Trump’s 'America First' vs. McCain’s 'America Last'

Not the supposed protectionist Donald Trump, but the “free trade” wing of the Republican Party has taken the United States into a trade war that it can only lose. New sanctions against Russia passed by the House and Senate last week force Europe into a de facto alliance with Russia against the United States, and by extension with China as well. It is the dumbest and most self-destructive act of economic self-harm since the United States de-linked the dollar from gold on August 15, 1971, and it will have devastating consequences. The charade in the House and Senate may embarrass Trump, but it also poses a threat to European energy supplies as well as an extraterritorial intrusion into European governance. Berlin, Paris and Rome will conspire with Moscow to circumvent the sanctions while attacking the United States at the World Trade Organization and other international fora.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), and their counterparts in the House of Representatives allowed their dudgeon against a sometimes provocative president to overwhelm their sense of self-preservation. The sanctions will hurt Russia, but not nearly as much as they will hurt the United States over the long term. The White House envisioned sanctions as a bargaining chip, to be used to persuade Moscow to behave in the Ukraine and to limit the ambitions of its Iranian ally of convenience. In their present form, however, the president will have no authority to remove sanctions imposed by Congress. That turns a feint into a threat. Wars have been started over less.

The Democrats along with the McCain Republicans, it will be remembered, accused Trump of undermining the Atlantic Alliance, of isolating the United States, and of handing a diplomatic victory to Russia. Not Trump, but his detractors have given Moscow a degree of leverage over Western Europe to which it has not aspired since the height of the Cold War in 1983, when Soviet premier Yuri Andropov considered a pre-emptive Russian attack in response to Western plans to deploy medium-range missiles in Germany.

Supposedly it was Trump who ignored the exigencies of international relations in favor of domestic political theater. Yet it is the Establishment wing of the Republican Party and its Democratic allies who combined to embarrass the president, without a moment’s consideration of the consequences of their actions. Among Washington’s elite, Trump Derangement Syndrome has nothing to do with ideology. It is about jobs and patronage. This is not hypocrisy. It is chutzpah.

Trump humiliated the Democrats and the Establishment rump of the Republican Party last November. The losers now face the prospect of permanent exile from political life. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement July 25, historian Edward Luttwak predicted a Trump dynasty lasting sixteen years, in which Ivanka Trump Kushner would succeed her father. “No wonder that leading Democrats and non-Trumpers continue to act hysterically even eight months after the election. President Trump’s plan threatens to exclude them all from office until long past their retirement age,” Luttwak wrote. The hopes of high office of the defeated Establishment can be realized only by stifling the Trump administration in its cradle.