It’s not true, as Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley suggested in his fiery, “America First” Friday speech at the far-right Conservative Political Action Conference, that those who don’t agree with him don’t think we should have national borders. Or that we never stop proclaiming “how terrible our country is … founded in lies and evil.”
It is true, however, that it’s not a particular point of pride for us that America freed the slaves. Eventually.
And that, apparently, is a dividing line for our Trump-First Republican junior senator, who hopes to run for president himself in 2024.
Part of pushing back against liberals, he told the crowd, “is reclaiming our history and saying it is good and we are proud to be Americans. We’re proud to have come to live in a country that started with nothing and became the greatest country on the face of the Earth. We’re proud to live in a country that liberated slaves.”
Seriously? This is the very first thing for which we need to stand up and take a bow?
Because it seems to some of us that no one should ever have tried to own other human beings to begin with.
We didn’t so much start with nothing as we stole what was here before we got here from Native Americans.
And when we did end slavery, after a war in which the Confederacy — whose heroes Hawley defends — fought to preserve it, we were awfully late coming around. And then did everything possible, through Jim Crow laws, to keep things as inequitable as they had been.
This doesn’t mean we hate America; it means we recognize reality, and see the need to learn from it.
To really love America is to want to make her promise come true, rather than to pretend that ending a travesty at long last, and then recreating its injustices, somehow makes us morally superior.
Hawley told the crowd that “What we need is a new nationalism.” Done, unfortunately.
“We’ve got to put American workers first,” he said, “not illegal immigrants. Can I just say by the way on that subject, on the subject of immigration, we get told all the time, if you believe in a border, if you think that borders actually matter, if you think that citizenship actually matters, well my goodness I mean you’re a bigot. You’re backwards. Can I just say, can I just try to enlighten our liberal friends for a second? We believe in borders because we believe in citizenship. We believe in citizenship because we believe in America.”
It is possible to believe in borders, citizenship, America, and also to believe that immigrant families should never have been torn apart.
DANGEROUS RHETORIC FOSTERS DIVISION
As always, Hawley presented himself as a country boy, though that’s not how the banker’s son is remembered in the hometown he left after eighth grade.
“You know, where I come from in Missouri, I grew up in rural Missouri, a small town right in the middle of Missouri, a working-class town of good folks workin’ hard to make it every day and I can just tell you, where I grew up, we believe in citizenship because we’re proud of it.”
Good, then vote for President Joe Biden’s comprehensive immigration bill.
Hawley ended his demagoguery this way: “I just want to close with a line I’ve thought a lot about, a quote from Daniel Webster, who in some trying years of his own that he knew, a time before the beginning of the Civil War, he used to end his speeches in the United States Senate by saying Union now, Union forever. What he meant was for those who said America’s time had passed, the country was hopelessly divided, that it was irredeemable — sound familiar?”
No, it doesn’t sound familiar, because zero people are saying any of that.
“He said no, Union now, forever. I just want to say, my friends, America now, America first, America forever.”
As Republican Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney said recently, “America First” does sound familiar, and not in a good way.
She called Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy ideas “just as dangerous today as they were in 1940 when isolationists launched the America First movement to appease Hitler and prevent America from aiding Britain in the fight against the Nazis.” She’s right, of course.
“Segregation now, segregation forever,” Alabama Gov. George Wallace said in 1963. That, too, was winked at in Hawley’s ugly address.
Hawley, Stanford history major, is not ignorant of any of the above, shocked as he pretends to be that anyone else would acknowledge it.
America is not hopelessly divided, but that’s no thanks to Hawley.