Glenn Greenwald’s turn to the right continues in a recent interview with The Spectator, focused on the recent protests in Cuba. The thrust of his argument is that support for American intervention in Cuba is inconsistent with ‘America First’ principles, and that MAGA supporters consequently ought to oppose American involvement on the island.
It is not worth going through the conversation point by point, because as always Greenwald is vaguely correct on certain topics—‘I don’t trust the intelligence community, and therefore, I’m generally opposed to empowering them’; ‘[the] US government, when it intervenes, brings instability, not stability’—but in a narrow, non-additive, and ultimately useless way.
What is most troubling about this interview is his insistence on ascribing a coherence to ‘America First’ that simply does not exist. ‘Ultimately, the way you put America first is by looking inward, focusing on the welfare of your own citizens, and then protecting your borders and your country from attack. Anything beyond that seems inconsistent with that worldview,’ he says.
This might be true in a vacuum. But the idea that this tracks with Trumpism, and that Trump represented something antithetical to a preceding neoliberal paradigm—and not a dialectical intensification of it—is among the more bizarre sentiments among the club, to which Greenwald apparently now belongs, that attempts to give Trumpism and ‘right-wing populism’ some legitimate intellectual veneer. Ironically, this view of the MAGA movement might actually be characterized as the dominant liberal view of MAGA—as isolationist, meaningfully concerned with domestic welfare and particularly the white working class, and ideologically coherent. Which it is not. That Greenwald can so obtusely neglect Trump’s tax cuts, aggressive deregulation, criminal domestic non-response to COVID, and blatant corruption—and instead characterize Trumpism as some sort of platonic ideal prioritizing national welfare—is ridiculous.
Nor does it even accurately capture Trump and his own supporters’ expressed views on international affairs.
Obscured in the use of contextually empty terms like regime change operations (‘when [Donald Trump] was outlining his foreign policy in 2016, it was very much against the idea that the United States should be involved in regime change operations to help other countries’) is the fact that Trump and his associated movement routinely extolled the virtues of American intervention—they just did so without couching it in concepts familiar to a liberal international order.
‘Take out their families,’ Trump said of suspected terrorists in 2015 (also arguing that ‘we should have kept the oil’ in Iraq and explicitly pushing for regime change in Iran and Venezuela). Trump’s foreign policy was, virtually without exception, here too an intensification of the destabilizing approach of his predecessors. That there was a germ of meaningful non-interventionism in this philosophy is essentially a myth, fed by both Trump supporters and critics, whenever convenient to either. In other words, Trump and ‘America Firsters’ are not isolationists in any real way; they simply seek to be free of the rhetorical or material obligations of an (increasingly hollowed out) international order.
Moreover, in the need to assign some coherent ideology to the MAGA movement, Greenwald ignores the obvious: its abiding glue remains Trump himself. Trump’s ability to consistently express entirely contradictory views and not alienate his base is inherent to his politics and proof enough of this. The unifying power of ‘America First’ is essentially emotive, not really ideological, as the weaponized bitterness of the movement is naturally turned inward. Fascist politics in the present is in large part a weaponization of this resentment on behalf of the status quo—a political project Greenwald appears perpetually ready to assist in.
Indeed, if a unifying isolationism does come out of Trumpism, it will be a bleak and nihilistic one; not diplomatic, internationally respectful, or peaceful in any way. It will be—perhaps already is—premised on the cold logic of indiscriminate American military power to exploit whatever this country’s perceived aims are at any given time. It will aggressively attempt to assert the same supremacy in international affairs that the MAGA movement seeks to assert over its supposed domestic enemies here in the USA.
‘Our resources are better spent on helping Americans and not foreign nationals,’ says Greenwald, characterizing the supposed MAGA view. Whether this distinction can reasonably be made in 2021, amidst climate breakdown and other endemic and interconnected global problems, is debatable. That Trump and company in no plausible way embody the spirit of ‘helping Americans’ is not.