“From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first … ”
When you hear the term “America First,” do you think of patriotic intentions and restoring America’s role as a world leader? Or do you think of anti-Semitism and isolationism?
For the liberal media, President Trump’s use of the “America First” theme during his campaign and his inaugural address is further proof that the president is a racist, jingoist barbarian.
Yes, there was something called the America First Committee, which had some members were were reputed to be anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi. It was also the world’s largest peace movement, with about 900,000 members, including prominent people such as Walt Disney, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, author Gore Vidal and poet e.e. cummings. Politically, members ranged from future President Gerald Ford to Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas.
It’s most outspoken member, aviator Charles Lindbergh, blamed Britain, Jews and the Roosevelt administration for pushing America toward World War II, so the group’s name became somewhat tarnished.
While the America First Committee dissolved shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, some are criticizing the use of the slogan by President Trump because of the committee’s checkered reputation.
“It’s a rotten term that evokes the naive idiots, defeatists and pro-Nazis who wanted to appease Hitler and make friends with him before World War II,” author Susan Dunn told USA Today.
The New York Times noted that, “Mr. Trump has rejected comparisons with the earlier movement, with its taint of Nazism and anti-Semitism.”
The Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn noted, though, that Trump’s decision to return a bust of Winston Churchill to the White House demonstrates that he is not following the tradition of the America First Committee, members of which detested Churchill.
Ironically, the America First approach is, in many ways, a reaction to American isolationism of the past eight years. America pulled troops out of the Middle East, and did little to interfere with conflicts in Syria and Crimea. America lifted sanctions against Cuba and Iran, and sought little in return.
This “America Last” approach used diplomacy to achieve agreements in a bid for better relationships. But dictatorial regimes in Syria and Cuba are stronger than ever, Iran has not stuck to the terms of its agreement and Russia continues to be aggressive in Ukraine and elsewhere.
So will an America First approach yield different results? Many would argue, for example, that President Reagan used military strength to end the Cold War. Negotiating from a position of strength can be effective, of course, but only if the other party wants what you have to offer.
But the slogan “America First” may not quite fit the Trump doctrine.
“Based on his campaign rhetoric and key actions taken so far,” according to The Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Trump’s approach isn’t so much America first as it is America only.”
Aaron David Miller, a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, and Richard Sokolsky, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, cite President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership as an example on America only.
“Nothing good can come out of the president’s decision … ,” they wrote, as the 12-nation trade agreement could have helped curb China’s influence. “TPP participants will either forge ahead with the agreement without the U.S. or join China’s Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, resulting in a decline of U.S. exports and loss of U.S. credibility in a region of great importance to U.S. security and prosperity. Imposing tariffs or border taxes is equally ill-advised; they will only trigger trade wars, harm U.S. exports, reduce American jobs, and damage U.S. relations with some of our most important partners.”
The writers also cite the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, as we have in the past, as a caution against protectionism.
“It raised U.S. tariffs on thousands of products, precipitating retaliation by America’s trade partners and a sharp reduction in global trade and American exports and imports during the Great Depression,” they wrote.
Likewise, in America Only fashion, President Trump has revived construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, but he’s seeking to make agreements for construction more favorable to the U.S.
Both pipelines have become symbols of the environmental movement. While the pipelines would reduce potential environmental risk by enabling oil to be shipped via pipeline instead of rail, environmentalists have been opposing almost all fossil fuel projects. Less fossil fuel would make alternative energy more attractive.
Trump requested that the secretary of state develop a plan under which all steel used for the pipeline be produced in the United States, even though requiring use of domestic steel “would almost certainly violate 70 years of settled international trade law,” according to Reuters.
The Journal’s commentary also cites President Trump’s stand on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as another example of “America Only” potentially hurting America.
“Calling into question the continued value of North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union, as the president has done, undermines the effectiveness of two critical pillars of European security, stability and prosperity,” Miller and Sokolsky wrote. “It only invites the expansion of Russian influence further eastward–manna from heaven for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The European Union is America’s largest trading partner, and NATO provides needed military muscle and political legitimacy for America’s military engagement abroad.”
So there are legitimate issues with America First as a doctrine. But, at the least, President Trump is clearly abandoning America Last.