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Trump's NATO talk rattles Polish Americans in Michigan

Melissa Nann Burke, The Detroit News on

Published in Political News

Former President Donald Trump’s statement that he’d encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to European allies who aren’t meeting NATO spending guidelines has rattled Michigan residents with Polish heritage or family ties, who said they found his remarks “appalling,” insulting and un-American.

In interviews, several Polish Americans — whose community numbers over 760,000 in Michigan ― said they fear that Trump in a possible second term would pull back from North Atlantic Treaty Organization security commitments. They also worry he may even move to formally withdraw the United States from the post-World War II pact with its closest military and economic partners overseas.

Michigan has a significant Polish community, ranking the third largest in the nation behind New York and Illinois, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

“This isn’t Trump negotiating for a golf course or threatening to evict tenants from his apartment building. This isn't a business transaction,” said Andy Ladak, a Vietnam veteran from Warren who was raised in the Polish community in suburban Detroit and still has family and friends in Poland.

“For us as Americans to approach our relationship and support for such a critical alliance as NATO as a simple business transaction, or worse ― encouraging Russia to do ‘whatever the hell they want ’ ― is just totally unacceptable and beyond the pale for a former or future American president to say.”

Trump, who is the front-runner for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, doubled down Tuesday night during a Fox News town hall event when asked if he meant that he won't defend NATO countries if they are “delinquent” in devoting 2% of gross domestic product to defense.

 

"Yeah. Sort of. It does," Trump replied. "What I did is I told them, 'If you don't pay up, I'm not gonna defend you.' And they said, 'I can't believe it. Nobody else ever said that.'"

The former president's allies said his remarks are mere posturing and negotiation — an effort to draw attention to NATO members who aren’t meeting defense spending goals. They also downplayed reports from former Trump advisers who warn that Trump would move to quit the alliance in a second term.

U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township, said she doesn’t believe Trump is actually advocating for war against U.S. allies, asserting that he wasn’t speaking literally in his NATO remarks during campaign rallies.

“It got everyone’s attention didn’t it? Perhaps that was the point. Trump used strong language to make a very strong point,” said McClain, who has endorsed Trump for president.

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