Something weird happened on February 13th at the Republican debate in South Carolina. Donald Trump went after Jeb Bush over the record of his brother, former President George W. Bush. Trump attacked George W. Bush for the invasion of Iraq and for providing insufficient security for the U.S.A., as represented by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
There are many liberals and progressives who were dumbfounded by his words, apparently never expecting commentary such as that to be mouthed by a Republican candidate for President. Many people at the debate were also surprised, because Trump was booed.
There are a few things to consider about this incident. The first is that, despite all of the evidence to the effect that the administration of George W. Bush lied us into a war with Iraq, there are still people, particularly in the Republican Party, who insist on believing that there was sufficient justification for an invasion that violated international law and precedent. In other words, they will not let the facts get in the way of their opinions. Such delusional thinking is always unsettling.
Second, within the Republican camp, and frequently out of the view of many liberals and progressives, there are those who are what might be described as “neo-isolationists.” These neo-isolationists tend to believe that the USA should wall itself off from the rest of the world, in some cases literally—such as Trump’s call for a wall on the border with Mexico—but in most cases figuratively. This element believes that the USA should not engage the international community, but instead should leave everyone to their own devices.
Right-wing isolationists want “their U.S.A.” to be protected, and one must be clear as to what that means. When one listens to the rhetoric of candidates, such as Trump, “their U.S.A.” is a White, non-immigrant U.S.A., that is, the “White republic” of old. They see this White republic under threat by demographic changes, economic changes, and a changing world. For them, the U.S.A. —defined as a White-dominated U.S.A. —must withdraw from world affairs.
We were hearing elements of this in Trump’s rhetoric at the debate. It can be misleading because it sometimes sounds like what we, progressives, have said. But the reality is that Trump wants to retreat into a mythical past. He wants the U.S.A. to be able to dominate the world when it sees fit, but to otherwise disengage with the rest of the planet in resolving common, planetary challenges. Yes, he is correct that the Iraq invasion was based on a lie, and the neo-conservatives in the Republican Party disagree vehemently with him. Yet his vision assumes that the U.S.A. can have its cake and eat it too. That it can obtain resources from the rest of the world, but act not as a partner but as a periodic bully when it does not get its way.
While we may agree with Trump’s criticism of George W. Bush, none of us should ever assume that he has seen the light.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a talk-show host, writer and activist. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at http://www.billfletcherjr.com.