Translating Philotimo into English is very much like a famous comment by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart ruling about obscenity in a case in 1964: “…. But I know it when I see it, ….” The descendants of Greek immigrants who helped build this country should never forget the philotimo that our forebears brought to these shores.
Sadly, a core group of dedicated Greek-American supporters of President Trump have forgotten what their parents or grandparents taught them. Does philotimo permit continued rabid support for someone who has demonstrated in public his disdain for our community, its institutions, its values and its interests? Greek-Americans who worked loyally for Trump only to be humiliated and fired but who continue to suck up to him have left their philotimo at the door. Apparently, philotimo does not prevent Greek-Americans – even some who hail from threatened Aegean islands – from supporting Trump, the best friend of the greatest threat to Greece, Turkish President Reccip Erdogan.
Look at Trump’s first Greek Independence Day reception at the White House. Boredom barely describes his expression when he enters the room. He reads a three-minute speech on Greek democracy from notes, acknowledges the Archbishop and leaves. The 2018 and 2019 receptions are the same, except for tossing a red cap embroidered with “Make Greece Great Again” into the crowd. Anyone who doesn’t see contempt needs a session with a counselor.
Trump has hired a few Greek-Americans into the White House. They all quit or got fired within twelve months of their appointment. One of them had the shortest tenure ever by an incumbent in that position. Trump fired him, leaked demeaning comments about him and then ‘Unfollowed’ him on Twitter. Despite that humiliation, that person spent the next three years publicly praising Trump. He finally got a reward for lack of philotimo: an appointment on an obscure commission selecting people for fellowships.
Our parents and grandparents must be spinning in their graves as they watch their descendants applaud and cheer as Trump closes America’s borders to all immigrants (not just to illegals), throws children into detention camps and disparages poor countries. Those actions define an affront to our forebears’ philotimo. The Trumpists forget that their progenitors came here in exactly the same circumstances as today’s immigrants (and just as often illegally) seeking a better life. Greek-American Trumpists talk as if their families came over on the Mayflower. One well-educated Greek-American Trumpist told me that he believes almost all immigrants (specifically including Greeks) will never give primary loyalty to the United States and should not be allowed to join the U.S. Armed Forces. He also suggested that Greeks are culturally unsuited to be Americans. Another, speaking at a large conference, attacked George Soros for supporting immigration because “…he isn’t even Christian.” I can only guess what their mothers must think.
Numerous sources, most recently National Security Advisor John Bolton, have thoroughly documented Trump’s inexplicable friendship with Erdogan. That friendship was on display when Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis visited Washington nine months ago. Trump ignored or blew off each attempt by Mitsotakis to engage him about threats facing Greece but accused Greece, falsely as usual, of not meeting its NATO budget obligations. Trump also ignored Mitsotakis’ suggestion that Greece join the F-35 program, knowing Erdogan would oppose it. Generally, he changed the subject whenever it got to anything related to Turkey and Greece and took a bizarre excursion into saying “there are three million Greeks in the U.S. and I know them all.”
A month ago, the Greek Orthodox world expressed outrage at Erdogan’s decision to convert Aghia Sophia back into a mosque. His Eminence Archbishop Elpidoforos called on Trump in the Oval office. Look at the photos: Trump sits behind his desk (never mind the bored expression), while the Archbishop stands as a supplicant in front of the desk. It appears Trump did not even offer him a chair. The White House announcement following the visit came via a tweet by Vice President Pence “America will stand firm with the Greek Orthodox Church in the call for Aghia Sophia to remain accessible” (something Erdogan has already promised). Trump said/tweeted nothing.
In the last couple of weeks Erdogan has pushed Greece to the brink of war. Greece averted a clash only by calling Erdogan’s bluff but all the elements are in place for a disastrous war. Every attempt to get Trump to intervene to prevent war has been fruitless. Even the Israelis have complained about America’s absence from a crisis generated by Erdogan that threatens to set the region afire. Even when pressed, in a telephone call by French President Macron, Trump restricted himself to “expressing concern over increased tension between NATO Allies Greece and Turkey." In effect, he equated Greek and Turkish responsibility for the problems. My same well-educated Trumpist friend argued publicly that Greece should help get Trump reelected if it expects any help from the United States. In addition to displaying a complete unfamiliarity with philotimo, the argument appears to advocate foreign intervention in American elections.
My father was a life-long Republican. In 1974, at the age of 85 he demonstrated in front of Nixon’s White House in 90-degree heat to protest American inaction in the face of the invasion of Cyprus. That’s philotimo. The generation of Greek immigrants who helped make America great would be horrified at how their descendants have lost it.