When I read the president’s speech in Warsaw the other day, I was stunned. Who could have “thunk” it? Certainly in my lifetime, I have never read a presidential address that caught me by such surprise. It was the context that grabbed me. Western civilization has a context, and that’s what has been missing from presidential addresses for a long, long time, perhaps with the exception of Ronald Reagan. But this speech seems to grasp the contextual situation much better than Reagan did in terms of the full scope of the struggle for survival going on in our world.
A friend of mine in Louisville, who was a big fan of both Nixon and Reagan, confirmed my own response to the speech when he wrote to me: “What a splendid address it was. Much better than anything Reagan or Nixon had to offer. The specific and repeated evocation of Catholic Poland warmed many hearts, including mine. Who could have expected it?” And he added this little comment, which I also agree with: “I guess this does scare Francis and his St. Gallen/Lavender Mafia. Trump connects better with the Catholic people than they do.”
The President’s speech was far-ranging, and I thought he hit all the right notes. But it was especially inspiring in the way it uplifted the Polish spirit, and lavishly praised the heroism of this great nation throughout history, with a particular emphasis on its suffering and resistance during World War II and throughout the communist oppression. It was not an America first speech, but a Western civilization first speech, and an America and Europe first speech. It spoke frankly about the survival of Europe depending upon their meeting their own obligations of self-defense. It invited Russia to stop meddling in the affairs of other nations and join the effort to preserve Western civilization from the neo-barbarians.
There is so much in the speech that’s worth repeating, but one really has to read it to appreciate its full impressiveness. But there are lines which jumped out at me that I think are worth repeating here. For instance, here are a few gems:
– “Poland is the geographic heart of Europe, but more importantly, in the Polish people, we see the soul of Europe. Your nation is great because your spirit is great and your spirit is strong.”
And what does he mean by the soul of Europe?
– “I am here today not just to visit an old ally, but to hold it up as an example for others who seek freedom and who wish to summon the courage and the will to defend our civilization.”
– “Poland and the other captive nations of Europe endured a brutal campaign to demolish freedom, your faith, your laws, your history, your identity – indeed the very essence of your culture and your humanity.”
– “A million Polish people did not ask for wealth. They did not ask for privilege. Instead, one million Poles sang three simple words: ‘We Want God.’ ... 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.’”
– “We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence, and cherish inspiring works of art that honor God. We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression. ... 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.”
– “We have to remember that our defense is not just a commitment of money, it is a commitment of will. Because as the Polish experience reminds us, the defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail ... We can have the largest economies and the most lethal weapons anywhere on Earth, but if we do not have strong families and strong values, then we will be weak and we will not survive.”
– “Our own fight for the West does not begin on the battlefield – it begins with our minds, our wills, and our souls. Today, the ties that unite our civilization are no less vital, and demand no less defense, than that bare shred of land on which the hope of Poland once totally rested. Our freedom, our civilization, and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture, and memory.”
There is no need here for me to comment on these statements of the President. They speak for themselves, and I think every clear thinking person can easily understand and appreciate them. I really think this speech may go down in history and that it holds out great hope for the world and for the development of this presidency and the contributions of this President to world stability and peace.
Every President has speech writers. I don’t know who contributed the research and formulation of ideas. I do suspect that someone like Steve Bannon, who seems to have a grasp of the larger picture and issues, may have had something to do with it, but what matters is that President Trump approved this speech and delivered it magnificently. And it’s amazing how many times he was interrupted with chants of “Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Donald Trump!” Again, given all the hate spewed from our national and local media, who would’ve thought that Polish citizens would have a much higher opinion of this President than that of his American enemies.
And finally, regarding that second comment by my good friend from Louisville – who, by the way, once worked for a very prominent Republican Senator when he was a local politician – I have this final comment. It’s unfortunate that Pope Francis recently took yet another swipe at the President when he suggested that Trump had a distorted vision of the world in common with leaders from Russia, communist China, and communist North Korea. He seems to have no hesitation in judging political leaders’ actions and motives; there is no “who am I to judge” in their regard.
Now some American bishops have been following his lead in this regard. For instance, Cardinal Tobin of Newark New Jersey, recently advised his fellow bishops and other Catholics that Trump was not to be trusted with regard to his pro-life efforts and that he was unfortunately appealing to the dark side of Americans – whatever that means. One cannot imagine an American prelate ever making anything like such a derogatory statement regarding President Obama, or any other Democratic president for that matter. It almost seems like Tobin was worried that many Catholics were listening more to Trump than to the bishops when it comes to politics.
I think the Cardinal was right in that regard, for most American Catholics no longer pay much attention to the bishops’ political opinions. And if Trump keeps giving speeches like the one in Warsaw, that tendency is only going to increase.
Fr. Mark A. Pilon, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Santa Croce University in Rome. He is a former Chair of Systematic Theology at Mount St. Mary Seminary, a former contributing editor of Triumph magazine, and a retired and visiting professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. He writes regularly at littlemoretracts.wordpress.com.