Donald Trump’s Plan to Save Western Civilization

tags: Trump

Stephen Wertheim (@stephenwertheim) is a historian at King’s College, University of Cambridge. He is writing a book on the birth of American world leadership in World War II.

How did Donald Trump come to speak for Western civilization?

This wasn’t what his campaign promised. Candidate Trump put America First. He proposed a creative solution to the problem that has confronted every president since the collapse of the Soviet Union, namely that the United States lacks an adversary against which to define itself and orient its foreign policy. In place of a single enemy, Mr. Trump offered the world. He laid into everything and everyone from the Islamic State to China to NATO allies to immigrants, albeit with the notable exception of Russia.

Six months into his presidency, America First nationalism has not gone away. But President Trump has increasingly organized his foreign policy around another principle, codified in his July 6 speech in Warsaw. No longer the aggrieved victim that he portrayed during the campaign, the United States has morphed into the proud leader of the West, embedded in a “community of nations” sharing a common “way of life.” The outlines of a Trump doctrine are emerging: The president has pledged America to the “defense of civilization itself.”

Back home, the foreign policy commentariat glimpsed the maturation of a presidency. A foreign policy oriented around defending Western civilization may be uniquely capable of squaring the circle between Mr. Trump’s base of voters and the national security grandees who formed the backbone of the Never Trumpers. The base hears blood-and-soil rootedness: “the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are,” as he intoned in Poland. The elites thank heavens that the president is talking about shared values and committing to global alliances.

Indeed, Mr. Trump’s is beginning to sound like a conventional foreign policy. Presidents throughout the 20th century identified America’s vital interests with the survival and expansion of “Western civilization,” which they claimed were threatened by Soviet-backed Communism from the East and disorderly rogues to the South. As Dwight Eisenhower declared in 1959, the true purpose of NATO was to “protect the spiritual foundations of Western civilization against every kind of ruthless aggression.” Mr. Trump is shaping up to be no less committed to defending the West — a rallying cry particularly for neoconservatives, whom he increasingly resembles. It’s no wonder he has changed American foreign policy in evolutionary more than revolutionary ways, where he has changed it at all. ...

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