Posts Tagged ‘Poland’

Trump in Poland — That Speech

July 9, 2017

Early last week a photo taken in 1937 on Jaluit Island turned up on the media. It showed a bunch of distinctly unoffical-looking officials, along with a man displaying a good example of male pattern baldness, and a genderless person in pants and a shaggy haircut, seated and facing away from the camera. People looked at the picture and immediately said Noonan and Earhart!

On the one hand, this is a good example of people seeing in a photo what they wanted to see. PI’s do this all the time and are well aware of the trap. If you are out looking for tanks, any roughly square assemblage of rocks can look like a tank. If you are looking for Noonan and Earhart, you will see Noonan and Earhart.

On the other hand, you have to consider context — where was the image taken. If you are looking at a photo of a tank park, it’s more likely to be a tank than if you are looking at a city park. If you are looking at a photo taken in 1937 on an island that’s the administrative center of a Japanese mandate, and only 1,000 miles from a possible Earhart crash site within that mandate, you can perhaps be forgiven for thinking of her.

Photos, thank goodness, have ground truth. It’s a tank, or it’s not. It’s Noonan and Earhart, or it’s not. You may never know the truth, but it’s out there. This is not true when talking of human perceptions and emotions.

Three days ago, Trump made a speech in Krasiński Square, Warsaw, thanking his Polish hosts. Depending on how you define the context, the speech can be seen as anodyne, Presidential, racist, Riefenstahlian, or power mad.

The full text of the speech was released by the White House. Admittedly, it might not be accurate. It could be the prepared text, and he might not have followed it. It includes applause and shouts from the crowd, which could have been poorly translated. For example, they could have been crying czarna dzum, which is Polish for Black Plague. But let’s assume that these words are the words he, or his staff, thought worthy of saying.

It’s not a long speech, less than 150 lines containing less than 3500 words — maybe 70 short paragraphs — of content.

The first twenty paragraphs are the usual thanks to the host country and callback to our long history together, totally in line with Fallows’ description of how Presidents talk overseas.

The next eight or ten recount the Poles valiant stands against the Nazi (i.e. German) and Soviet (i.e. Russian) invaders and oppressors, and end by celebrating Poland’s place in NATO as one of the pillars of a strong Europe and a strong West. So far, so … coherent … even if it did spend more time zinging Germany than Russia (Angela will not be pleased).

The next six paragraphs define the three dimensions of the new existentialist threat to The West: The ongoing attacks by radical Islamic terrorism, the destabilizing activities of Russia, and the steady creep of government paperwork. These threats come from South and East, from inside and out. One might reasonably assume that the Inside threat is paperwork, the Southern threat is radical Islam, and the Eastern threat is Russia.

Then, eight paragraphs extolling the achievements of Western Civilization, and five boasting about how we got other NATO members to spend more.

These are followed by the two controversial paragraphs, paragraphs that set the will to prevail at the center of our defense of the West.

We have to remember that our defense is not just a commitment of money, it is a commitment of will

the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have.

the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost

enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders

the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it

Seven wrap-up paragraphs about Polish will during WWII (another shot at the Germans), a couple of dance-off lines and it’s done.

So, let’s get one thing out of the way at the start. Trump is not suddenly “Presidential” because of this speech. He’s a lightweight, and people from Oz, and things at the bottom of ponds know it. As with his first “Presidential” speech, he has workmanlike speech writers, and he managed to stay on script.

Now, what’s the context of those two paragraphs? First, within the speech, they were preceded by some battle of civilizations imagery that sets the West against Islam, Russian attacks on our institutions, and, of course, bureaucrats. Outside the speech is a modern Europe that feels itself under stress more from refugees than radical Islamists, that feels threatened by the Russian pushback against NATO expansion, that … well … isn’t really bothered by a bureaucracy that makes it hard to build golf courses wherever one wants. Behind the words of the speech is the world-view of its creator, Stephen Miller, and that of his staff colleague, Steve Bannon.

Depending on where you live, different parts of that speech speak to different parts of your brain. Are there people who will see it as a call to defend the best elements of the Judaeo-Christian West? Certainly. Are there those who will read the same words and find in them a call to drive out those who are not demonstrably White and Christian? Of course. Are there those who see the first, and cannot understand how people could claim the second? Here he is.

There is a saying in Washington, DC: Perception is reality. How people see an event or a policy is, effectively, how that event or policy is. I think the takeaway is that everyone’s perceptions about the speech have elements of the ground truth. A Bannon can see those paragraphs as a call to throw back the non-White and non-Christian elements that contaminate our nation state. A Fallow can comment on that without being a person who hates Western Civilization. A Dreher can gain extra clicks by stirring the pot.

And if you want to go beyond the immediate situation, a Brin can detect an element of the manic phase of the Republican worldview.