U.S. Plants the Rainbow Flag in Poland
“I fully respect that Poland is a Catholic country, but you need to know that, regarding LGBT, you’re on the wrong side of history.”
In recent years, conservative Poles and their American allies have heard some variation of this reproach a thousand times—usually from the scolding activists of the U.S. LGBT lobby, not content with massive victories in their homefront war. This time, though, the source is somewhat unexpected: the United States’ Trump-appointed ambassador to Poland.
Georgette Mosbacher—cosmetics executive, socialite/philanthropist, and longtime GOP apparatchik—might seem an odd choice to send to Warsaw. In fact, she was controversial at the time of her appointment, as she laid the blame for European anti-semitism at Poland’s door, on account of “a law passed in Poland in January  that criminalizes blaming Poland for Holocaust crimes committed by occupying Nazi Germany.” (The act banned by the law is perhaps the most outrageous conceivable form of what the kids call “victim-blaming.”) The Polish government denounced Mosbacher’s heavy charge, but nonetheless accepted her appointment.
It now seems clear, though, that Mosbacher’s confirmation hiccup was merely indicative of a broader, deeper ignorance of Polish culture, politics, and values. The damning quote above—taken from a late-September interview with a Polish news outlet—is self-defeating. If the ambassador actually respected that Poland is a Catholic country, and had even the most basic understanding of what that means, she would not have finished the sentence.
Alas, she did—which leaves us with the unwelcome task of analyzing it. “Wrong side of history” is no throwaway phrase. It is not the kind of soft aspersion cast on those with mildly offensive habits, people to be chided gently and maybe nudged in the right direction. It is an insult reserved for people whose views you find reprehensible, and untenable. (This is no shocker, either, though—it’s an easy charge to level against those you’ve already called anti-semites.)
The “wrong side of history” moralizing also betrays a good deal about the ideology in play. It is a reminder that, in America, even our right-wingers are Whigs most of the time. History, in their minds, is always moving forward. Freedom lies before us, and requires that we leave behind old bonds: to King and country first; to God and family in a chain reaction. (Any conservatism we can lay claim to is a bit of quibbling over which bonds we can keep, and for how long—standing athwart History yelling “Gently, please!”) And that there is a wrong side of history necessitates a right side set against it: always the thrust of Progress. Here, by the ambassador’s reckoning, it is progressive liberation from traditional sexual mores.
This was not a slip of the tongue. Ambassador Mosbacher was not just grinding a personal axe on embassy time. This liberationism is, and has long been, the de facto policy of the U.S. State Department.
For another example we might look to Zambia. The African nation of over 17 million people has been without an American ambassador since January of this year, when Daniel Lewis Foote, a career diplomat appointed to the post in December 2017, was declared persona non grata by the Zambian president just two years after his arrival in the country. Ambassador Foote had, in no uncertain terms, denounced the enforcement of the nation’s laws against sodomy. (For what it’s worth, sodomy laws are still on the books in 15 of these United States, though a 6-3 SCOTUS decision in the distant age of 2003 has proscribed their enforcement.)
With little awareness of his host nation’s culture—over 85 percent of the population is Christian and the Zambian constitution explicitly defines its identity as a Christian nation—Foote declaimed his horror that Zambia had not dispensed with a 3,000-year Judeo-Christian precedent within 16 years of the U.S. doing the same. In response to heavy criticism from the Zambian government and public, the ambassador doubled down, throwing up scare quotes around “Christian values” in a less-than-diplomatic statement. Following this clear attempt to impose his own agenda on Zambian domestic affairs, Foote was recalled to the United States. No replacement is expected soon.
Despite the incumbency of noted social conservative Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, this has actually been a running theme in the Trump administration’s foreign policy apparatus. Richard Grenell—himself an openly gay man—was tapped to head our overseas LGBT efforts during his time as ambassador to Germany. Grenell continued the efforts during a brief stint as acting director of national intelligence, threatening to sideline any intelligence allies who did not bow to the agenda. On this audacious move, Grenell told The New York Times, “We have the president’s total support. This is an American value, and this is United States policy.”
Is it, now?
For the Trump administration, it seems, the answer is yes—the job of these diplomats, after all, is to represent American interests abroad. We cannot very well pretend to two sets of values: the American values we push in Zambia and Poland ought to be the same ones we tout on the campaign trail here. And while it’s true that Trump has never made any claims at hardline social conservatism, he has never advertised to the electorate such blatant disgust at it as his representatives do abroad; such pronouncements would cost votes. But as the strong arm of the State Department pushes for progress overseas—unhindered by the need to win elections—it is not hard to see that conservative Americans will find themselves in an even more hostile world a few years down the line. History marches on.
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It is worth considering exactly what Mosbacher denounced in Poland. Poland—87 percent Catholic and governed by the right-wing Law and Justice Party—is not in the same political situation as states like Zambia, where illicit but consensual sexual acts can be punished by time in prison. It is certainly not so extreme as, say, Saudi Arabia, where sodomy is punishable by death (and where, oddly enough, American diplomats keep tight lips on the matter). Poland is actually one of very few states in the world where no sodomy laws have ever been enacted.
What Poland does have is a powerful cultural force—tied up, yes, in its political operations—energized in defense of tradition. The most publicized manifestation of this cultural-political traditionalism has been the establishment of “LGBT-free zones” throughout Poland, now encompassing about one third of the country. These zones are largely symbolic, representing an opposition to the ideology that conservative leaders see as a threat to traditional mores, and especially as a corrupting influence on children. Catholic and nationalist leaders like President Andrzej Duda identify it specifically as a foreign, imported ideology, antithetical to Polish values. (Ambassador Mosbacher has certainly bolstered their claim.)
This is not exactly tyranny. This is a fairly standard social conservatism: resistance to the kind of change that corrupts, especially from unfamiliar and unwelcome origins. Its only difference from American social conservatism is that it has attained some modicum of success—precisely because it has not shied away from asserting its claims in the public square.
There is a significant and growing number of Americans who would be sure to support similar efforts if they could see them as anything more than hopeless. They are the base of a burgeoning movement on the right focused on the common good, open to commitments to public morality and skeptical of the golden calf of liberty. They are, by and large, religious people. They would be far more successful in the defense of conservatism at home if they did not have leaders who constantly undercut the same cause abroad.
They—we—did not vote for Hillary Clinton.
That is why this matters. How many millions of us cast our lot for Trump in 2016? How many millions more will do the same next month? We deserve an honest answer about what the people we put in power think of us.
Are we on the wrong side of history too?