Donald Trump’s speech last week in Poland has been largely overshadowed by the news of Donald Trump Jr.’s conspiratorial meeting with a Russian lawyer who purportedly had compromising information about the Clinton campaign. But the speech was interesting because it was built on a foundation of western values – values the president repeatedly sought to defend from those who would undermine them. “I declare today, Trump proclaimed, “for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph.” The speech was largely seen as another opportunity to cast America and its allies as a beacon of liberty and prosperity.
The problem: President Trump himself is doing more to undermine western values than any other president in history.
The battle lines are clearly drawn in the White House with advisers Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller on one side decrying the demise of western values as they are assaulted by multiculturalism, immigration, and globalism. Indeed, these motifs were well received by the Trump supporters I have spoken to over the past six months who believe firmly that minorities now have an easier time getting jobs and earning a living than whites do in America.
But let’s take a look at some western values that Donald Trump is not defending:
Science and Empiricism: A fundamental western value is a belief in science – that there are facts determined by empirical data that help us draw conclusions about the world we live in. President Trump has offered soft support for science by casting doubt on climate change, sharing unfounded assertions about vaccines, and promoting positions about guns and public safety that are not based on real data.
Supporting a Free Press: Like many of his predecessors in the Oval Office, Donald Trump feels strongly that the media spends a disproportionate amount of time on scandals, leaks, and White House palace intrigue while ignoring stories that he feels are successes. Trump’s response to unfavorable coverage is to broadly label news outlets that cover his blunders and missteps as fake news. Trump’s hostility toward the press – and the favor he curries among right-leaning outlets – is not supportive of a free press.
Advocating for Human Rights: President Trump successfully made the argument to enough Americans (in enough congressional districts) that the United States needs to take care of the forgotten and under-served people in our own country before we try to help others around the world. His Muslim travel ban actually polls surprisingly well and many Americans are understandably weary of decades of war in Afghanistan and Iraq that have depleted resources for minimal gains. However, every president over the last century (other than Donald Trump) has believed to some degree that the United States must lead the world by both standing up to autocrats who don’t treat their citizens with sufficient dignity and by welcoming those fleeing political unrest and oppression at home.
Here’s the bottom line: western values are not songs on a playlist that Donald Trump and his advisers can cue up when they’re playing to a particular audience. If he wants to defend western values he needs to defend all of them.
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