Sen. John McCain of Arizona set rhetorical fire to what he called “half-baked, spurious nationalism” in a speech in Philadelphia.
McCain was there to accept the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal, in recognition of his decades of service to the US. Former Vice President Joe Biden presented McCain with the honour on Monday evening.
“To refuse the obligations of international leadership, and our duty to remain the last, best hope of Earth for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems,” McCain said, as the audience erupted in a raucous applause.
McCain said that kind of nationalism “is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”
“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil,” McCain declared, referencing the racist ideologies of Nazi Germany that have resurfaced in the midst of the current white-nationalist movement in the US.
“We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t,” McCain continued.
The senator’s critical remarks on Monday did not mention any specific people, but his assertions were not lost on his audience in light of Donald Trump’s raucous 2016 campaign and the first nine months of his presidency, in which he and his administration have pursued a decidedly nationalist-leaning agenda.
Since he took office in January, Trump has sought to toughen US immigration laws, implemented an aggressive travel ban targeting people from specific countries, and moved to dissociate the US from landmark international agreements like the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.
That agenda has been informed in part by Trump’s former chief strategist, the far-right conservative figure, Steve Bannon, who was kicked out of the administration in August, but has since generated momentum in his push to declare war on establishment Republicans ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
That movement has taken a disturbing turn in recent months, as seen in places like Charlottesville, Virginia, where a white-nationalist rally turned deadly this past summer.
Trump’s equivocations in response to the violence there only fuelled speculation that Trump was sympathetic to the nationalist, white-supremacist cause. His handing of Charlottesville invited fiery criticism from both the Republican and Democratic parties, and dealt a significant blow to the president’s approval ratings in the weeks that followed.
Watch John McCain’s speech in full below:
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