by Laurie Kotka
Thursday morning President Donald Trump held a joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda. Prior to the press conference, Trump met with Duda and other regional leaders in Warsaw. Before traveling to Germany for the G20 summit, Trump delivered remarks to an audience of roughly 15,000 people.
The speech, which pointed to the resilience of the Polish people, was met with cheers from the crowd. Those familiar with Trump-hired support from U.S. rallies may have expected different results from overseas public addresses. Clearly this same thought also occurred to members of Trump’s administration. Amid increasing concerns that the United States is no longer a reliable ally, backed by low Trump-confidence ratings, Poland presented Trump with an opportunity to stop the bleeding. Or did it?
Less than two weeks ago, Pew Research Center reported that 57% of Polish citizens responded no confidence when asked, “How much confidence do you have in U.S. President Donald Trump to do the right thing regarding world affairs?”
Was a warm response something Trump could expect?
The Associated Press reported that, “Polish media reports say the government promised the White House cheering crowds as part of its invitation. Ruling party lawmakers and pro-government activists plan to bus in groups of people for Trump’s speech. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on the reports.”
Of the crowds, Reuters likewise reported that there were “many arriving on busses organized by parliamentary deputies of the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.”
Disappointing, to be sure.
As I considered this, I turned and contemplated the Polish flag claiming prominence on a nearby wall, my copy of Czesc, jak sie masz? staring at me from the table I am working at, and the name that points to my heritage as a granddaughter of Polish immigrants. And I realized the parallel course of two nations I care deeply about.
- Political discourse shaped by voter segments seeking a return to core values that represent a rejection of liberal objectives
- Fortified borders, closed to refugees
- Restoration of the “rule of law” established through a “no-matter-the-cost” selection and seating of judges identified not for their reverence of the law but their agreement in executing the will of the state
- Skeptical, to the point of promulgating false conspiracy theories, of past administrations
- Regular intent to undermine the credibility of the media, especially as a watchdog of government
And maybe finally, I understand better how we have ended up where we are today. In Poland, some of the rise of Law and Justice party is grounded in a desire to return to the roots of Polish identity – Catholicism, family, and strong borders that protect their sense of identity. Their location within the European Union melting pot likely causes an increased awareness that the Polish identity risks being watered down.
While the specific causes related to similar sentiments in the United States might differ, the end result is the same. Perhaps we are further along in the identity-erosion process and many sought any change possible in an attempt to reverse that course.
I get it. Finally. So much of this is about identity and what we believe is lost if that is allowed to fade. But our best attempt to secure that is being exploited by those in power for their own gain.
Today, Trump stood near a monument to the Warsaw Uprising and asked, “Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?” His question – in the shadow of that monument- pointed to courageous warriors who stood and fought in the face of tyranny bent on annihilating everything that it meant to be Jewish. Our intention to make sure that never happens again demands not only a willingness to stand and fight the most overt forms of terrorism, but an awareness of the roots of tyranny. Because it was in the erosion of basic liberties like a free and respected press that allowed Nazi Terrorism and Soviet Communism to take hold.