Poland has been an unabashedly pro-American country. No wonder President Trump received a warm welcome here, not only from the Polish president and the Polish government, but from Polish society. What made the majority of Poles particularly disposed to welcome Trump was precisely what makes him a hate-figure in Germany and among many in his own nation: Trump is thought to be a dissenter. He dissents from the ideologically correct mainstream politics that has been stifling Western civilization for some time.
The cool reaction among the European elites to Trump’s election had prompted the Polish president to fill the political vacuum and invite Trump to Eastern Europe. The invitation was quickly accepted, and the short visit turned out to be a success. The speech Trump gave in the center of Warsaw near the Warsaw Uprising Memorial was greeted by the gathered crowds with cheering and enthusiasm. What they liked most was the president’s warm words about Poland and her historical struggles for freedom, which sounded particularly topical at a time when the country and its government have been an object of massive and unjust attacks by EU officials.
Due to his references to religion and history, Trump is perceived as attached to the Western tradition, much more so than the political elites in Europe or in America’s recent administrations. The people who are fed up with the barbaric ideology of political correctness desperately seek leaders, parties, and organizations that might oppose it. And in Trump’s speech, many Poles found what they needed. A large number of Eastern Europeans believe that their part of the continent has managed to preserve contact with European culture and identity. They heard Trump’s words as a sort of promotion of their beliefs.
But the visit was not only about history and identity. For Poland, and for other nations of Eastern and Central Europe, at least three objectives were connected with Trump’s visit. First, there is security. The strengthening of the Western flank of NATO was for a long time blocked by Germany and other EU countries, which wanted relations with Russia and knew that the Russians did not want a stronger defense system in Eastern Europe. Today this strengthening is accepted, but without enthusiasm. The American military presence here, as well as a closer security cooperation with the US, are of paramount importance for nations that still consider Russia a threat to their political existence. Trump’s words on this topic were reassuring—though they are only the beginning of a longer process.
The second objective was related to Polish politics. The Polish president and government have been viciously attacked, both inside by the opposition, and outside by the EU, for distancing themselves from the EU mainstream. In order to defend themselves against this constant bullying, Poles need sympathetic allies. Trump is potentially one such ally, as his lack of enthusiasm for the EU project is well known. His visit to Poland therefore elicited a hostile reaction in many European countries—including Germany, which has grown accustomed to its role as benefactor and protector of Poland. Benefactors and protectors always demand docility from those in their care. Docility is a quality the Germans have found lacking in the Poles of late.
That brings us to the third objective. Since the last enlargement of the EU, there has been a clear asymmetry of power between the Western and Eastern parts of the EU. The so-called “old” EU has dictated the rules and made the decisions, which the “new” EU has had to follow. But things are changing. The “Trimarium” is an old concept, which the Polish government recently proposed in a renewed form to its neighbors: as an alliance among twelve Adriatic, Baltic, and North Sea countries. The goal of the Trimarium initiative is to achieve better and deeper cooperation among Central and Eastern European countries. Such an arrangement might, in time, set the EU balance right. Predictably, the Trimarium is not something the old EU likes. But the initiative is developing, and many hope it will continue to develop. President Trump attended the meeting of the Trimarium leaders—which, of course, irritated the old EU politicians and public opinion. For the new EU, it was an important act of political support, if only a symbolic one.
Trump’s visit was short; whether its results will be long-term remains to be seen. The optimistic prediction is that dissenters from the political mainstream will join forces and bring the Western world—slowly but irresistibly—to a state resembling normalcy, wherein different ideas and strategies legitimately compete. The pessimistic scenario is that the mainstream will silence and marginalize all the dissenters, including the current president of the United States, who will eventually lay down arms and accommodate.
Ryszard Legutko is professor of philosophy at Jagiellonian University in Kraków.