It’s a segment you should watch yourself. At a rally in North Carolina on Wednesday evening, President Trump rattled off mendacious statements about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a Somali American politician who has become a frequent target of attacks from the right. Then, the Trump-supporting crowd broke into chants of “send her back.”
Trump paused for 13 seconds, letting the calls for the deportation of an elected American official grow before resuming his diatribes.
The next day — after another outraged backlash against Trump’s incitement and racism — the president baldly lied that he had tried to quell the chants. Most of his Republican Party defended him anyway, as they did with the week’s earlier controversy when Trump tweeted that Omar and three other Democratic congresswomen should “go back” to their countries of origin. They invoked talking points floating around right-wing media about Omar, built largely on conspiracy theories or deliberate distortions of statements made in the past by the outspoken Muslim congresswoman.
Though Trump’s party is in lockstep behind him, critics remain appalled by both the president’s behavior and his party’s acceptance of it. “Trump’s insistence that [the Democratic lawmakers] should go back to the ‘broken’ countries they came from rests on the notion that one’s place of origin, rather than the content of one’s character, is a basis for judging the legitimacy of one’s participation in national affairs,” noted The Washington Post’s editorial board. “And the slander that they ‘hate’ their country is no more tolerable.”
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
-Maya Angelou https://t.co/46jcXSXF0B
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) July 18, 2019
But Trump’s bigoted rhetoric did make things a bit uncomfortable for some of his supporters. At the swanky Ritz-Carlton in Washington earlier this week, a coterie of right-wing wonks and scholars convened the inaugural National Conservatism conference. The gathering could be seen as an attempt to put some intellectual meat on the bones of Trumpism — or, perhaps more crucially, the right-wing nationalist movement that will follow the eventual end of his presidency.
The president is, after all, the prime mover here: He smashed years of post-Reagan Republican orthodoxy, embracing both protectionism and overt blood-and-soil nationalism. But his political style remains polarizing, his popularity limited and his tweets embarrassing.
« President Trump is an important figure, but he’s not going to be the only figure, and he’s not going to be the last figure,” said Yoram Hazony, a right-wing Israeli nationalist and one of the lead organizers of the event. “We’re going to be talking about these things many, many years from now.” Hazony and his colleagues declined to invite prominent white nationalists to the conference and mocked how they see people as “robots that are controlled by our birth and our race and our genes.”
Shying away from the racial animus of Trumpism, they tried to take a more sanitized approach — aiming their attacks at the power of giant multinational corporations, the free-market dogma of libertarians, and the perceived political and cultural threats facing religion and the traditional family.
Hazony is the author of the “The Virtue of Nationalism,” a book popular in conservative circles for its trenchant critique of liberalism. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, an inspiration to the West’s ultranationalists, has boasted of reading it.
“Something went terribly wrong with American conservatism after the fall of the Berlin Wall,” Hazony said this week, invoking the now commonplace right-wing nationalist critique of the age of globalization. “People who are drunk with power lose touch with reality.”
Nationalist stalwarts such as Fox News host Tucker Carlson inveighed against corrupt elites and big tech. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a rising star in the conservative movement, bemoaned America’s “cosmopolitan experiment” and urged a nationalist restoration in political life. Chris DeMuth of the right-wing Hudson Institute argued that standing against nationalism was tantamount to “opposing forces of nature.”
Some onlookers weren’t all that impressed. “It was hard to find much evidence of a new day’s dawning,” observed Jacob Heilbrunn, in a dispatch for the New York Review of Books. “Instead, a variety of speakers made use of the elasticity of the term ‘nationalism’ to smuggle in any number of traditional conservative hobbyhorses about the perfidious sway of cultural Marxism, political correctness, and identity politics.”
Often in the history of political movements, the ideas precede the politics, but this conference seemed the opposite: An attempt to put a rather rickety cart before a particularly ornery horse. Trump’s explicit embrace of white identity politics will shadow and possibly undermine these new attempts to fashion a more genteel nationalist politics.
“You can talk about national cohesion and national identity, but how you go about enforcing or creating that in policy is tricky, and that complexity was not addressed,” said Danielle Lee Tomson, an academic at Columbia University and researcher on nationalism who attended the conference.
“Ultimately, some of Trump’s most effective political tools are drawing up emotional, contentious and racist themes, especially in tweet form, but trying to retroactively create a cohesive intellectual framework on top of Trumpism will be difficult,” Tomson told Today’s WorldView.
“This is the problem with any attempt to build conservative nationalism in a nutshell,” wrote Vox’s Zach Beauchamp. “At a very abstract level, it’s possible to make non-racist arguments for a more restrictive immigration policy and a more broadly nationalist ethos. But when you get to the level of actual policy and politics, these ideas nearly inevitably end up devolving into attacks on minority groups.”
There was evidence of this at the nationalist conference itself: According to Beauchamp, Amy Wax, a University of Pennsylvania law professor, said in a panel that immigrants are too loud and lead to a surge in “litter.” For “cultural” reasons, she urged an immigration policy that gave preference to white immigrants over nonwhite ones.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) July 18, 2019
Trump’s opponents, meanwhile, are summoning their own national narrative. The president’s attacks on minority female lawmakers compelled many to spring to their defense, championing their patriotic duty to dissent and stand up to Trump’s demagoguery. Omar landed in Minneapolis to attend to the affairs of her constituency on Thursday evening. At the airport, she was met by a throng of people shouting a different chant: “Welcome home, Ilhan.”
Trump announced that a U.S. naval ship had shot down an Iranian drone that flew too close and ignored multiple calls to stand down on Thursday. The Iranian drone came within 1,000 yards of the USS Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz before the crew “took defensive action” and “immediately destroyed” it,” Trump said in remarks ahead of a White House ceremony with a delegation from the Netherlands.
More from my colleagues: “The incident follows a pattern of harassing behavior by Iranian forces in the Gulf region that predates the Trump administration. U.S. military officials have sought to respond carefully in an effort to not further inflame the situation. It was not clear whether the unmanned aircraft was armed, or how the Navy brought it down.
“The Boxer is part of an amphibious force that includes more than 2,000 Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which arrived in the region this week as the Pentagon seeks to prevent commercial ships from being seized or harassed by Iranian forces…
“Other incidents in recent weeks have contributed to the heightened tensions. Iran had threatened to retaliate for the seizure by the British navy two weeks ago of a supertanker near Gibraltar in the Mediterranean as it was carrying Iranian oil to Syria. Last week, the British navy said it had thwarted an attempt by Revolutionary Guard boats to board a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.
“The United States has accused Iran of responsibility for two attacks on shipping in the vicinity of the Persian Gulf, in which magnetic limpet mines exploded against the hulls of foreign tankers in May and June. Iran has denied the charge, although it has often threatened to retaliate against the United States and world shipping if its oil exports through the Strait of Hormuz are brought to a halt.”
• My colleagues in Germany report from Frankfurt (not the one you think) on the impact of refugees in a part of the country not particularly open to the outside world:
“For decades, just about the only foreigners that residents knew were the Poles living on the opposite bank of the muddy Oder River. Unlike the far better-known Frankfurt in western Germany — a hub of global finance, where a majority of residents are either immigrants or children of immigrants — the eastern Frankfurt was homogenously German. And for many, proudly so.
“But since Chancellor Angela Merkel chose to keep the country’s borders open to a surge of refugees in 2015, newcomers began to settle — and unsettle — here. And Frankfurters have been grappling on an intimate level with changes that have polarized Europe.
“To some locals, including the city’s leaders, the refugees offer salvation after decades of devastating population decline. The city has lost nearly a third of its residents since East Germany ceased to be in 1990. The remaining population is aging fast, with deaths outnumbering births.”
• Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — a politically untested comedian who in April won by a landslide to become his country’s leader — faces his first major political trial Sunday, as voters elect a parliament that could spell the success or failure of his political agenda, reports The Post’s David Stern:
“In his inaugural speech in May, Zelensky unexpectedly dissolved the legislature and called for elections three months ahead of schedule in the hopes of capitalizing on the massive wave of political support that he rode into office before it dissipated.
“His strategy seems to be paying off. Polls show that Zelensky’s Servant of the People Party, which didn’t exist just months ago, is on track to win more than 40 percent of the popular vote, mirroring his overwhelming victory in April over incumbent President Petro Poroshenko.
“The big question looming over Sunday’s vote, however, is whether Zelensky’s party will win a parliamentary majority outright or whether he will be forced to strike a political bargain with one of the other parties.
“As with the presidential election, Zelensky is tapping into a profound reservoir of discontent in Ukraine over rampant corruption, a sluggish economy and the unresolved war with Moscow-supported separatists in the country’s east that has killed about 13,000 people since 2014.
“Many names on Zelensky’s party list are political newcomers like himself, whose main calling card is that they seem to lack any ties to Ukraine’s oligarch-dominated political system. Some candidates were chosen through open applications on social media.”
Brexit, pursued by a bear
History may not be kind to departing British Prime Minister Theresa May. She had one job to do: deliver Brexit. Yet, as Brits say, she bottled it, repeatedly, and in spectacular fashion; she was unable to see it through. And so on Wednesday afternoon, May will head to Buckingham Palace to tender her resignation to the queen.
She’s expected to be replaced by Mr. Brexit himself, her former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who decried her compromise plan to leave the continental bloc as a humiliation, a surrender, “an absolute stinker.” But it’s not just Johnson. The near universal condemnation of her premiership — not only from her rivals and the opposition party but from the Conservative press, party activists and the colleagues who shoved her from office — is as public as it is withering.
How did Theresa May not succeed? In so many ways. Start with her politicking: Her deficits became obvious after she called a snap election for June 2017, hoping to solidify her power and strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations. She was more than 20 points ahead of the opposition going in, but staggered through the campaign, resulting in a gob-smack shocker of a finale that squandered her majority in Parliament.
Brexit consumed everything. For two years, in secret, relying on a limited circle of trusted aides and civil servants, May negotiated with her European counterparts. The result was a compromise half-in, half-out 585-page withdrawal agreement that pretty much everyone hated. The support of her disloyal cabinet fell away chair by chair with resignations over Brexit. Once, twice, three times May’s Brexit plan was gored in House of Commons votes.
Beyond Brexit, May was excoriated for failing to support survivors following a fire at London’s Grenfell Tower apartment complex that claimed the lives of 72 people. She was also faulted when a crackdown on illegal immigration, initiated under her tenure as home secretary, made life difficult for the so-called Windrush generation.
It wasn’t all bad: The British public backed her when she confronted Russia over a nerve agent attack in Salisbury. They liked it, too, when she stood up to President Trump, who alternately insulted and patronized her.
Still, the full measure of May’s leadership will not be apparent until her successor gets his try to solve Brexit. That perhaps will answer the question of whether May stumbled because she faced an impossible task — or because of her inherent shortcomings. — William Booth, Karla Adam and Laura Hughes
The big question
On the face of it, former German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen seems an uncontroversial choice for president of the European Commission. She’s an experienced, longtime ally of Germany’s center-right chancellor Angela Merkel, and fits the mold of a reliable steward of Europe’s centrist establishment. But though she was confirmed on Tuesday, the vote within the newly elected European Parliament was dangerously close, prompting us to ask Post Brussels bureau chief Michael Birnbaum, what does von der Leyen’s narrow confirmation say about polarization in Europe?
It was a squeaker of a vote — too close to call in advance. Had it gone the other way, it would have thrown the European Union into an institutional crisis. Now Ursula von der Leyen, 60, who will become European Commission president after 14 years serving as a minister in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, owes a lot of people for her job. The new holder of the most powerful position in the European Union will face a deeply divided parliament as she tries to enact her agenda.
May elections for European Parliament delivered a deeply fragmented band of lawmakers. Far-right nationalists posted their best-ever result, although they failed in their effort to win enough seats to grind legislative business to a halt. But Greens and other non-traditional centrists in the mold of French President Emmanuel Macron also did well, a reflection of the breakdown of Europe’s old center-left, center-right political system.
Von der Leyen’s confirmation vote was the first legislative act of the new parliament — and it showed how tough and unpredictable the new constellations will be. She needed 374 of 733 votes. She got 383. In her bid to build a majority, the veteran center-right politician moved to the left, promising action on climate change and a Europe-wide minimum wage. But she had to be careful not to alienate right-wingers, including those, such as in Poland, who have faced official E.U. reprimands for rule-of-law issues such as the independence of the judiciary. She might be able to build coalitions around individual proposals, but it appears unlikely that she will be able to rule the European Commission with an iron fist from its sprawling Berlaymont building in Brussels.