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When ‘America First’ is a ticket to last place

Marjorie Taylor Greene may have abandoned her “Anglo-Saxon” caucus, but the ideas behind it live on

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has backed away from the “America First” caucus, but the very idea of the group ignited a constituency that is larger than many would like to admit, Curtis writes.
Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has backed away from the “America First” caucus, but the very idea of the group ignited a constituency that is larger than many would like to admit, Curtis writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

It came and went in a second, in political time, a proposed idea that proved too racist for the politician reportedly behind it. But an “America First” caucus that was disavowed, sort of, by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and several of her Republican colleagues who at first seemed ready to sign up should be treated as more than a ridiculous sideshow.

The notions that fueled a “draft” stating the group’s principles have lingered, becoming part of a conversation that’s becoming a little less shocking and a lot more routine.

That’s one takeaway from Greene’s enormous fundraising haul, despite her lack of House committee assignments and useful endeavors. Even though the Georgia Republican backed away when the caucus’s endorsement of “Anglo-Saxon political traditions” leaked out, the very idea seemed to excite some GOP lawmakers and ignite a constituency that is larger than many “real” Americans would like to admit.

You know, the real American citizens of every race, creed, color, orientation and national origin, who believe in the ideals of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence without reservation, despite the country’s history of both triumphs and failures on that score. They are the Americans not surprised, but still disappointed that too many of their neighbors, co-workers and elected representatives are willing to toss democracy if that’s what it takes to hold on to the power they perceive to be slipping away, and justify it all with a sense of superiority — cultural and otherwise.

Exhibits A, B, C, etc.

As if to prove the point that extreme views are cozily at home in today’s GOP, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has so far refused to renounce his association with a tea party group that became the True Texas Project. Not long after a man who had posted a hate-filled screed against Hispanics fatally shot 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, one of the group’s leaders posted on Facebook: “You’re not going to demographically replace a once proud, strong people without getting blow-back.” Are Texans in that city somehow less deserving of protection and representation, or mere consideration, by its senator?

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., is shocked, SHOCKED, that anyone would associate him with the “America First” caucus scheme, though he used that phrase in his keynote speech at an America First Political Action Conference in February. If you can judge a person by the company he keeps, the conference was organized by someone who said, “White people are done being bullied,” and who had spoken approvingly of the crowd that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Also making an appearance was former Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who once wondered what was so terrible about phrases such as “white nationalist, white supremacist and Western civilization.” Tellingly, none of Gosar’s Arizona colleagues had much to say.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., tweeted that he was “proud to join” Greene in the “#AmericaFirst Caucus.” Things must be really bad for him when he sees an “Anglo Saxon” caucus dripping in nativist rhetoric as a distraction and a step up.

When Greene’s trademark bravado was cowed by rebukes from others in the GOP, she blamed the usual suspects, saying she had not seen the “staff-level draft proposal from an outside group” and mumbling something about the media taking it out of context. Now, she is off to her latest adventure that has little to do with her Georgia constituents, publicizing a planned appearance at a “Back the Blue and Freedom Rally” in Columbus, Ohio, a community trying to sort out the details and the fallout from the police shooting of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant.

It’s not exactly what a volatile situation needs, but then, you can’t keep an angry woman down, and to borrow a reference from Marvel’s Hulk, that woman is “always angry.”

‘Starts with the art’

But the discarded “America First” draft, published by Punchbowl News, is too rich and detailed to let disappear in the haze of an accelerated news cycle. It covered everything from tech to trade and even architecture, promoting “infrastructure that reflects the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture.”

Whew! That reminds me of an exhibit I visited several years ago at the Neue Galerie New York, “Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937,” noting what was purged in the name of German purity. New York Times critic Holland Cotter said it addressed, on a large scale, “the Nazis’ selective demonizing of art, how that helped foment an atmosphere of permissible hatred and forged a link between aesthetics and human disaster.”

I am not one to compare everything to Hitler, but as I viewed the vibrant, modern work that Hitler denigrated, displayed next to the pieces he approved as representative of German culture, I thought, “It starts with the art.”

The draft — dare I call it a “white paper”? — called for “a certain intellectual boldness” to “follow in President Trump’s footsteps, and potentially step on some toes.” Nowhere does it mention that those toes might belong to Donald Trump if anyone dare shows the “intellectual boldness,” much less the honesty, to admit the former president lost the 2020 election. He’s still spouting nonsense about a “stolen” election, and not one of these bold individuals is telling the emperor of Mar-a-Lago that he’d better grab an overcoat.

In fact, none of the above politicians has yet passed the test of recognizing that Joseph R. Biden Jr. won a free and fair presidential election. Instead they voted, after the attack on the Capitol, not to certify his win.

Can any doctrine lay claim to integrity when it starts with a lie and treats democracy that recognizes the worth of all Americans as something to be quashed?

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who craved some credit for rejecting the “America First” idea, has been running toward Trump before and since. McCarthy, who is salivating at the thought of becoming speaker in 2023, has stalled on the formation of a narrowly focused 9/11-style commission to get to the bottom of the Jan. 6 insurrection. By wanting to include Black Lives Matter in any investigation, he is equating rioters looking to overthrow democracy with protesters asking law enforcement to protect and serve all Americans, even as the headlines regularly validate their cause.

It’s as though there is a multipart GOP plan for success: Tighten the rules for voters who hold different beliefs and pass laws to punish marchers for racial justice while quibbling over examining the January insurrection fueled by Republicans’ own election falsehoods and yelling the once-quiet part through a bullhorn — or in a leaked manifesto.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

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