Trending Away from Conservatism

The President’s speech in Warsaw, Poland last week got some of my attention, but I didn’t take the time to listen to it all. Some of what I heard didn’t “sound quite right,” but I didn’t think much of it until I read an article in The Atlantic on July 6. Peter Beinart, a professor at City University of New York, brought some clarity to the subtle differences in the President’s speech when compared to President Bush’s speeches in Poland during his own administration.

While hailed by many to be a really good speech, I want to share Beinart’s analysis of concern. Comparing the words of the two administrations helped me more clearly see why Trump’s vision for America is not the Conservatism that we have seen in the past.

Read this perspective critically. I’m not sure I buy into everything Beinart is saying, but his analysis does seem to shed light on why I may have felt uneasy with some of the words in last week’s address.

Beinart opens his article this way: "in his speech in Poland on Thursday, Donald Trump referred 10 times to "the West" and five ties to "our civilization." His white nationalist supporters will understand exactly what he means. It's important that other Americans do, too."

Beinart then offers up the Trumpian definition of the West:
     "The West is not a geographic term, Poland is further east than Morocco."
     "The West is not an ideological or economic term either. India is the world's largest democracy."
     "The West is a racial and religious term. To be considered Western, a country must be largely Christian."

Beinart then goes on to compare the words of Bush as relates to "The West."

In his 2001 address in Poland, Bush never referred to "the West." When he mentions "civilization" it is in the context of universal values. Bush cast a vision beyond "our trans-Atlantic community" to bring peace to Africa, to work toward a world of cooperation to "lift the quality of life for all."

Bush's 2003 speech again "didn't use the terms "West" or "civilization" at all." Rather, he championed the idea that America & Europe "help men and women around the world to build lives of purpose and dignity," with the goal of keeping people from turning to terrorism. After all, Bush states, "we add to our security by helping to spread freedom and alleviate suffering."

Trump's use of "The West" and "civilization," on the other hand, bolsters his arguments for social identity and the need to defend against an enemy of that identity.

Bush: Christianity is a universal creed, a moral imperative, that knows no civilizational bounds.
Trump: "There are forces "from the south or the east, that threaten...to erase the bonds of culture, faith, and tradition." Christendom rather than Christianity. "A particular religious civilization that must protect itself from outsiders."

Bush: America & Europe
Trump: The West & civilization

Bush: Mentions democracy 13 times in 2003 speech
Trump: Mentions democracy 1 time

Bush: Globalization [is] a process by which America improves the rest of the world.
Trump: Globalization is "the movement of both goods and people - as a process by which the rest of the world cheats, weakens, and threatens America."

Bush: Uses 'defend' 5 times in two speeches
Trump: Uses 'defend' 21 times in last week's speech.

Lastly, Beinart considers this line in Trump's speech: "The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive."

Unsettled by this statement above all the others, Beinart argues that "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."

For Trump's statement to make sense, Beinart concludes that you would have to see the "south" and "east" as threatening the West's "survival" by seeing "non-white, non-Christian immigrants as invaders."

Whether Beinart's framing of Trump's speech hits the mark on each point or not, he offers us a look at the Bannon/Trump nationalism that is real and that is understood among the American nationalist community. Nationalist ideology will continue to emanate from the White House and I am not comfortable with it.

I needed this article for me to see the change in tone from Bush to Trump. Maybe it is the subtlety of it all. Maybe it is the phrases that blur into the "Christian speak" I am familiar with. Am I into Christendom? Sure. Am I into Christendom when pitted against Islam? Something about that doesn't feel balanced.

My concern is that the Evangelical community will continue to be drawn into Bannon's nationalist worldview because it has some overlap with an Evangelical worldview - or at least with vocabulary. Will the American church not notice the subtleties until we are more significantly invested in nationalism than we really would like to be?

Another concern of mine is that nationalism, as it takes on a populist message, may further lead the American church into a turning toward tribalism, faux Conservatism, party, or person instead of a turning toward God.

Take what you will from Trump's speech and Beinart's analysis. I do find Trump's worldview different than that of our last Republican president. At whatever measure you agree or disagree, let's be awake and wise about what we hear coming out of this current administration.