key positions, undermining institutions like the courts and his intelligence agencies, telling porkies, pulling out of international agreements – Trump has singlehandedly shaken the foundations of his own democratic state and its position in the world.

The vacuum thereby created has let totalitarian states like China and Russia stake their claim, not so much to world leadership, because that is onerous and expensive, but to the high ground of efficient state management.

Putin and his ilk can now argue that if democracy can produce a clown like Trump then perhaps their political systems aren't as bad as everyone thought.

The other thing Trump has done to damage democracy is cosy up to the very people who represent the biggest threat to it.

It was lost on no-one, that Trump was making his remarks about Western values in an increasingly autocratic Poland led by President Andrzej Duda. Trump has been much warmer to the Russians, the Egyptians and the Saudis than he has to liberal Western Europe.

This is not to argue that Trump should not try to have constructive relations with countries like Russia.

But neither should he miss an opportunity to point out that their values are not Western values.

That Germany with its horrific past should now be seen as the defender of Western values is one of the great ironies of our time.

So what values does Trump stand for? Although we need to be careful with generalisations, Trump's power base is in the uneducated and those who have lost out as their skills become obsolete or their jobs go offshore.

A recent Economist (July 1) says Trump's key appeal lies in his attraction to those who feel part of a victimised group.

"Like most voters the president's supporters do not really know what they want from him. They do however have a strong sense that he takes their side against those groups of Americans who are against them."

This sort of explains why a much-married billionaire who employs immigrants stands both for threatened blue collar workers and evangelicals.

Trump obviously stands for "America First" or making American "great again".

The escape into a better past and stoking up feelings America has become weak and the object of ridicule and disrespect is a well worn propaganda technique.   

It's not much of a leap to then look for people to blame such as immigrants and overseas freeloaders.

Remember Trump's inauguration speech: "We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs."

Trump is defined more for what he is against than what he is for. He is a great beneficiary of the fact that voters choose the brand they like and then ascribe policies to them or allow themselves to be persuaded.

Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at all cost?

Let's hope we don't have to find out but it doesn't appear as though we should to look to Donald Trump for help. 

 - Stuff

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