Donald Trump’s speech in Poland was designed to set up Islamic extremism as a vast, existential threat to civilization, something that requires the West to demonstrate a “will to survive” as well as a willingness to pay “any cost.” It was also a speech heavily laden with the themes of the party behind Polish President Andrzej Duda, which has emphasized Poland’s struggles to adopt an authoritarian, restrictive rule. The authors of Trump’s prompter-delivered speech made sure to hit notes that bought loud approval from the bused-in audience of Polish nationalists.
The speech also reserved a few sentences in which Trump could shake a gentle finger at Russia. But no one in Moscow seems to have been offended. That’s because, not only did Trump’s speech make it clear that Russia was a sideline compared to the great clash of civilizations that provides justification for fearing immigrants, scorning the media, and generally waving away human rights, Trump’s visit to Krasinski Square was only the second most important speech he delivered in Poland.
The real speech—the one that delivered Trump’s own feelings and intentions—was the one he delivered in a press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda. It was at that speech where Trump emphasized three things: American intelligence can’t be trusted, American media can’t be trusted, and previous American administrations were weak.
He attacked the media as “fake news.” He refused to say definitively that Russia was behind the meddling into the 2016 election. He attacked former President Barack Obama for “choking” when confronted with intelligence regarding Russian hacking. (And yes, this is the same intelligence that Trump questioned and undermined when he refused to say that Russia was, without question, behind the hacking of the presidential election.)
Overall, Moscow gave the performance its vocal approval.
Asked about Trump’s statement that Russia could have been behind the hacking — something Moscow has repeatedly denied — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Trump had highlighted “equally the possibility that it could have been other countries. Please note the nuances.”
The “nuances” in this case would be Trump’s continued unwillingness to endorse the careful conclusions of seventeen different United States intelligence agencies that have, over the course of months, consistently pointed the finger at Russia. Instead, Trump is saying now what he said during the campaign—it could have been anybody. Presumably still including fat kids in basements.
But Trump didn’t let denying Russia’s involvement stop him from criticizing President Obama.
“He did nothing. The reason is, he thought Hillary was going to win,” Trump said, referring to his 2016 presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton. “And if he thought I was going to win, he would have done plenty about it.”
In his scripted speech, Trump pleased Polish nationalists and fed the idea that terrorism represents a threat so great it requires sacrifice of rights to protect unstated values. In his unscripted interview, Trump made it clear he still has no intention of holding Vladimir Putin responsible for any actions. Instead he’ll continue to aim at the targets he’s focused on from the beginning—the free press and Barack Obama—as the source of all problems.
Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, provided his less than glowing feedback on Trump’s statements.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-CA, said in a statement Thursday that Trump’s claims that “nobody really knows” who hacked the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign officials may “directly undermine U.S. interests.”
Schiff says, “This is not putting America first, but continuing to propagate his own personal fiction at the country’s expense.”
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