Donald Trump’s approach to foreign policy might seem contradictory and hard to predict, yet his two speeches in Warsaw, Poland today (July 6) show he has honed a checklist of talking points to appeal to his fans at home—and a carefully selected audience abroad.
The US president’s domestic policy so far has been mostly tailored to appeal to Americans who voted for him, which means mostly ignoring the opinions and concerns of the majority who did not. When it comes to foreign policy, the administration’s approach is shaping up much the same—Trump made his first stop in Europe in a nationalist-leaning country with a government that is cracking down on the independent judiciary and press freedom. The government literally bused in crowds of cheering supporters to greet him.
Trump spoke to a closed group of officials at the Royal Castle in Warsaw about the Three Seas Initiative, the eastern and central European trade alliance, and later publicly in Krasiński Square. Here are the highlights:
For the folks at home
Tout the US stock markets. “Our stock market just hit an all-time high,” Trump said at the Three Seas speech, then went on to add that the markets had gained $4 trillion in value since his election. “Personally, I picked up nothing, but that’s all right,” he said. “Everyone else is getting rich.”
Push US products. “We make the best technology and we make the best, best technology for fighter jets and ships and equipment, military weapons,” he said. “So when you buy and as you buy military equipment, hopefully you’ll be thinking only of the United States.”
Trash the US media. When earlier US presidents remarked on American media overseas, it was to praise it as a crucial part of our democracy. Trump, however, said in a press conference after the Three Seas speech—his first abroad—that many US news outlets “have been fake news for a long time. They’ve been covering us in a very dishonest way.”
Marvel at a well-known historical fact. Poland, Trump told the Polish people, was invaded twice in 19 years by the Soviets, and then the Soviets and the Nazis. “That’s trouble,” he said. “That’s tough.”
Praise Christianity, bash Islam. “The people of Poland, the people of America, the people of Europe, still cry out ‘We want God,'” Trump said in his second speech, despite the fact that the number of Christians in Europe is dwindling.
“We are fighting hard against radical Islamic terrorism, and we will prevail,” Trump said. “We cannot accept those who reject our values and who use hatred to justify violence against the innocent.”
Bash Obama: Trump blamed his predecessor for doing “nothing” to stop Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election because, Trump said, Obama thought Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was going to win: “If he thought I was going to win, he would have done plenty about it”
For the audience abroad
The Trump team knew its audience in Poland—supporters of the populist, right-wing government, a group that is devoutly Catholic, EU-skeptical, and includes a deeply nationalistic cohort. (Someone even brought a Confederate flag to his second speech.)
Trump spoke in front of a monument to the Warsaw Uprising in Krasiński Square, which commemorates an important and tragic event in the nation’s history often co-opted by the right-wing fringe as a symbol of nationalist pride. Amid chants of “Donald Trump,” and an almost rally-like atmosphere, he hit a series of notes guaranteed to win him love from the ruling party and its constituents:
The long-standing tradition and history of the Polish state. “This is a nation more than one thousand years old.”
Polish suffering and martyrdom, a crucial part of the nationalist narrative. “For two centuries, Poland suffered constant and brutal attacks.”
Polish heroism, exceptionalism, and resilience. This theme continued throughout the speech, especially in its focus on the Warsaw Uprising, and the fight against outside oppressors. Trump used the word “prevail” six times during his speech, five in reference to Poland as a nation that always rises up from the ashes.
Polish pride in its heroes. “You are the proud nation of Copernicus—think of that: Chopin, Saint John Paul II. Poland is a land of great heroes.”
Poland’s relationship with God. See above, “We want God.”
Poland’s defeat of Communism. “You stood in solidarity against oppression, against a lawless secret police, against a cruel and wicked system that impoverished your cities and your souls. And you won.”
The superiority of Western civilization and the need to fight for it. “We write symphonies…if we fail to preserve it, it will never, ever exist again.”
Poland as an integral part of the Western civilization. “Poland is the geographic heart of Europe, but more importantly, in the Polish people, we see the soul of Europe.”
Trump’s insistence on playing only to his supporters isn’t willful blindness, it’s a deliberate strategy, many believe. The more than 50% of Americans who disapprove of him will never like him, the theory goes, so he needs to focus on making those who do happy.