The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s white-nationalist dog whistles in Warsaw

President Trump delivered remarks on July 6 from Krasinski Square in Warsaw. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: KACPER PEMPEL/The Washington Post)

Okay, show of hands. How many of you watched President Trump’s speech in Warsaw? That’s the one where he finally gave full-throated support to Article 5 guaranteeing mutual defense of NATO allies. But not before a fair bit of lecturing (or hectoring depending on where you are in Europe) about defense spending.

Anyway, there was a line during Trump’s oration that sounded like an off-beat cymbal in his rhetorical sis-boom-bah in “defense of [Western] civilization itself.” See if you can pick it out.

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 write symphonies.” What on Earth does that have to do with anything? It’s bad enough Trump is doing the one thing his predecessors studiously avoided: engaging in the battle-of-civilizations talk that inflames anger and tensions with Muslims, particularly in the Middle East. In that one line, taken in context with everything else Trump said, what I heard was the loudest of dog whistles. A familiar boast that swells the chests of white nationalists everywhere. And Trump’s seeming non sequitur would have gone right over my head were it not for the past white-chauvinist musings of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

King: This whole white people business, though, does get a little tired, Charlie. I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about. Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?
MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes: Than white people?
King: Than Western civilization itself that’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America and everyplace where the footprint of Christianity settled the world.

King said that during a live interview last July on MSNBC’s “All in with Chris Hayes” with its incredulous host and a visible “say what now?!” reaction from April Ryan, White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks. It’s right out of the hymnal of white nationalism favored by folks who believe the world begins and ends with them.

Saying “alt-right” is the rhetorical equivalent of dressing up white supremacy in black-tie.

This is the same crowd that brays about the superiority of  “Western civilization” and its contributions in the history of the world conveniently ignores (or perhaps is just plain ignorant about) what we’ve adopted from Muslims and the Middle East. Those symphonies Trump says “We write” (ahem) would be real lame without the influence of the Middle East and Muslims. According to Salim al-Hassani, chairman of the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilization and editor of “1001 Inventions,” which chronicles “the enduring legacy of Muslim civilization,” told CNN years ago that the lute, musical scales and the ancestor of the violin are all part of that legacy.

Follow Jonathan Capehart's opinionsFollow

I can’t say that I am surprised by Trump’s white-nationalist dog-whistling from Warsaw. Stephen Miller, senior policy adviser, wrote much of what Vox accurately called an “alt-right manifesto.” Miller is the on-again-off-again confederate of Stephen K. Bannon, the man who gave the alt-right a platform on Breitbart News before serving as chairman of Trump’s campaign and who now has an office mere steps from the Oval Office as chief strategist.

Why is Steve Bannon given a pass when Jeremiah Wright was kicked to the curb for less?

Given the campaign Trump ran, given the presidency he has led over the past six months, given the autocratic nature of Polish President Andrzej Duda it’s no surprise a Confederate battle flag made an appearance in the crowd before the European edition of Trump’s “American carnage” inaugural.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj
Subscribe to Cape Up, Jonathan Capehart’s weekly podcast