What Marco Rubio Gets Completely Wrong

Carl Davidson Author and Writer, Beaver County Blue

In defending Donald Trump against the critique of nationalism offered by French President Emmanuel Macron, the Florida Senator came up with this in the Nov. 14 Wall Street Journal:

“What makes America exceptional is that our values are built into our national identity. While we have never been completely true to our founding ideas, for more than two centuries each generation has fought and succeeded to move us closer to them.”

Our values are indeed built into our national identity, but Rubio refuses to look at the whole panorama, especially the dominant and the prolonged. And he soft-pedals the problematic. He adds:

“Americans are the children of pilgrims, immigrants, and slaves. It is in our DNA to confront great challenges and achieve great things against great odds. Patriotism is the love of this national inheritance—not just the freedom and equality that our inheritance makes possible.”

This is a story we like to tell ourselves and our children. We like to put it in speeches on the 4th, and on Veterans and Memorial Day. It’s supposed to make us proud and bring us together.

But I think we do better with the sterner stuff: the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Take “children of pilgrims,” a fancy term for early settlers in New England. I’m one. My 10th GGrandfather, Francis Goole, served as an officer in Miles Standish’s militia. The ‘pilgrims’ were seeking ‘religious freedom’ to set up tyrannical little theocracies that the English and Dutch were sick of back home, then seizing lands of the Wessagusset tribes here. Next they stole their corn, murdered their leaders, and drove them away. They also waged war on the Peuqots, capturing some 700 of them, and sold them to captains of slave ships headed for the West Indians. This same story can be repeated perhaps a thousand times, over 200 years, all the way to California.

Then take the settlers. My earliest Davidson, Cain and Bakers were among these settlers in Western PA. But with every settler, there’s also a land speculator, who got titles to stolen lands to sell to the settlers, and a “frontier scout,” a euphemism for a terrorist ethnic cleanser to slaughter and drive away the Shawnee and other tribes in our area. If you think scalping was something mainly done by ‘Indians,’ you would be wrong. Both the Brit and US officials paid you by the numbers of scalps you turned it. And you can’t have ‘settlers’ without the other two.

Lastly, Rubio mentions slaves. Good. Too many forget about them by putting them in the same category as cattle (except that unlike cattle, the enslavers could rape the females at will. Our national DNA offers evidence of that as a certainty). The enslavers were not a side operation. They were the core of our economy for 250 years. Even after it was put down, it re-emerged again in the form of Jim Crow for another 100 years, up until the living memory of many of us.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to make Rubio’s mistake and be one-sided. I like to divide our country into two on these matters, the America of slavery and empire and the America of popular democracy. I want to affirm the latter while exposing and opposing the former. Oppression fuels resistance. We can pay homage to our Nat Turners, to our Tecumsehs, to the rebels of Shay’s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion, to the poor Irish soldiers who changed sides in our theft of North Mexico, siding with Lincoln’s opposition to the war and forming St. Patrick’s Battalion, still honored in Mexico, to John Brown and his interracial guerrila band, to Soujourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, to the German 1848 immigrant workers who read Marx and formed militias to fight slavery, to the Black and white miners of Birmingham who withstood race bating to form a miner’s union and set an example for Mother Jones, the steelworkers and the CIO.

The story could go on, but the idea is clear. Rubio wants to mush these back together and bury one side of it, to join Trump in opening the doors to the white nationalism of the fascist right. I think that is the road to perdition.

Some people think this is all ancient history, that we’re past all that. But’s it’s not, and in that way I agree with Rubio. It’s in our DNA. That’s why we can’t be nationalists in any good sense. At best we can be patriots of the Wood Guthrie type, patriots with the working-class values of solidarity and mutual aid that reach across all borders.

We need to get out from under the old “common sense” burden of the values of Manifest Detiny and Empire—we’re number,one, the greatest country ever, the leader of the free world—and replace all that old rot. We need to turn to the good sense of Dr. Martin Luther King’s challenge to us, his call for a “transvaluation of values,” to replace nasty macho posturing with a new affirmation of a common human decency that starts with viewing all men and women as our neighbors, and treating them as we are called to do, no matter where they were born.


Carl Davidson, a retired computer technician, is a USW Associate Member now living in Aliquippa, Pa., his hometown, and the location of the former J&L Steel Mill, where many in his family worked and where his grandfather and a cousin died on the job. In Chicago, he served as a computer consultant for SEIU and several other unions, and was the editor of FIRR News for the Federation for Industrial Retention and Renewal during the campaigns against plant closings. In the 1960s, he was active in the civil rights movement, a national leader of student new left and the anti-Vietnam war movement. He worked on President Barack Obama’s first political campaign in Illinois, on his campaign for the U.S. Senate and for the presidency. Together with Jerry Harris, a former Chicago steelworker, he is author of CyberRadicalism: A New Left for a Global Age and editor of Solidarity Economy: Building Alternatives for People and Planet. He is the author and co-author of several other books and lectures on the topic of the Mondragon Cooperatives, a network of 120 worker-owned factories centered in Spain, and writes for the Beaver County Blue website.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches