Rules Are for Schmucks: Trump in Poland

President and Polish President Andrzej Duda | July 6, 2017 (Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Our beleaguered president delivered a major speech in Poland last month. In it, he repeatedly lumped Poland and the United States together under the banner of “the West” and “our civilization,” maintaining that both need to circle their wagons against “forces…from the south or the east, that threaten…to erase the bonds of culture, faith, and tradition.” As Peter Beinart points out in the Atlantic, he didn’t define “our civilization” in terms of any shared values of free expression or human rights, but in terms of religion: “The people of Poland, the people of America, and the people of Europe still cry out ‘We want God!’ …We put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, at the center of our lives.”

Here are a few recent items about religion and politics in the Poland that Trump praises so highly, from which it seems fair to infer his vision for America:

  • Last year, Polish President Andrzei Duda took part in a religious ceremony that officially recognized Jesus as the King of Poland. The current “Law and Justice” ruling party came to power after heavy political involvement from Poland’s Catholic Church, and promptly named as defense minister an anti-Semitic bigot who claims that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are true.
  • Poland is in the midst of an ongoing crackdown on judges and journalists so severe there have been threats of sanctions from other members of the European Union. Squashing judges and journalists is right up Trump’s alley.
  • Polish law already outlaws abortion, except in extreme cases. However, the Catholic Church and Prime Minister Beata Szydłoare are trying to get rid of those extreme case exceptions, including the one about saving the life of the mother. As one ruling party legislator put it, “What difference is there if a child is conceived through rape or not?” The plan provided a five-year jail term for any woman seeking an abortion, and was only stalled last fall after massive street protests by women. After its defeat, the party came back with a new proposal to ensure that even pregnancies involving a child “certain to die, very deformed, still end up in a birth, so that the child can be baptized, buried, have a name.” President Trump deliberately waded into the controversy by proclaiming in his speech that “We value the dignity of every human life.”
  • The ruling party is also trying to severely restrict in vitro fertilization, again at the behest of the Catholic Church. Lawmakers who voted against the church IVF position were denied communion.
  • Poland’s Radio Maryja and its sister TV station are known for their viciously anti-Jewish and anti-gay programming—their advertising posters proclaim that “The kikes will not continue to spit on us.” The station is not just tolerated by the Polish government—the priest who runs it (who’s too much even for the Vatican to stomach) was recently given millions of taxpayer dollars to fund his college of hate, apparently as a payoff for the over-the-top politicking the station did in the last election. More inspiration for Betsy DeVos?
  • Poland is attempting to criminalize the study of history. There is no question that many individual Poles participated actively in the Holocaust, and even after World War II ended there was still organized butchery of Polish Jews by Polish non-Jews. But writing about these historical facts can get you jail time, for a crime called “insulting and slandering the good name of Poland.” Our president’s speech, by the way, went on and on about the non-Jewish Warsaw uprising in 1944, with only a passing reference to the 1943 battle in Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto (which non-Jews declined to join). That slight might be insignificant, were it not coupled with the fact that Trump is the first US president or vice president since the fall of communism in 1989 to visit Poland without paying his respects at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw.
  • Poland forked over five billion Polish zlotys ($1.58 billion) to the Catholic Church after 1989, allegedly in restitution for church property seized by the government. However, most church property was originally funded by government-backed taxation centuries ago, so the latest payment really constitutes paying for it twice.
  • If you think enforcing blasphemy laws is just for Muslim countries like Pakistan, think again. Polish blasphemers are punished as well for speaking out. Pop star Doda Rabczewska was fined 5,000 zloty ($1,450) for joking that the Bible “was written by someone drunk on wine and smoking some herbs.”
  • Poland may be the exorcism capital of Europe, with hundreds of priests trained in the art. There was even an attempt to exorcise a secular newspaper—maybe something Trump could try with the Washington Post. When an exorcism center was planned in the little village of Poczernin, residents were concerned about where all the newly released demons might go. Poland doesn’t need an RLUIPA for such controversies, though.

Despite all that, the days of Catholic dominance in Poland appear to be numbered. Regular church attendance has fallen to 40 percent of the population, down ten points over the past decade. People staged angry protests against a crucifix that was erected in front of the prime minister’s residence. Polls show that 80 percent of Poles disagree with the government stance against IVF. That’s why the government is pushing hard for a new law that makes it much harder to stage counter-demonstrations to rallies sponsored by the state or the church. It’s a plan that’s bound to fail. In the long run, religious influence will wane in Poland, and Trump will disappear as well. Unfortunately, both Poland and the United States will have to suffer the consequences until that long run arrives.