Donald Trump gave a speech in Poland in which, channeling an undisciplined, unkempt, suppurating white supremacist called Steve Bannon, he exhorted his audience to take up the defense of “Western Civilization” against the marauding corruptions appertaining to — what? — other-directional riffraff?
Leave it to Bannon and Trump — the demon and its soulless vessel, respectively — to miss the irony in their limp clarion call. I came across a piece in The Guardian that well describes what is usually meant by “Western Civilization”: a society built on “the values of liberty, tolerance, and rational inquiry …” It seems, then, that we are to repel the forces of oppression, bigotry, and ignorance — to protect the competing worldview personified by . . . Steve Bannon and Donald Trump?
Trump, of course, has done as much (in six short months) to turn back the forces that animated human enlightenment and progress as any of the most malfeasant presidents in US history. By sheer force of his vulgarity and nescience, he has so weighted down the spiritual inclination toward refinement as to smash it back into a sort of feral barbarism.
Liberty? Is this a value Trump honors in practice? Is this marker of “Western Civilization” in harmony with antipathy toward a free press and freedom to assemble and protest? Is it in harmony with the strictures of radical theocracy favored by such Levitical dogmatists as Neil Gorsuch?
Tolerance? Is this a “Western” value we’re to guard at the very time we abide tribalism, nationalism, and animus toward “the other”?
Rational inquiry? Can we be jealous of this virtue and simultaneously diminish science, the arts, and the “elitism” of the well lettered with coarse and mindless demagoguery?
Pitting “civilizations” one against the other is a game for dupes and fools to begin with. But the notion that Trump and his legions of Brownshirts — the same type that would happily set a mountain of books aflame on the alter of mass buffoonery — might preserve the tenets and philosophies and evolved cultures that define any “civilization” is a rich paradox. As Brutus came to the rescue of Caesar, here come Trump and Bannon, galloping heroically to the rescue of “Western Civilization.” May God save us from our rescuers.