What Happened to Putting Americans First?
President Trump said Wednesday that Jewish Americans who vote for Democratic candidates are “very disloyal to Israel,” expanding on his remarks from the previous day and dismissing criticism that his remarks were anti-Semitic.
“I think if you vote for a Democrat, you are very, very disloyal to Israel and to the Jewish people,” Trump said in an exchange with reporters outside the White House before departing for an event in Kentucky.
There wasn’t really any doubt about what Trump meant the first time when he launched this attack on the vast majority of American Jews, and now he has removed any doubt that might have remained. The president is using explicit anti-Semitic rhetoric here, and he is attacking most American Jews because they are not loyal to a foreign country. Because Trump has made a habit of indulging the Israeli government and giving Netanyahu everything he wants regardless of the consequences for the U.S., he apparently assumes that this is the attitude everyone else should have. This is the twisted logic of the “pro-Israel” hawk who assumes that Jewish people everywhere should be “loyal” to Israel and should be condemned if they are deemed not to be. It turns the old anti-Semitic attack upside down, but retains the same ugly core of singling out fellow citizens as disloyal because of their identity and vilifying them for political purposes. In one of the more disgraceful episodes of Trump’s presidency, he once again denounces Jewish Americans for putting America and our values first.
Trump’s attacks are the latest example of how Israel and U.S. policy towards Israel have been made into part of the domestic culture war where being a “pro-Israel” hard-liner is associated with nationalism at home. “Pro-Israel” nationalists imagine that they have more in common with hard-liners in other countries than they do with their fellow citizens, and they see no contradiction in being aggressively nationalist here while also subordinating U.S. interests overseas to the preferences of a small client state.
Paul Pillar touched on some of this in his recent article:
First, viewpoints that do not prevail in domestic political competition are seen not just as losing arguments regarding the best way to pursue the national interest but rather as not a worthy part of the nation at all. Second, some foreign interests are seen not just as allies or means that can be used to pursue the U.S. national interest but rather as objects of affection or identity in their own right. These two developments are two sides of the same coin. The more that the concept of a national interest breaks down domestically into a sharp division between one viewpoint to be cherished and an opposing one to be scorned, the more natural a step it is to identify with like-minded elements overseas rather than with one’s own fellow citizens.
It isn’t possible to put America and Americans first when the president and his allies are determined to take the side of a foreign government against American citizens and members of Congress. If we want a foreign policy that actually serves the American interest, we can’t tolerate political leaders that attack fellow Americans to score points with foreign leaders and cast hateful aspersions against minorities in the name of promoting a relationship with another country. Trump is incapable of conducting such a foreign policy, and these anti-Semitic outbursts are the latest reminder of why he can’t.