In early July, President Trump delivered what many believe was his best speech to date. Speaking at Krasinski Square in Warsaw, Poland, Mr. Trump gave an unabashed defense of the cultural values that have made Western civilization great.
“We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence, and cherish inspiring works of art that honor God. We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression,” said the president.
“We empower women as pillars of our society and of our success. We put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, at the center of our lives. … And above all, we value the dignity of every human life, protect the rights of every person, and share the hope of every soul to live in freedom. That is who we are. Those are the priceless ties that bind us together as nations, as allies, and as a civilization.”
The West’s true enemies, Mr. Trump said, are those who “threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.”
Mr. Trump’s speech got such high marks on public polls that even Democrats gave it a passing score. Yet, as expected, the critics emerged.
The editors at the National Review pointed out how a writer at Vox thought the speech “was rhetoric ripped from the manifestos of the ‘alt-right.’ ” To another writer at The Atlantic, “the speech trafficked in ‘racial and religious paranoia.’”
In a PBS NewsHour interview, a former Obama National Security Council staff member described the speech as “a dark view of a clash of civilizations.” She even braved to say that “some people are wondering how we in the U.S. under President Trump are defining [the] West.”
These critics form the familiar chorus that says the president of the United States’ role whenever he goes overseas is to apologize for the West’s cultural and historical heritage. Alluding to the West’s Judeo-Christian heritage or mentioning “God” — which Mr. Trump did 10 times in Warsaw — is tantamount to religious bigotry.
While it is noble to accept a culture’s historical failures, forgetting the best aspects of one’s culture and allowing them to be destroyed is unforgivable.
Sure, a society should always own its failures, especially when it comes to its record of human rights. Germany would be remiss if it ever forgot the black mark of the Holocaust, just as the United States would undoubtedly incur global shame if it ever obviated the history of black slavery. Yet recognizing one’s weaknesses doesn’t mean rejecting the values that have made a culture great.
These critics ignore the fact that so many of the cultural values that have made the West — especially America — free and prosperous came from a broad-based Judeo-Christian spiritual ideology. A prime example is how the Great Awakening planted the ideas of individualism and autonomy that inspired and prepared the American colonies for revolution.
As Mr. Trump noted, a nation’s breakdown happens when people forget the factors that build a culture and allow extremists to redefine a people’s identity. This phenomenon is taking place even within my own Indian culture.
For millennia, India has prided itself as the home of an enormous host of cultures, languages and people groups. From the great ancient Harappan civilization to the Indo-Aryan entry into the north, the indigenous cultures born out of the first African migrations and the Dravidian heritage alive in the tongues spoken in the south, India from its inception has found strength in diversity and tolerance for difference of tradition and belief. India is home to all the major religions of the world. Now, voices from far-right elements are attempting to redefine India as if it were a homogenous culture. The recent cow ban and the contentious debate over the Aryan entry are but the most recent examples of their efforts.
It is each nation’s job to remember the values that have made its people great and to stand confidently against those who try to say otherwise. As Mr. Trump said to the Polish people, “Our citizens did not win freedom together, did not survive horrors together, did not face down evil together, only to lose our freedom to a lack of pride and confidence in our values.”
Despite its many past mistakes, the West is still a very attractive place to live in the world. Millions queue up to find some way to immigrate to Western nations each year. Even political dissidents end up finding refuge in the West. It isn’t just because they’re seeking a better economic environment, but because they’re seeking a culture that promotes equal opportunity, fiercely protects individual freedom and expression and cherishes the rule of law.
The West should never apologize for this.
• Joseph D’Souza is the moderating bishop of the Good Shepherd Church and Associated Ministries of India. He is president of the All India Christian Council and is the founder and international president of the Dalit Freedom Network.