Just over a week has passed since President Donald Trump offered, in Warsaw, a very particular defense of Western civilization. He praised Poland for its fight against Nazism and Soviet communism long ago, though he said little about the country's success since 1989. He spoke of the things that hold the West together, including classical music and God, but made only glancing references to democracy. He also spoke of the threats to the West, alluding to dangers from the "South or the East" as well as from an "oppressive ideology," radical Islam, that "seeks to export terrorism and extremism all around the globe."
In the days since that speech, rapidly moving events in Warsaw have proved him wrong: As I write this, Poland is proving that the greatest threat to the West is not radical Islam. The greatest threat is not even external: It is internal. In Poland, a democratically elected but illiberal government has, in the past few days, escalated its attack on its own constitution, pushing new laws openly designed to create a politicized judiciary. And it feels emboldened to do so by the visit of the U.S. president.
The Polish government is led by Law and Justice, a nationalist ruling party with a slim parliamentary majority but no popular majority and no mandate to change the constitution. Nevertheless, since taking power, it has methodically subjugated a series of previously independent institutions: the public broadcaster, the prosecutor's office and, most seriously, the Constitutional Tribunal. It has politicized the civil service. Its conspiratorial defense minister has eliminated much of the professional military leadership, too.