Donald Trump as Pericles

By | 2017-07-12T14:32:11+00:00 July 7th, 2017|
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I have no idea who wrote the rousing speech that Donald Trump delivered Thursday in Warsaw. But I think I know who might have provided a model: Pericles of Athens.

As I noted yesterday, the speech contained the usual quota of diplomacy-speak, freshened up with numerous specific advisories: the US stands behind Article 5, NATO’s “collective defense” provision; Russia should stop mucking in about in Ukraine, Syria, and Iran; “the steady creep of government bureaucracy” is a big problem for Western democracies that value freedom and individual initiative.

As I also noted, however, the real meat of the speech came about three quarters of the way through when Trump mounted a wide-ranging and spirited defense of core Western values and achievements. It’s not just that we are rich and powerful. It is also that we cherish such enabling civilizational values as individual liberty, the rule of law, the political equality of women, religious freedom, and a generous and innovative spirit of curiosity and exploration. “If we don’t forget who are,” Trump said. “we just can’t be beaten.” Moreover,  

Americans will never forget. The nations of Europe will never forget. We are the fastest and the greatest community. There is nothing like our community of nations. The world has never known anything like our community of nations.

We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers.

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.

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 we debate everything. We challenge everything. We seek to know everything so that we can better know ourselves. 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.

What we have, what we inherited from our—and you know this better than anybody, and you see it today with this incredible group of people—what we’ve inherited from our ancestors has never existed to this extent before. And if we fail to preserve it, it will never, ever exist again. So we cannot fail.

These were the sentiments that wretched Lefties like Peter Beinart, writing in The Atlantic, castigated as evidence of “The Racial and Religious Paranoia.” “Donald Trump referred 10 times to ‘the West,’” quoth Beinart, “and five times to ‘our civilization,’” as if that was evidence of some especially twisted perspective.

It was the same throughout the gigantic and odiferous midden of “progressive” commentary. A writer for Slate screamed about “the white nationalist roots” of the speech, Eugene Robinson emitted his usual incontinent drivel in The Washington Post,  sniffing about Trump’s historical ignorance and cultural chauvinism, and a former Obama advisor picked up the baton to warn about Trump’s “Dark Views Of Clash Of Civilizations.”

What would these pathetic tools have to say about Pericles’s funeral oration, delivered near the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, when the great statesman addressed the people of Athens to commemorate their war dead and remind them of what made their city such a distinctive and admirable place? “Let me say,” the historian Thucydides has Pericles say,  “that our system of government does not copy the institutions of our neighbors. It is more the case of our being a model to others than of our imitating anyone else. Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the whole people.”

Our love of what is beautiful does not lead to extravagance; our love of the things of the mind does not make us soft. . . . Taking everything together then, I declare that our city is an education to Greece, and I declare that in my opinion each single one of our citizens, in all the manifold aspects of life, is able to show himself the rightful lord and owner of his own person, and do this, moreover, with exceptional grace and exceptional versatility. And to show that this is no empty boasting for the present occasion, but real tangible fact, you have only to consider the power which our city possesses and which has been won by those very qualities which I have mentioned. Athens, alone of the states we know, comes to her testing time in a greatness that surpasses what was imagined of her. In her case, and in her case alone, no invading enemy is ashamed at being defeated, and no subject can complain of being governed by people unfit for their responsibilities. Mighty indeed are the marks and monuments of our empire which we have left. Future ages will wonder at us, as the present age wonders at us now. . . . For our adventurous spirit has forced an entry into every sea and into every land; and everywhere we have left behind us everlasting memorials of good done to our friends or suffering inflicted on our enemies.

It’s a good thing that Pericles did not have to suffer under the scrutiny the chest-less, politically correct ditto-heads that rule our media and educational system today.  Or perhaps I should say, it is a good thing for them that they did not have to suffer under the frank and manly self-confidence of Pericles.  

Listening to Donald Trump yesterday in Warsaw, however, I wonder whether the tide is going out on that brackish, self-infatuated yet self-hating fraternity. I suspect it is. Good riddance.

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About the Author:

Roger Kimball
Roger Kimball is Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion and President and Publisher of Encounter Books. Mr. Kimball lectures widely and has appeared on national radio and television programs as well as the BBC. He is represented by Writers' Representatives, who can provide details about booking him. Mr. Kimball's latest book is The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press, 2012). He is also the author of The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee). Other titles by Mr. Kimball include The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America (Encounter) and Experiments Against Reality: The Fate of Culture in the Postmodern Age (Ivan R. Dee). Mr. Kimball is also the author ofTenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education (HarperCollins). A new edition of Tenured Radicals, revised and expanded, was published by Ivan R. Dee in 2008. Mr. Kimball is a frequent contributor to many publications here and in England, including The New Criterion, The Times Literary Supplement, Modern Painters, Literary Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Public Interest, Commentary, The Spectator, The New York Times Book Review, The Sunday Telegraph, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and The National Interest.