WARSAW â President Trump arrived here late Wednesday in a country where the ruling Law and Justice Party has called for Poland to ârise from its kneesâ â a phrase that carries echoes ofÂ Trumpâs âMake America Great Againâ slogan. The populist, nationalist government has also spurned calls for European nations to welcome in Muslim asylum seekers, just as Trump has sought to halt the flow of Syrian refugees to America.
Government leaders haveÂ even promised toÂ bus in throngs of people from rural Poland â the heart of the ruling partyâs support â to cheer the American president as he delivers a speech Thursday in the less-supportive capital city of Warsaw.
Trumpâs decision to visit Poland ahead of a Group of 20 meeting in Hamburg this week is widely viewed as a pointed embrace of his ideological allies here âÂ and a shot across the bow at Europeâs establishment forces, led by Germany and France.
For both governments, the visit is a chance to bolster their alliance at a time of heightened tensions with the rest of Europe. Trump has raised hackles with his friendly posture toward Russian President VladiÂmir Putin and his rejection of the Paris climate deal, while Polish President Andrzej Duda is in the midst of a roiling debate over controversial constitutional changes spearheaded by the Law and Justice Party.
âTrump needs some nice pictures from Europe and the Polish government promised him that there would be cheering crowds in Warsaw,â said Piotr Buras, head of the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.Â âThe Polish government also needs nice pictures.â.â. It needs certain high-level events which would show that PolandÂ is not isolated in Europe and isolated in the world.â
Law and Justice Party leader JaroslawÂ Kaczynski played up the significance of Trumpâs visit ahead of the G-20 summit and bragged that it has made Poland the âenvyâ of other nations such as Great Britain, which has yet to play host to the U.S. president.
âWe have new success, Trumpâs visit,â Kaczynski said over the weekend. â(Others) envy it; the British are attacking us because of it.â
Yet for some Poles, the prospect that Trump might use his visit to bolster the ruling party fills them with dread.
âI donât want him to feel welcome here,â said Paulina Skolasinska, 24, a student at the University of Warsaw, who criticized Trump and the Polish ruling party for their âfear mongering.âÂ âI feel like a lot of Poles support him because he is very similar to the Law and Justice Party here. .â.â. HeÂ speaksÂ to the base instincts. He wants people to fear other people â other nationalities, other ethnicities.â
Especially among college students and other younger Warsaw residents, Trumpâs visit has left a bad taste, even while it is viewed as a potential positive for Polandâs security.
âI donât like him, actually,â said another student, Magda Stanczuk, 27.Â âHe is not as good a person as he could be. I donât like such people.â
Michal Pawtowski, 21, added:Â âI think that it is good that heâs coming because we canât change here in Poland that heâs the president of the United States, but he is the president and we must keep good relations with the United States.â
For decades, the United States and Poland have maintained close ties. The Polish people are widely viewed as being positively inclined toward Americans, and many Americans trace their ancestryÂ to Poland.Â
But Trumpâs presidency has proven to be a polarizing issue here, mirroring the degree to which Polandâs domestic politics have exposed rifts in their society. Since Law and Justice took power in 2015, the party has been accused of pushing anti-democratic reforms, engaging in press restrictions, movingÂ to constrict womenâs reproductive rightsÂ and stifling the teaching of evolution and climate change in schools.
Trumpâs rhetoric against the media and refugees and his criticism of global institutions like NATO and the European Union are similarly viewed negativelyÂ by Polish people, especially those in major cities like Warsaw. Although he is viewed far more positively among Poles than among other Europeans, just 23 percent of Polish people said they had confidence in Trump, a decline of nearly 40 percent compared with their view of Barack Obama at a similar point in his presidency, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. And a survey ahead of Trumpâs visit by an independent Polish news organization found that most felt a sense of âindifference,â âamusementâ and âfearâ at the thought of Trumpâs presence here.
âThere is a lot of this what I would call ideological affinities between the Law and Justice party in Poland and Mr. Trump, not only in terms of ideology and political world view but also some of the methods of doing politics are strikingly similar to my mind,â said Jacek Kucharczyk, president of the Institute of Public Affairs, a Warsaw think tank. âNo wonder the Polish ruling party has embraced this visit and is doing all they can to welcome Mr. Trump with open arms and also to glow in his light.âÂ
For Trump, it will be a rare opportunity to be embraced by a pro-American crowd in his first public address oversees.
On Thursday, at aÂ monument dedicated to Polandâs uprising against Nazi occupationÂ in 1944, Trump will deliver what his aides have billed as a major speech in front of a crowd that will include many rural residents transported into the city free of charge by Law and Justice.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster said in a briefing ahead of the trip that Trump will âlay out a vision, not only for Americaâs future relationship with Europe, but the future of our transatlantic alliance and what that means for American security and American prosperity.â
For Polandâs governing party, Trumpâs visit is being characterized as an unequivocal victory in the international arena and a potential turning point for the countryâs efforts to gain energy independence from Russia.Â
Poland also remains a strategically critical European nation that is particularly sensitive to the threat of rising Russian power. Despite Trumpâs efforts to pursue warmer relations with Putin, the Polish government expressed optimism that Trump remains committed to the security of Central and Eastern Europe.
âItâs important that the president will be there and he will hopefully confirm again the U.S. commitment to NATO and to our cooperation,â said Piotr Wilczek, Polandâs U.S. ambassador. âFor us, his visit to Poland before meeting with President Putin sends a very strong message.â
And despite widespread concerns about Trumpâs personality and politics, many Poles view Trumpâs visit as a reassuring sign that the United States will not pull back on its commitment to Polandâs security under his leadership.
âPoles were really afraid that it would be President Trump having a very successful summit with President Putin and sitting at the table together with Putin and making divisions or [establishing] a new order for this part of the world â that was a real threat here,â said Michal Kobosko, director of the Atlantic Councilâs Warsaw office. âThis has not materialized yet, so Poles are looking with some optimism toward Trump.
âThey believe the decision to have him present in Warsaw really means that even though itâs âAmerica First,â itâs not to say itâs Central Europe second,â he added.
But with Trumpâs stop, he risks being accused of exacerbating rifts within Europe, which have only grown as populist political movements like Law and Justice have come to power.Â
Among some in Poland and elsewhere in Europe, the visit is being watched closely for signs that Trump will use it as an opportunity to undermine the European Union or castigate Americaâs NATO allies for failing to âpay their fair shareâ by spending 2 percent of GDP on their own defense budgets.Â Â
âThe Polish government has a strained relationship with Germany, too,â said Buras, of the European Council on Foreign Relations. âThe Germans will be listening carefully to what Trump says and what the Polish reaction is.âÂ
âIf he wants to humiliate Germany and deepen the divisions within the European Union, he could use this visit very much to this purpose,â he added. âThe divisions are already there.â