Somehow, news that the Antifa-Black Lives Matter nexus burned a stack of Bibles in front of the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland the other night put me in mind of President Trump’s magisterial speech in Krasinski Square, Warsaw, just over three years ago.
A short digression: has any other modern president delivered so many brilliant speeches? The Warsaw speech was tip-top, but then so was his 2020 State of the Union speech and, just last month, his magnificent speech at Mount Rushmore. And let’s not forget his speech before both Houses of Congress in 2017 or his speech at the General Assembly of the United Nations that same year. Barn-burners all.
I said at the time that the president’s Warsaw speech was worthy of comparison with Pericles’ Funeral Oration as described by Thucydides. Naturally, that comment occasioned much obloquy, but mostly, I’d wager, from people who have never read Thucydides.
Mounting a wide-ranging and spirited defense of core Western values and achievements, Trump noted that what made the West so important was not just its wealth and power. Equally important was its commitment to such enabling civilizational values as individual liberty, the rule of law, religious freedom, and a generous and innovative spirit of curiosity and exploration. “The world has never known anything like our community of nations,” Trump said.
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.
The president said quite a bit about God in that speech, noting that it was Pope John Paul II’s public Mass there in 1979 that lit the fuse that would eventually bring down the hideous, freedom-blighting scourge of Soviet Communism.
Commemorating that moment, the White House today has posted “Heroes of Western Civilization,” a tribute to the heroes of the Warsaw uprising 76 years ago. Embedded in that post is a brief video clip from the President’s Warsaw speech in which he recalls the one million Poles who gathered in Victory Square to celebrate Mass with Pope John Paul II. They cried out with a single voice, he said, “We want God.”
Back at home, left-wing radicals burn Bibles, assault and murder policemen and civilians, set fire to courthouses, vandalize and loot all manner of businesses.
On Friday, thugs in Portland placed a pig’s head on an American flag outside the city’s Justice Center. They put a policeman’s cap atop it, doused it with a firestarter, and set it aflame.
The name of George Floyd, the career criminal who died in police custody at the end of May, was at first invoked mantra-like to justify or at least to explain this explosion of savagery. Now, a couple of months later, there are still ritual invocations of his name but, really, you don’t hear too much about Floyd. The real agenda has come more and more to the fore. Barack Obama summed it up when he said, in 2008, that he was after the fundamental transformation of the United States of America. Cities like Portland give us a glimpse of what that transformation would entail.
The clips of the savages burning Bibles put me in mind of Heinrich Heine’s solemn observation that Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen: “Wherever people burn books, they also end up burning men.”
It may seem melodramatic, but here is the awful choice we face: the choice between the spirit of mayhem, burning pigs’ heads, and burning Bibles, on the one side, and the traditional American spirit that cherishes the rule of law, free expression, and fructifying engines of prosperity, on the other.
This time, we’ve traveled to the very edge of the abyss. Will we tip over into the furnace or pull back at the last moment and choose civilization over anarchy? I think we will choose civilization. I hope so. It could go either way.