Opinion: We must confront the lies feeding nationalism

With nationalism sweeping across too-big swaths of the country, it's hard to be surprised - horrified certainly - but hard to be surprised at incidents like the straight-up race hate that led an 18-year-old in Buffalo, New York, to embrace the far-right racist ideology of "replacement theory" before he killed 10 people and wounded three in a grocery store. The victims were mostly Black and the shooter was white.

Nationalism and nativism have a long history in the South where the Ku Klux Klan and Daughters of the Confederacy flourished and terrorized anyone not just like them for years. The attitudes live on today, but now are dressed up in suits and pearls.

This country is grappling with a lot of "isms" these days: racism, nativism, isolationism, tribalism, globalism, nationalism. At the root of it all is fear: Get all those "others" away from me. These days, all the "isms" - and the tragedies they spawn, such as mass shootings as well as debate about aid to countries such as Ukraine - are picked up and brandished as political bludgeons.

Last week, 11 Republican senators bucked GOP leadership and voted against advancing a new aid package for Ukraine. The lemming 11 included Tennessee Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty, as well as Josh Hawley of Missouri, John Boozman of Arkansas, Mike Braun of Indiana, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Mike Lee of Utah, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized the no votes.

"There have always been isolationist voices in the Republican Party," McConnell said from Stockholm after he led a delegation to the region in a show of support for Ukraine. "I think one of the lessons we learned in World War II is not standing up to aggression early is a huge mistake."

Hawley invoked "nationalism" in a retort: "That's not isolationism. That's nationalism," he tweeted.

Blackburn tried to soft pedal her vote, tweeting: "The USA stands with Ukraine," accompanied by emojis of an American flag and a Ukrainian flag.

One respondent tweeted a reply: "Give it up. You voted against removing Trump when he withheld aid to Ukraine for personal political gain. We see you."

Another tweeted: "Moscow Marsha's campaign manager said 'Putin was appointed by God' and connected Russia with NRA & voting machines."

That particular response was a reminder of the 2018 headlines and reporting from the Nashville Tennessean and ThinkProgress that Kline Preston IV - who listed himself as Blackburn's re-election campaign manager and the president of Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc. - acknowledged he introduced Putin-tied Alexander Torshin to then-NRA president David Keene in 2011 and the pair attended the NRA's annual convention in Nashville in 2015. Torshin came under scrutiny for illegally channeling Russian funds to the NRA in an effort to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

By mid-week, Blackburn was using her no-Ukraine-aid vote to bash the Biden administration, releasing what she said were results from a poll taken during her Tuesday "telephone town hall."

In an emailed news release, she said "94% percent of poll participants have been impacted by rising grocery, gas, energy costs, 86% of poll participants did not support ending Title 42 [easing pandemic restrictions on immigration], and 84% of participants did not support sending $40 billion of taxpayer money to Ukraine."

Stoking anger and fear over immigration and aid to foreign countries has long been a Blackburn/Hagerty polarization specialty.

We must never forget their cries of "illegal alien" dangers raised last year in a letter claiming a Biden administration lack of transparency over an unaccompanied migrant children's shelter operating here in Chattanooga "under cover of darkness." The reality was that Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and his administration approved the shelter and it began receiving children under the Trump administration.

These days, Ukraine is the new bat for Biden bashing.

After last week's no-aid vote, Hagerty told reporters: "I certainly don't have anything against the Ukrainians. We want to see them win, but pumping more aid into that country when we're not taking care of our own country - the best thing that Biden could do is stop the war that he's waged on American industry."

Oh, please! This, like Blackburn's dubious poll, is just more GOP misdirection. Earlier this month, Fitch Ratings said the U.S. is rapidly approaching a major jobs milestone: By the end of August, the labor market will have fully recaptured all jobs lost during the pandemic, Fitch reported. If that happens, it means payrolls would have returned to pre-crisis levels in historic time, barely two years.

And guess what: Blackburn and Hagerty represent a state where that's already happened. With record-low unemployment rates, Tennessee and Georgia are among more than a dozen states that reached or exceeded their pre-pandemic employment levels in March. Yes - March.

Much has been said and written of late about how the right-wing media, and particularly Tucker Carlson, are feeding nationalist, nativist and isolationist attitudes and promoting replacement theory in our diverse nation that was born as a melting pot of immigrants.

Yet as much as we detest and disagree with Carlson and Fox News, they aren't to blame for the two-faced likes of Blackburn and Hagerty. Neither are they to blame for the misguided Buffalo teen.

Every one of us who gullibly listens to any of these lies and tropes, and puts up no argument right then to the hogwash - well, we're to blame. McConnell is right about standing up to aggression.

It is our silence, and therefore tacit agreement, that is to blame.

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