From Consortium News
Perhaps the most overlooked part of President Donald Trump's trip to Europe last week was his 18-hour visit to Poland as the guest of political ally and fellow nationalist, President Andrzej Duda.
I interviewed Ronald Cox, a professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Florida International University, about the significance of Trump's decision to make an early visit to Poland. Cox is author or editor of numerous books including Corporate Power and Globalization in US Foreign Policy. I spoke to Cox on July 6.
Dennis Bernstein: Why did Trump go to Poland? What's your overview? And then let's talk about what we understand might have happened.
Ronald Cox: Trump is essentially continuing in Poland what he's already doing in the United States. He's extending militarization, and support for those countries that are thoroughly militarizing their economy, as well as political parties that are in favor of unleashing a further militarization and policing of the domestic population, which Trump approves of, not only at home but in a country like Poland.
DB: Say a little bit more about that, doing the same thing there as he's doing here? Give us a few more details on that.
RC: Okay, so the first two aspects of Trump's speech are worthy of note. The first aspect is the support for Poland's increased military spending toward NATO. Poland has been one of five countries that have surpassed a 2% threshold, that Trump was urging all NATO member countries to pass regarding 2% of military spending... 2% of GDP. So Trump celebrated that aspect.
The second aspect that Trump celebrated was this particular attitude of a political party -- the Law and Justice Party in Poland -- which is engaged in a militarization campaign, a policing campaign inside Poland that has strong consequences domestically. Because one of its targets is Muslims. And one of the targets is what is labelled Islamic Extremists, but oftentimes with a broad brush is simply painted -- the Muslim population. So there's been increased harassment of Muslims, increased attacks against Muslims that have been, essentially, endorsed by this government.
And it's a mistake to consider the Law and Justice Party a new development in Poland. They've actually been a dominant opposition party for some time. They were previously in a position of power, in Poland. So they have a lengthy history that coincides nicely with what the Polish state has done over the past 15 years, which essentially is to implement a set of neo-liberal policies which includes privatization, which includes deregulation.
In fact, aspects of their program are quite compatible with what is typically labelled neo-liberal economic policy, even though they're often referred to as a far-right, nationalist party. But in this case, nationalism is being geared towards supporting a further emboldening of the private sector, a further emboldening of the security forces, the police and the military, as a way to protect a defined population in Poland.
If you note an important aspect of Trump's speech, he talked about the importance of defending civilization. He didn't talk about the importance of defending democracy. He didn't talk about the importance of popular participation, other than equating popular will with a vision of civilization. This is sort of straight out of the Steve Bannon playbook, which pits white civilization, particularly white Christian civilization, against other types of civilization.
So, in that sense, Trump in his speech was directly, sort of, calling forth this clash of civilizations narrative. Which, I think, feeds into his administration's support for far-right regimes.
DB: And it did appear, at least it appeared that he had strong support from the folks on the street. That these were very strong and powerful supporters of the government of Poland and of Trump, in this context. Would that be a proper perception?
RC: Yes, except I would qualify it in the following sense. What helped catapult this party to power is the fact that the neo-liberal policies have come with a growing problem in Poland, as elsewhere. You have a massive gap between rich and poor. You have one-fifth of the country which is in poverty. And this is particularly true in the eastern part of the country. So you see workers there, you see small farmers there who gravitated towards the Law and Justice Party because, frankly, there's no left alternative in Poland.
So the Law and Justice Party was able to drive a wedge between popular frustration at not having a better social page, or better access to welfare, that we protect them from declining income, and declining access to good jobs, and anger at the state itself. So, they're redirecting that anger towards immigrant populations, in particular the Muslim population.