Everyone knows that Doctor Doom is the archenemy of the Fantastic Four. Marvel Comics needed a great villain with a great name. Those who don’t know such things can still appreciate the name. Everyone knows a Doctor Doom – the guy who says things are horrible and they’re getting worse, and that we’re all doomed – because everyone is a fool, everyone but him. There’s no hope. There’s no hope, except for him. Only he can save us. He knows things. No one else does. They’re all fools. He’s perpetually angry. He’s tiresome.
He’s Donald Trump, who convinced just enough voters in just the right places that everyone was out to get America – Mexicans, Muslims, the Chinese, maybe the Germans and maybe the Canadians too – and thus everyone was out to get them too. They voted appropriately and then he gave a Doctor Doom inauguration speech about “American carnage” – that had to stop and he would stop it, because only he could. If no one stopped the “American carnage” everywhere we’d all die – we were all doomed. Those who expected an uplifting and unifying inauguration speech full of hope for the future were stunned, and then they shrugged. Everyone knows a Doctor Doom – in the workplace or at the local bar. He was one of those guys. Humor them. They’ll get over it. One day they might even see some good in the world, somewhere, maybe. There is good in the world. They’ll get over it.
Donald Trump didn’t get over it:
President Trump brought a starkly populist and nationalistic message to Europe on Thursday, characterizing Western civilization as under siege and putting the United States on a potential collision course with European and Asian powers that embrace a more cooperative approach to the world.
Speaking in Warsaw ahead of his arrival here in Germany for a contentious Group of 20 summits Trump delivered an address that was both provocative and short on specifics – arguing that Western values are increasingly imperiled by “radical Islamic terrorism” and extremism and casting himself as a champion in a vaguely defined clash of cultures.
He was at it again. There’s no hope, except for him. Only he can save us. He knows things:
“The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost?” Trump said, speaking at a monument to a past struggle, the 1944 Polish resistance to Nazi occupation in World War II. “Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”
Later in the day, Trump took to Twitter to proclaim that “THE WEST WILL NEVER BE BROKEN. Our values will PREVAIL.”
Muslim values won’t prevail of course, because it’s time to shut things down:
The fiery address to a friendly crowd stacked with supporters of Poland’s populist ruling party did not define those Western values in any detail, however, and was devoid of the kind of explicit endorsement of democratic ideals common among past U.S. presidents. Unlike President Barack Obama last year, for example, Trump did not direct any criticism at his host, Polish President Andrzej Duda, for a crackdown on press freedoms and for other restrictive policies.
Duda, like Erdogan in Turkey, has pretty much shut down the free press there. Trump’s a fan of both of them, but others see a different world:
Trump’s foreboding message in Warsaw stood in stark contrast to the more optimistic notes struck by Germany’s Angela Merkel and other European leaders at the start of the G-20 summit here in Hamburg. The day’s events included the formal announcement of a trade agreement between the European Union and Japan, a deal akin in size to the North American Free Trade Agreement and other multilateral pacts that Trump has vilified and sought to scrap or alter.
That had to happen:
On trade, Trump is attempting to leverage the United States’ economic power to negotiate deals in the country’s favor, but foreign leaders appear increasingly ready to bypass the U.S. president.
On the eve of the G-20 summit, leaders from Japan and the European Union announced their agreement on the broad strokes of a trade deal that will cover nearly 30 percent of the global economy, 10 percent of the world’s population and 40 percent of global trade.
The announcement appeared to be a calculated rebuke of both the United States and Britain, which voted to leave the EU last year.
Trump and Theresa May can do their doom and gloom thing, about the unwashed hoards from elsewhere ruining their economies, and about the proud purity of their native culture. Let them. Everyone else will set up mutually beneficial trade agreements and get rich and happy. Trump and Theresa May can pout and refuse to join in. That’s their choice – but they’re going to be lonely. Their economies will stagnate too.
Still, the door was open:
As protesters clashed with police armed with pepper spray and water cannons outside the summit Thursday, Trump and Merkel met directly for about an hour, according to German officials, who characterized the meeting as friendly but contentious, particularly on trade.
“The question is whether the Americans are still convinced that world trade always needs to be assessed according to one question, namely whether the U.S. is the winner, or whether we’ll manage to convince the Americans that when everyone plays by the same fair rules, everyone will be better off,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told German broadcaster ARD afterward.
A U.S. account of the meeting made no mention of the tensions.
Everyone will be better off? Trump didn’t want to hear it:
Leaving little to chance at a tightly choreographed speech, Polish government officials arranged for buses to bring supporters into the city from the rural parts of the country, where the ruling party’s support is strongest.
Poland is one of the few NATO countries that have met an agreement to contribute at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product to defense spending, an issue that Trump has repeatedly raised since the campaign. It was one of many things Trump praised Poland for on Thursday.
But Trump also said military spending alone is not enough to preserve Western civilization.
“Our own fight for the West does not begin on the battlefield,” he said. “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.”
Speaking with nationalist overtones, Trump praised Poland as an example of a nation that had persevered despite grave challenges, saying it offered “the story of a people who have never lost hope, who have never been broken, and who have never forgotten who they are.”
Poland has never forgotten who they are – they have no use for refugees from anywhere. This was Trump country, but Trump might have been clearer:
In a day of mixed messages toward Russia, Trump used his Warsaw speech to offer his firmest rebuke of Moscow.
“We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in the Ukraine and elsewhere and its support for hostile regimes, including Syria and Iran, and instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and defense of civilization itself,” Trump said.
Earlier in the day, Trump struck a different tone. When asked during a joint news conference with Duda about Russian meddling in last year’s U.S. election, Trump refused to say definitively that he believes Russia was responsible.
“I think it could very well have been Russia, but I think it could well have been other countries” Trump said. “Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.”
Everyone but him knows for sure, but the media shrugged. Everyone knows what’s going on. If he admits that the Russians were meddling in the election he admits that he had help in winning, that his win might not be entirely legitimate, that but for them he might not have been elected at all. He’d be admitting he’s not all that awesome after all, and he would never admit that. He doesn’t even see how that could be – so it’s better to imply that he trusts Putin and the Russian intelligence services, who said they did nothing, and rip into our intelligence services. Once again he said our intelligence services are crappy – they got the Iraq thing about the weapons of mass destruction all wrong. He mentioned that two or three times. They’re fools. He’s not a fool. That’s what he said, even if he’s actually saying that he trusts Putin, not our guys – and Putin must have been laughing his ass off. Trump’s insecurities will get him off the hook for everything.
But wait – he ripped into Obama too. Obama knew, in August, that the Russians had done terrible things to screw up our election, and Obama did nothing! Obama did nothing! Obama did nothing! The Russians had done terrible awful things and Obama did nothing!
No one called out the contradiction. What’s the point? Everyone has known a Doctor Doom or two. Everyone knows the drill. Don’t expect sense.
Trump also used the appearance to continue his feud with CNN, saying the network has “been fake news for a long time.” He called NBC “equally as bad, despite the fact that I made them a fortune with ‘The Apprentice,’ ” a reference to the long-running reality show that starred Trump.
So there you have it. Doctor Doom said our intelligence services are awful. Doctor Doom said our previous president was awful. Doctor Doom said our press is awful. But we must make sure that the West is “pure” and strong. Only he can make sure that the West is “pure” and strong, if everyone listens to him.
Eugene Robinson isn’t listening to him:
The speech Trump delivered Thursday in Warsaw’s Krasinski Square might have been appropriate when Britannia ruled the waves and Europe’s great powers held dominion over “lesser” peoples around the globe. It had nothing useful to say about today’s interconnected world in which goods, people and ideas have contempt for borders…
Trump added what he probably thought of as a Churchillian flourish: “I declare today 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.”
Triumph over whom? Trump mentioned “radical Islamic terrorism” as one of the enemies posing “dire threats to our security and to our way of life,” but he didn’t stop there. He went on to add Russia and – weirdly – “the steady creep of government bureaucracy” to the list. It is appalling that the president would describe patriotic public servants as a kind of fifth column that “drains the vitality and wealth of the people,” and I guess some precious bodily fluids as well.
The problem is obvious:
What does Trump mean when he speaks of “the West” and its civilization? “Americans, Poles and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty,” he said. “We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are. We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers.”
If the president read a few history books, he’d know that for most of the past 2,000 years, China and India were the world’s leading economic powers and Europe was a relatively primitive backwater. He’d know that Europe rose to dominance not by erecting walls but by opening itself to the rest of the world – its resources, products and people.
There is nothing pure about Western civilization. Its ability to absorb and incorporate outside influences has proved a great strength, not a weakness. Imagine Italy without tomato sauce, a gift from the New World – or the United States without the high-tech companies founded by immigrants, gifts from the Old.
One day Donald Trump might even see some good in the world, somewhere, maybe:
Of course Trump is right to call for a united front against terrorism. But the solution, in a globalized world, cannot be to hunker behind walls, however big and beautiful those walls might be. Industrial supply chains cross borders and span oceans. Words and images flash around the globe at the speed of light. Global issues, such as nuclear proliferation and climate change, demand global solutions. Like it or not, we are all in this together.
The correct response to the terrorism threat, which is real, is to isolate it as an abomination that is as much a grievous insult to Islam as to any other faith – and that has taken the lives of far more Muslims than non-Muslims. The wrong response is to posit that “the West” is besieged by and therefore at war with a hostile civilization. That’s a fight in which everyone loses.
Eugene Robinson is belaboring the obvious. Doctor Doom always says the obvious will get us all killed. Don’t argue with Doctor Doom. Edge away, if you can.
If you can’t edge away, read Peter Beinart on the racial and religious paranoia of Trump’s Warsaw speech:
The West is not a geographic term. Poland is further east than Morocco. France is further east than Haiti. Australia is further east than Egypt. Yet Poland, France, and Australia are all considered part of “The West.” Morocco, Haiti, and Egypt are not.
The West is not an ideological or economic term either. India is the world’s largest democracy. Japan is among its most economically advanced nations. No one considers them part of the West.
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. Where there is ambiguity about a country’s “Westernness” it’s because there is ambiguity about, or tension between, these two characteristics. Is Latin America Western? Maybe. Most of its people are Christian, but by U.S. standards, they’re not clearly white. Are Albania and Bosnia Western? Maybe. By American standards, their people are white. But they are also mostly Muslim.
Trump was talking nonsense, but for a reason:
Steve Bannon, who along with Stephen Miller has shaped much of Trump’s civilizational thinking, has been explicit about this. In a 2014 speech, he celebrated “the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam” and “our forefathers” who “bequeathed to use the great institution that is the church of the West.”
Fine, but that’s a throwback to another time:
During the Cold War, when the contest between Soviet and American power divided Europe along geographic lines, American presidents sometimes contrasted the democratic “West” with the communist “East.” But when the Cold War ended, they largely stopped associating America with “the West.” Every president from George H. W. Bush to Barack Obama emphasized the portability of America’s political and economic principles. The whole point was that democracy and capitalism were not uniquely “Western.” They were not the property of any particular religion or race but the universal aspiration of humankind.
Trump is out of step:
To grasp how different that rhetoric was from Trump’s, look at how the last Republican President, George W. Bush, spoke when he visited Poland. In his first presidential visit, in 2001, Bush never referred to “the West.” He did tell Poles that “We share a civilization.” But in the next sentence he insisted that “Its values are universal.” Because they are, he declared “our trans-Atlantic community must have priorities beyond the consolidation of European peace. We must bring peace and health to Africa. … We must work toward a world that trades in freedom … a world of cooperation to enhance prosperity, protect the environment, and lift the quality of life for all.”
In 2003, Bush returned, and in his main speech didn’t use the terms “West” or “civilization” at all. After celebrating Poland’s achievements, he said America and Europe “must help men and women around the world to build lives of purpose and dignity” so they don’t turn to terrorism. He boasted that America was increasing its funding to fight global poverty and AIDS because “we add to our security by helping to spread freedom and alleviate suffering.” And he said “America and Europe must work closely to develop and apply new technologies that will improve our air and water quality, and protect the health of the world’s people.”
There’s a source for that too:
Bush’s vision echoed Francis Fukuyama’s. America and Europe may have been further along the road to prosperity, liberty, capitalism, and peace than other parts of the world, but all countries could follow their path. And the more each did, the more America and Europe would benefit. In deeply Catholic Poland, Bush sprinkled his speeches with religious references, but they were about Christianity as a universal creed, a moral imperative that knew no civilizational bounds. By contrast, when Trump warned Poles about forces “from the south or the east, that threaten to erase the bonds of culture, faith, and tradition,” he was talking not about Christianity but about Christendom: a particular religious civilization that must protect itself from outsiders.
Trump was saying something quite different:
Ideologically, what links the current American and Polish governments is not their commitment to democracy – both are increasingly authoritarian. It is their hostility to Muslim immigration. The European Union is suing Poland’s government for refusing to accept refugees. Among Trump’s biggest applause lines in Warsaw was, “While we will always welcome new citizens who share our values and love our people, our borders will always be closed to terrorism and extremism of any kind.” Given that Trump had linked “our values” to America and Poland’s “tradition,” “faith,” “culture,” and “identity,” it wasn’t hard to imagine whom that leaves out.
And then there’s this:
The most shocking sentence in Trump’s speech – perhaps the most shocking sentence in any presidential speech delivered on foreign soil in my lifetime – was his claim that “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.” On its face, that’s absurd. Jihadist terrorists can kill people in the West, but unlike Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, they cannot topple even the weakest European government. Jihadists control no great armies. Their ideologies have limited appeal even among the Muslims they target with their propaganda. ISIS has all but lost Mosul and could lose Raqqa later this year.
Trump’s sentence only makes sense as a statement of racial and religious paranoia. The “south” and “east” only threaten the West’s “survival” if you see non-white, non-Christian immigrants as invaders. They only threaten the West’s “survival” if by “West” you mean white, Christian hegemony. A direct line connects Trump’s assault on Barack Obama’s citizenship to his speech in Poland.
It’s not hard to see what’s going on here:
Poland is largely ethnically homogeneous. So when a Polish president says that being Western is the essence of the nation’s identity, he’s mostly defining Poland in opposition to the nations to its east and south. America is racially, ethnically, and religious diverse. So when Trump says being Western is the essence of America’s identity, he’s in part defining America in opposition to some of its own people. He’s not speaking as the president of the entire United States. He’s speaking as the head of a tribe.
He’s also speaking as Doctor Doom. Things are horrible and they’re getting worse, and we’re all doomed – because everyone is a fool, everyone but him – so there’s no hope, except for him, because he knows things no one else does. They’re all fools. He’s perpetually angry.
In private life he’s tiresome. Humor him. In public life he’s dangerous. Now what?