â€śDo we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost?â€ť President Donald Trump asked during his speech in Warsaw on Thursday. Thatâ€™s an important question, and so is this: Which values is he summoning us to defend?
There were encouraging elements in his address suggesting that he was referring to the universal values that America celebrated earlier this week, on the anniversary of its declaration of independence. Repeatedly, Trump invoked the parallel Polish and American devotion to freedom. He spoke of â€śAmericaâ€™s commitment to your security and your place in a strong and democratic Europe.â€ť Unlike during his first trip to Europe as president, he embraced NATOâ€™s Article 5, which binds the United States and its allies to treat an attack on one as an attack on all.
Trump warned against powers that use â€śpropaganda, financial crimes and cyberwarfareâ€ť against the United States and its allies- and, in case that wasnâ€™t clear enough, explicitly warned Russia â€śto cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere and its support for hostile regimes, including Syria and Iran.â€ť He assured his audience, â€śWe treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression.â€ť
Yet elements of his address left doubt as to whether Trump views such values as truly universal. â€śThe fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive,â€ť he said. If by â€śthe Westâ€ť he means anyone embracing the values of human rights, freedom and the dignity of every individual, he may be right. But those are hardly the property of the United States and Europe. They are treasured by the ailing Liu Xiaobo in China, by bloggers fighting for freedom in Uganda and by legislators fighting off the Maduro regimeâ€™s thugs in Venezuela. They belong to people of all colors, all sexual orientations and all - or no - religion. When Trump urges â€śus all to fight like the Poles, for family, for freedom, for country and for God,â€ť does â€śallâ€ť truly mean â€śallâ€ť?
Perhaps what gives the most doubt is that he celebrated â€śthe right to free speech and free expressionâ€ť without mentioning that the government welcoming him has worked worryingly to narrow those freedoms, along with the independence of its judiciary - and without mentioning that, at home, Trump himself has been far from a tribune of the free press. â€śAbove all,â€ť he said, â€śwe value the dignity of every human life, protect the rights of every person and share the hope of every soul to live in freedom.â€ť Many people will cheer those words - and will watch to see how his administration lives up to them in its interactions with Saudi Arabia and China, Russia and Egypt, and at home.