Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
They Said It:
Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”
Winston Churchill, “Their Finest Hour,” June 18, 1940, House of Commons.
THE REMARKABLE DONALD TRUMP?
We’re not sure that we’d put the events of last week on the same level as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the impeachment of a president, or the attacks of 9/11. But what took place in Warsaw – and beyond – was remarkable nonetheless, quite probably the most remarkable set of developments in this nation and in the “global community” over the last decade or more.
As you may have heard, last week, President Trump visited Poland and delivered a doozy of a speech, a stem-winder endorsing the West, embracing “Western Civilization” and Western values, and promising to defend all of the above with all the resources available to him. This is, in and of itself, a remarkable development. Most of Trump’s blathering about political correctness and the like has been superficial at best. But this . . . this is a big flipping deal. Politicians – much less American presidents – aren’t supposed to talk this way. They are supposed to discuss “universal” values and promise to bridge differences and embrace “that which we hold in common.” They’re not supposed to talk about “the West” or about the fact that it holds very little in common with the rest of the world.
That kind of talk has heretofore been relegated to the fringes of the political commentariat – to people like Steve Soukup and Mark Melcher, who were chased out of two big brokerage houses and now sit around in their jammies in their basements, preaching to the remnant; like Mark Steyn, who was chased out of various “respectable” media outlets and now sits around in his own studio, impeccably dressed, preaching to a slightly larger remnant; and like Pope Benedict XVI, who was chased out of papacy and now sits around the Vatican in his jammies and his bright red Prada slippers, preaching to almost no one.
As we said, this type of defense of the West just isn’t supposed to happen anymore. No one is supposed to speak the unspeakable, to say what most people know to be true but are afraid to relay. Fifteen years ago, when George W. Bush was intent on spreading Western institutions to Iraq and Afghanistan, he spoke about democracy and self-government, bedrock political principles of the West. Yet even as he did so, he couched his advocacy in an intentional misreading of these principles, specifically to avoid having to defend the West as a unique entity. The Iraqis, he intoned, are merely struggling to obtain the values, rights, and habits of freedom, which are “universal.” What he failed to mention is that these values, rights, and habits are indeed universal in that everyone is entitled to them, but they are nevertheless exclusively Western, in that only in the West have they ever been practiced to any extent much less enshrined in society’s foundational documents.
Trump’s full-throated defense of the West was both surprising and welcome. It was bold. It was brave. It was . . . stirring. In challenging the West to defend itself and to live up to its own values, the President lived up to the promise of his campaign and stuck his thumb directly in the eye of the PC police, telling them that some things are simply too important to allow society’s delicate censors to dictate. And in so doing, he won the admiration of many, including some who had previously grown rather tired of his shtick. Consider, for example, the following effusive praise from Peggy Noonan, herself a practitioner of presidential speechmaking dedicated expressly to the defense of Western values:
It was a grown-up speech that said serious things. Article 5, the NATO mutual defense commitment, is still operative. Missile defense is necessary. He called out Russia for its “destabilizing activities.” He spoke as American presidents once did, in the traditional language of American leadership, with respect for alliances.
But he did it with a twist: The West is not just a political but a cultural entity worth fighting for. It is a real thing, has real and radical enemies, and must be preserved.
A lovely passage: “We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes . . . and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers. We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence. . . We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression. We empower women as pillars of our society and our success. . . . And we debate everything. We challenge everything. We seek to know everything so that we can better know ourselves.”
If he talked like this at home, more of us would be happy to have him here. If he gives serious, thoughtful, prepared remarks only when traveling, he should travel more.
If anything, Noonan is too reserved in her praise. We always wondered how Mark Steyn managed to reconcile his support for Trump with his publicly expressed belief that “character” is the most important quality in a presidential candidate. We wonder no longer. Turns out that Trump is a far bigger believer in Steyn than Steyn is in Trump. As the inimitable columnist pointed out over the weekend, the President’s speech in Warsaw could well have been cribbed from Steyn’s 2006 bestseller America Alone. The West – and specifically the Anglo-American West – is the greatest exponent of freedom, human rights, and prosperity in the history of man. As we – and Steyn – have pointed out repeatedly, if you look at the most successful, most prosperous, freest, and most “tolerant” countries on earth, they all have one thing common: the English language. From London to Washington; from Dublin to Ottawa; from Singapore to Canberra; from Hong Kong to Wellington; from Nassau to New Delhi, the most thriving democracies are or, at one time were, British colonies. Add in Japan and South Korea, with their longtime second-hand exposure to British democratic principles, and you’ve hit most of the successful nations on earth, outside of Europe.
That a contemporary American president had the gall to say as much is remarkable. The fact that saying so is considered “remarkable” is also remarkable, but in a different, much sadder way.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Trump’s embrace of Western Civilization is that it should, in theory, have produced a problematic moment for his opponents at home, particularly those on the Left. After all, they detest the West, but are generally reluctant to admit as much, given that most voters seem to think that “the West” is a pretty awesome place. Or at least they were reluctant to admit it . . . until last week.
Several years ago, we began calling the Obama foreign-policy doctrine “post-Westernism,” in that it sought not only to move the world beyond Western authority and control, but also to chip away at the notion of “the West” to begin with. In a September 2009 piece fittingly entitled “Post-Western Obama,” we put it this way:
Over the past several months, many commentators have described Barack’s presidency and his foreign policy in particular as “post-American,” in that he seeks to move beyond American hegemony, beyond America’s super-power status, to a “multi-polar world.” When the President says, as he did last week, that “no nation can or should try to dominate another nation” or that he is “not interested in victory” in the nuclear standoff with Iran, he reinforces this perception.
We’d argue, however . . . that Obama is less post-American in his approach to foreign policy and more “post-Western,” which is all but certainly far, far worse.
Years ago, when we formulated our original “post-alliance” theme for global affairs, we assumed that there would be some exceptions to the new rule. We figured, for example, that the Anglosphere would remain fairly solidly united, that the United States would remain strongly tied to the nations whose democracy it helped shepherd (e.g. Japan, South Korea), that Israel and the United States would remain united in their quest to preserve the Judeo-Christian tradition in its birthplace, and that the West in general would remain bound by certain commonalities. This only makes sense – especially in the case of the Anglosphere and the American mini-empire – in that nations and peoples with similar cultures, similar heritage, similar ideology, and similar values would likely also have similar interests, which is to say that their bonds would transcend the shift to the post-9/11 world.
Again, what we simply didn’t anticipate at the time was the idea that the United States would elect a president who would be intellectually hostile to the cultural, governmental, and religious bonds that encourage the supremacy of common interests among the United States and its closest allies.
During the campaign last year, a handful of conservatives charged that Obama simply didn’t understand the “real” America, that he did not share the values of most “average” Americans. We’re not sure what this charge was supposed to mean – whether it was a thinly-veiled racist slap at the first potential American president with non-Western heritage, as many critics claimed; whether it was a poorly articulated charge of elitism; or if something else was behinds the accusation. Whatever the case, there is little question that part of this feeling about Obama was self-inflicted (e.g. “typical white person,” clinging to God and guns). But an even larger part was derived from the fact the candidate was associated, both personally and intellectually, with the strains of American leftism that have always tended to see the United States and its Western progenitors as forces for evil rather than good in the world, the pseudo-intellectual types whom the late Ambassador Kirkpatrick famously described as the “blame America first” crowd. Unfortunately, these intellectual strains have been all too evident in Obama’s foreign policy.
When Obama takes the world stage – whether in Cairo or Turtle Bay – his instinct is always to apologize for his country, to plead for forgiveness on our behalf. Moreover, when he makes decisions about how to proceed on the global stage, one can rest assured that he will take special precaution to ensure that traditional American or Western interests are not advanced, that the nations of the West are not allowed to “dominate” any other country.
We took a little bit of criticism for this characterization of Obama. He is NOT anti-Western, we were told. And even if he is, it’s just him, not the rest of the Democratic Party of the Left more generally.
Maybe that last bit about the Left more generally was true then, but it certainly isn’t now. Indeed, the second remarkable thing about Trump’s Warsaw speech was how quickly, how definitively, and how distressingly he forced the Left to drop its mask and to concede that it really does live up to its reputation, that it really does hate the very idea of “Western Civilization.”
We could spend the next several pages and the next several hours of your life citing instances of leftist commentators and operatives wringing their hands and decrying the inherent intolerance in the very notion of “the West.” In the interests of brevity, though, we’ll hit only a few highlights. Over at Salon, the perpetually unhinged Amanda Marcotte swore she heard a dog whistle, insisting that “Western” is code for “white,” and, more to the point, that Western people aren’t so great anyway:
Trump argued that Western (read: white) nations are “the fastest and the greatest community” and the “world has never known anything like our community of nations.” He crowed about how Westerners (read: white people) “write symphonies,” “pursue innovation” and “always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers,” as if these were unique qualities to white-dominated nations, instead of universal truths of the human race across all cultures.
We suppose that we can think of a handful of symphonies written by non-Westerners. But then, we don’t suppose that white guys like Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev are exactly whom Ms. Marcotte – a former John Edwards employee – has in mind.
At the Washington Post, the incredibly earnest and incredibly dim Jonathan Capehart took a similar tack, insisting – earnestly and dimly – that Western Civilization ain’t all that great:
This is the same crowd that brays about the superiority of “Western civilization” and its contributions in the history of the world conveniently ignores (or perhaps is just plain ignorant about) what we’ve adopted from Muslims and the Middle East. Those symphonies Trump says “We write” (ahem) would be real lame without the influence of the Middle East and Muslims. According to Salim al-Hassani, chairman of the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilization and editor of “1001 Inventions,” which chronicles “the enduring legacy of Muslim civilization,” told CNN years ago that the lute, musical scales and the ancestor of the violin are all part of that legacy.
Ah. The lute. How could we forget? Of course, as Mark Steyn himself responded, Mr. Capehart’s dimness got the better of his earnestness, as it is wont to do:
The evidence for this is – to put it politely – wafer-thin. Insofar as the lute has anything to do with Islam at all, it derives from the pre-Islamic east – like the one I saw in the British Museum a couple of years back from Mesopotamia, circa 3,000 BC. Then Mohammed showed up and that was the day the music died: Drove my camel to the wadi, but the wadi was dry.
Besides, what’s a Mesopotamian lute got to do with Mahler’s Second Symphony? That’s barely more relevant than Schubert’s mum telling the neighbor, “My boy’s on his third symphony”, and the lady next door saying, “Well, my boy can fart ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’. Light ‘em up, Johnny!” . . .
The Washington Post is not arguing the equivalence of alternative music cultures to Brahms and Mozart; it’s arguing the merits of a culture that is largely bereft of music as a matter of conscious policy. Our symphonies would be “real lame” without Islam? They’re even lamer with Islam, in a world where drums, saxophones, pianos and other “un-Islamic instruments” are burned, where music is banned from Mali to Afghanistan, and where the performers thereof are either executed or, if they’re lucky, get 90 lashes. On that last story, by the way, you’ll see from the accompanying photograph that one of the discarded “un-Islamic instruments” appears to be – go on, take a wild guess – a lute.
It is no coincidence, we’ll note that eight years ago, when he was in Cairo apologizing to the Islamic world for eight years of George W. Bush and eight centuries of other Western naughtiness, Barack Obama tried much the same thing: We’re not so great, he said. And we’d be nothing without Islam. The Arabs invented numbers, after all! They inspired the Renaissance. It was historically ignorant garbage then, and it is historically ignorant garbage now.
And last but not least, writing at The Atlantic, Peter Beinart also heard dog whistles:
In his speech in Poland on Thursday, Donald Trump referred 10 times to “the West” and five times to “our civilization.” His white nationalist supporters will understand exactly what he means. It’s important that other Americans do, too. . . .
The West is a racial and religious term. To be considered Western, a country must be largely Christian (preferably Protestant or Catholic) and largely white.
We don’t mean to be rude, or anything, but do you suppose that Beinart has any idea what the “Judeo” part of the term “Judeo-Christian” means? Do you think he knows that the ancient Greeks – Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles – were not white, but Mediterranean, which is to say far closer in complexion to the Arabs, the Turks, and the Persians than to the English? This whole business is nuts.
But then, that’s the point. Not so long ago, these people – who are demonstrably nuts and demonstrably wrong – would have had the sense to keep it to themselves. But no longer. After eight years of a post-Western presidency, the Left feels perfectly empowered to say precisely what it believes about the West and its defenders, i.e. screw you guys. This is remarkable.
For decades now, we have been subjected – or have subjected ourselves – to some of the least thoughtful foreign affairs analysis imaginable. The name “Tom Friedman” comes to mind. But of all the confused and ill-informed analysts we’ve read, among the worst is a man named Jorge Mario Borgoglio. You know him better as Pope Francis. And he is a very kind and compassionate man – who also knows very little about how the political world works.
Last week, Donald Trump was in Warsaw, following in the footsteps of Francis’s predecessor. He quoted Pope John Paul II liberally, promising to continue the Polish Pope’s mission to defend freedom, liberty, and Judeo-CHRISTIAN civilization. Meanwhile, Pope Francis was, once again, discussing political matters about which he, apparently, has no clue. In an interview with Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, the Holy Father professed his concerns with, among other things, the United States: “I worry about very dangerous alliances between powers which have a distorted vision of the world: America and Russia, China and North Korea, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and (Syria’s Bashar al-) Assad over the war in Syria.”
Now, we suppose it’s possible that the Pope was misquoted, as he has been before. It’s also possible that he misspoke, as he has done before. But it’s also possible that he has no idea what he is talking about, as has, sadly, been the case (many times) before.
It’s one thing for the Pope to complain that America has a “distorted vision,” which, given his views on immigration and economic migration, is unsurprising. But it’s something else – something completely batty – for him to think, much less to say, that he believes that all of this is connected to a “dangerous alliance” with Russia. Maybe he spends too much time watching Rachel Maddow and not enough time actually paying attention to American policy, but his presumption is factually insane.
Indeed, the third and perhaps most remarkable aspect of President Trump’s speech in Warsaw was its mention of energy and its promise of energy independence – which is a direct and unabashed assault on Russian interests. “We are committed,” Trump told the Polish people, “to securing your access to alternative sources of energy so Poland and its neighbors are never again held hostage to a single supplier of energy.”
The “single supplier” here is, of course, Russia, which has long held the people of Eastern (and sometimes Western) Europe hostage with respect to energy. The Russians control the supply to Eastern Europe. Period. And they constantly and brazenly manipulate that supply, manipulate its delivery, and extort various economic and foreign policy demands from countries like Poland, who have no other options. Or, to be more accurate, countries like Poland who had no other options. Thanks to America’s frackers and its re-emergence as a serious player in the global energy markets, the Poles – and the Germans and the Czechs and the Slovaks, etc. – now, for the first time in modern history, have another option.
For all the talk about Trump’s friendship with Vladimir Putin and his “collusion” with Russian entities to steal the election, the fact of the matter is that the Trump energy policy is a direct assault on and a serious threat to Putin and Russia. As Larry Kudlow put it last weekend, “Trump has Putin over a barrel.”
Just over a year ago, we penned a piece calling the American fracking revolution the greatest and most disruptive economic development in a very long time. It’s impact, we wrote, could not be overestimated. We put it like this:
The fact of the matter is that fracking, while paradoxically environmentally friendly, is also incredibly disruptive and thus incredibly transformative. Just two weeks ago, the EIA reported that the United States is quite nearly a NET ENERGY PRODUCER, which means that the country is very close to producing more energy than it uses. Concomitantly, the United States is also now importing less net energy than it has in a long, long time. And to add to the good news, (or to add insult to injury for the Greens) all of this also coincides with a drop in carbon emissions . . .
What does all of this mean? Well, it means that the energy world has been turned completely upside down . . .
The Fracking Revolution . . . is beyond even the most powerful despot’s reach. There is simply nothing they can do to stop it. . . .
Because of fracking, the United States is now the world’s largest oil producer, surpassing Saudi Arabia. And because of the oil supply glut, there is still considerable capacity that can still be tapped, if the government chooses to “invest” the funds necessary to do so. The United States is a player, a BIG TIME player in energy. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
The entire global political calculus has changed. China can no longer threaten the American fiscal condition by threatening to denominate oil purchases in currency other than the dollar. The Americans produce the most oil in the world and they can denominate it however they damn well please. Russia can no longer play its games with oil supply. And if the Europeans learn the American fracking lesson, then Putin et al. will no longer to hold Europe hostage over natural gas. The Saudis are explicitly looking to diversify their economy. The Iranians and Venezuelans are in dire straits and are just hoping to hold on long enough for something bad to happen to the United States. Israel has begun developing its fracking capabilities and, according to some observers, holds shale reserves almost as bountiful as Saudi Arabia’s proven oil reserves. It’s a brave new world, gentle reader, and one that hydraulic fracturing created.
In Warsaw last week, President Trump proudly, pugnaciously, and publicly embraced the American energy revolution. A week earlier, he made an appearance at the Energy Department and promised to do whatever he could to ensure that this revolution continues. He promised to provide government investment and to reduce government regulation. He promised to increase both exports and offshore leases. He promised, in short, to continue “the golden age of American energy,” which, he said, “is now underway.”
Again, this is remarkable – not only for its reversal of the previous administration’s beliefs and practices with respect to energy, but also for its clear and unambiguous challenge to the world’s petro-states, including Russia.
We suppose that a few people – Saudi Sheiks, Iranian Mullahs, Russian oligarchs, and environmentalists – are unhappy about Trump’s energy aggressiveness. But we doubt that the Poles are. And while Frau Merkel will never admit as much, we doubt that the Germans are either. Rather than forming an “alliance” with Putin, President Trump actually undercut the only real leverage that the ever Russians had.
He changed the rules of the game, which is remarkable. Like just about everything he did last week.