‘America First’ – The Trump Slogan the Establishment Hates

Why has the Establishment pulled out all the stops in an effort to smear him, stop him, and crush him underfoot? Every single day the “mainstream” media unleashes a foam-flecked fusillade of fury at the GOP front-runner: he’s a “racist,” he’s “corrupt,” his campaign manager is a “bully,” he “incites violence,” etc. etc. ad nauseam.

Of course, the media is going to attack any Republican candidate. However, this time, the GOP elite is joining in, and the level of ferocity is something we haven’t seen since 1964. That was the year Barry Goldwater’s trip to Germany provoked a report by Daniel Schorr on the CBS Evening News that falsely linked the GOP candidate to German neo-Nazis – while Nelson Rockefeller denounced Goldwater’s delegates as “extremists” who “feed on fear, hate, and terror.”

Yes, “terror”!

The same violence-baiting hysteria is being deployed against Trump, but one has to wonder what’s behind it. I was watching Bill O’Reilly the other day, and he was saying that it has to do with the elite’s visceral dislike of Trump as a personality. They think he’s a “vulgarian” who appeals to the rubes in flyover country. Well, there’s something to that: these consumers of arugula and “artisan” cheese no doubt disdain the hamburgers-and-beer crowd embodied by Trump’s persona, but there’s more to it than that. And I can sum it up in two words: foreign policy.

Yes, yes, I know: foreign policy isn’t supposed to figure in presidential elections. Dan Drezner keeps telling us that. And yet I couldn’t help but notice that the anti-Trump hysteria hit a high note (or is that a new low?) when he came out with a series of foreign policy pronouncements and started attacking NATO. The hairs on the back of the necks of the foreign policy wonks must’ve stood at attention when he adopted “America first” as his campaign slogan.

An article in USA Today gives voice to the panic of the elites at this evocation of a past they thought they’d successfully banished from the American political landscape:

“In embracing “America First’’ as his guiding foreign policy philosophy, Donald Trump appropriated – spontaneously, it seems – one of the most denigrated political slogans of the last century and one that evokes an isolationism Trump himself explicitly rejects.

“’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, says Susan Dunn, author of 1940: F.D.R., Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler – The Election Amid the Storm. That said, she doesn’t think the old phrase means much today.

“Trump’s use of an expression so dated and discredited reflects his willingness to dip into the past for catch phrases that, no matter their historical baggage, can still appeal to voters.”

Ms. Dunn’s book is a compendium of every falsehood ever hurled at the America Firsters: she lionizes the corporate shill, Wendell Wilkie, and – prefiguring the anticipated theft of the GOP nomination this year – whitewashes the effort by the Eastern Establishment to bring in “the barefoot boy from Wall Street’ at the last moment to stop the “isolationist” Taft, stealing delegates and pressuring them financially to support the elite’s chosen candidate. Dunn’s line is similar to that of the Communist Party, which, at the time, was aligned with Roosevelt: they acted as the vanguard of the anti-Taft pro-war forces, hurling accusations of pro-Nazism and anti-Semitism at such “bigots” as Norman Thomas, Gerald Ford, and other America Firsters who wanted to keep us out of the European conflagration.

Chicago Tribune publisher Robert Rutherford McCormick, whose newspaper valiantly stood against the Anglophile-warmongering tide, accurately predicted that entering the war would have to mean yet another long struggle, this time against the Soviet Union – and that’s precisely what occurred. Yet court historians of Dunn’s ilk are blind to such prescience: according to her, Wilkie was a hero for turning against the GOP after his humiliating defeat and becoming one of Roosevelt’s lapdogs.

Dunn is quite wrong about something else as well: the slogan “America First” doesmean something today, which is why she and her comrades on both sides of the political aisle are screaming bloody murder whenever Trump repeats the forbidden phrase. Trump’s other catchphrases – “the silent majority’’ and “Make America great again”  – “were in the Political Rhetoric Hall of Fame when Trump found them,” the USA Today piece goes on to inform us, but “not America First, which overnight went from one of the most popular rallying cries in U.S. politics to the most bankrupt.”

Bankrupt? Really? At its height, the America First Committee was the biggest antiwar movement in American history, with 900,000 members and majority support. Americans remembered the tragedy of World War I – that vicious killing field that only succeeded in creating the conditions for a repeat – and wanted no part of the European horror show. Yet the elites were solidly pro-interventionist: the Eastern Establishment, which worshipped England, and the left-wing radical professors, who worshipped “Uncle” Joe Stalin, were united in their determination to get us into the war. Their allegiances, in both cases, were to a foreign power – thus their opposition adopted the only possible brand name: America First.

Read the Whole Article

Political Theatre

LRC Blog

LRC Podcasts