Two former Republican presidential candidates came out last week to condemn the nationalism brought forth by Donald Trump — all without mentioning the president’s name.
Arizona Sen. John McCain took the opportunity of winning the Liberty Medal last Monday to attack “half-baked nationalism.”
“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history,” McCain declared. (RELATED: McCain Warns Of Losing America’s ‘Ideals’ To ‘Half-Baked Nationalism’)
McCain’s speech urged that America is “a land of ideals, not blood and soil,” and that Americans have a “moral obligation” to spread those ideals all over the world.
Clearly, the Republican senator’s message was aimed at Trump and the president himself thought so. But McCain denied that was his primary intent.
SEN. MCCAIN CRITICIZES PRACTICES THAT ALLOWED THE RICH TO DODGE DRAFT IN VIETNAM:
“I was referring to the whole atmosphere and environment … there’s a whole lot of people besides the president who have said ‘America First’,” the senator claimed.
On Thursday, former president George W. Bush gave a similar speech condemning America First nationalism without saying Trump’s name.
“Our identity as a nation, unlike other nations, is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood,” Bush argued in his speech. “Being an American involves the embrace of high ideals and civic responsibility.” (RELATED: Bush: White Supremacy Is ‘Blasphemy Against The American Creed’)
The president behind the Iraq war also explicitly attacked those who would like a reduction in immigration and protectionism in trade policy.
“We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism — forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America. We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade — forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism,” Bush said.
Bush, like McCain, also believes America is obliged to spread its noble ideals around the world. It was in fact the animating purpose behind his foreign policy.
To summarize, both Bush and McCain believe that American national identity depends on an interventionist foreign policy and unrestricted immigration. (Bush adds free trade to that vision.) America is an idea, and it must be spread to as many people as possible.
This belief hasn’t worked out well in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya, but those results haven’t diminished its respectability among elites. Bush and McCain received astronomical levels of praise for their comments, with one columnist even asserting it was Bush’s “finest hour.”
You can always expect for liberals to discover a new found respect for any Republican who attacks Trump and connects him to racism. Bush was viciously attacked as a fascist and a racist when he was a president — now he’s a hero to progressives for calling out the bigotry of America firsters.
The message from the press’s praise is that Bush and McCain are standing up for the real America, one that’s national identity depends on keeping our borders open and imposing democracy on random parts on the world.
To oppose this vision makes one un-American and possibly even racist.
Put another way, America can only be America if it serves the interests of non-citizens, according to Bush and co.
The vision articulated by Dubya and McCain once reigned supreme in the GOP. It was trumped by the populist-nationalist message of the future president during the election. Trump hasn’t always articulated at well — as is his nature — but voters flocked to his defiance of old Republican pieties.
It was okay to question the point of foreign interventionism if it cost American blood and treasure for no discernible purpose. The Statue of Liberty poem — which is neither law nor a founding document — doesn’t justify open borders. The benefits of free trade have not been felt by all Americans. (RELATED: The Statue Of Liberty Poem Is Now A Weapon In America’s Culture War)
In its best form, America first means putting the interests of the nation’s citizens above all others. Apparently, this is dangerous thinking if it means no more nation-building.
It’s expected that the kind of nationalism associated with Trump is smeared with charges of racism. That’s how it’s been derided since Trump first entered the presidential race. But voters brushed aside those denunciations and voted for Trump anyway.
How is putting citizens first somehow un-American?
Many liberals and conservatives, particularly of the neoconservative persuasion, believe America needs some grand, messianic purpose. It cannot exist just like other nations in serving its citizens and protecting its sovereignty. It must endlessly promote liberal democracy to the entire world — regardless of whether it serves the national interest or if the rest of the world is open to it.
While shrieking about the supposed dangers of nationalism, Bush and McCain failed to acknowledge how harmful their own ideology is. The continued instability of Iraq and the thousands of lives lost due to our intervention there doesn’t present a shining alternative to Trumpism.
Trump may not be the best messenger for Trumpism, but it’s certainly preferable than the discredited policies of George W. Bush.