Two groups of people who had been less than enthused about Trump as our president had two very different reactions to his July 6 speech in Poland.
One group was conservative columnists who had long disliked Trump. Charles Krauthammer, Peggy Noonan, David Brooks and Rich Lowry were relieved at his pledge of backing for NATO; thrilled by his praise of the Poles and their courage; encouraged by his harsh words for Russia and its treatment of Poland, pleased by his defense of the West as a cultural and political unit.
It was good news to them that he should stand for values of enormous importance that were well worth defending by force. Trump's Warsaw speech, in short, meant he was becoming more like a standard Republican president of the Reagan-Bush eras — big on values, defense, and the Western alliance.
The other group was liberal critics of Trump. For them, this speech embodied the problems with his presidency. In the 1980s, most Democrats had believed less in the West than in moral equivalence; they showed no interest in Poland or courage in general. Today, as then, they think Republicans lack nuance, finesse, and in most cases intellect and that probably every third word they utter is a dog-whistle code word for race.
"The West is a racial and religious term," wrote Peter Beinart in The Atlantic, saying that "to be considered Western" a country must be white and be Christian and that what links the American and Polish people and government is not democracy (nor their historical conflict with Russia) but their hostility toward Muslims and immigrants. Trump, they maintain, sees himself less as an American president than as the head of white Christian tribe.
To us therefore falls the task of telling the Beinarts and others that the state of Israel — Jewish and just barely in Asia — is considered "Western" in provenance (and deeply beloved by the right in this country). America is quickly becoming a mixed-race and a cross-ethnic culture. It has already had a black (or a biracial) president and will no doubt have several more.
Let us remind them too that the Democrats' field last year was a portrait in pallor, whereas the Republicans had two sons of immigrants from the island of Cuba and a black millionaire folk-hero-surgeon who is now in the Cabinet. This country's spokeswoman in the United Nations is the tawny-skinned daughter of Indian immigrants, who was born into a non-Christian home.
If this is what white Christian racism looks like, we should have some more of it. It is the Nikki Haleys and Marco Rubios of the world who are the living proof of the GOP's claim that the liberal project, which began in England in 1215 and was institutionalized in America in 1787, finds takers in people of every persuasion, from places all over the globe.
On March 8, 1983, Ronald Reagan uttered the words heard round the world when he called the Soviet Union an "evil empire," outraging the Beinarts of the moment to no end. "Anthony Lewis complained that the speech was ‘outrageous' and ‘primitive,'" Steve Hayward tells us. "‘What is the world to think,' Lewis wrote, ‘when the greatest of powers is led by a man who applies to the most difficult human problem a simplistic theology?'"
Natan Sharansky, in prison in Russia at the time, expressed a different opinion. "The leader of the free world had spoken the truth," he said. In the long run, the world thought so, too.
Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."