by GRANT STARRETT
Yes, but we must choose to defend our way of life.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE TENNESSEAN
President Donald Trump, in an extraordinary speech in Poland last week, identified the “fundamental question of our time” as “whether the West has the will to survive.”
The answer is not clear. Whether we even have a sense of our fragility is an open question to which the author Samuel Huntington drew attention in his 1996 classic Clash of Civilizations, a book continuously echoed in the President’s remarks. Anyone who thinks the West, and in particular the United States, will inevitably sit atop the global power arrangement should consult his history books. Citizens of the Roman and British Empires undoubtedly considered their reigns eternal.
The good news is that decline is a choice. Rather: decline is a thousand wrong choices. We don’t have to make them. With determination, we can stand true to the principles we celebrated over the 4th of July. President Trump held up the model of the Polish people enduring the totalitarianism of both fascism and Communism: “Despite every effort to transform you, oppress you, or destroy you, you endured and overcame.”
Poland faced overwhelming external threats, but ours are nothing to ignore. President Trump explicitly identified radical Islam and Russian destabilization. He could have easily added Chinese aspirations to Asian hegemony.
But President Trump, like Huntington, also wisely highlighted a series of domestic threats, quoting the Polish martyr Bishop Michael Kozal: “More horrifying than a defeat of arms is a collapse of the human spirit.”
Most prominently, the President noted “the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people” and offered prescriptions of honoring faith, protecting families, and prizing meritocracy. Leftist critics dismissed these as forced tangents without realizing they are core to the conservative worldview. Our Founding Fathers knew that the key ingredients to our success are liberty and virtue. Common sense and social science reveal that intact families offer the next generation the best hope for advancement. And the promise of the American dream can and should be that people are rewarded for their contributions.
True to form, Trump also asked, “Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders?” while pledging “we will always welcome new citizens who share our values and love our people.” Assimilation is the question, as Teddy Roosevelt warned: “The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing as a nation at all would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.”
And yet national identity can also be undermined by actual citizens. Huntington argued that multiculturalists “wish to create a country of many civilizations, which is to say a country not belonging to any civilization and lacking a cultural core. History shows that no country so constituted can long endure as a coherent society. A multicivilizational United States will not be the United States; it will be the United Nations.”
The question is whether we will care before it’s too late. Will we be overconfident in our national and economic primacy as China reorders the world and radical Islam solicits chaos? Will we be distracted by the antics of Kardashians as our culture erodes and families break? Can we not only bridge the Atlantic and find common cause with our civilizational antecedent in Europe, but can we unite with our neighbors to defend the Republic?
President Trump has issued this challenge: “Our own fight for the West does not begin on the battlefield -- it begins with our minds, our wills, and our souls.” He believes “Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph.”
This op-ed was originally published at The Tennessean: [insert link]