America First (policy)

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America First refers to a policy stance in the United States that generally emphasizes nationalism and non-interventionism.[1] The term was coined by president Woodrow Wilson[2] in his 1916 campaign that pledged to keep America neutral in World War I. A more isolationist approach gained prominence in the interwar period (1918–1939) and was advocated by the America First Committee, a non-interventionist pressure group against U.S. entry into World War II.[3]

In the 1920s, the policy was used by the Ku Klux Klan and informed many of their members who ran for political office.[4] In 2016, while running for a Louisiana Senate seat, David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, publicly claimed that he was "the first major candidate in modern times to promote the term and policy of America first."[5]

In Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaigns and presidency (2017–2021), Trump used the phrase as a slogan, emphasizing the United States' withdrawal from international treaties and organizations.[6][7][8] "America First" was the official foreign policy doctrine of the Trump administration.[9]

The term was first used[citation needed][original research?] in association with Trump's foreign policy views[citation needed][original research?] in an op-ed published in USA Today in early March 2016 by Armand Cucciniello,[10] a former U.S. diplomat. Later that month the phrase was adopted by New York Times reporters David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman in an interview with Trump who, "agreed with a suggestion that his ideas might be summed up as 'America First'." Since that time the Trump campaign, and subsequently the Trump Administration, made 'America First' the cornerstone of Trump's foreign policy. The administration even branded its 2017 National Security Strategy of the United States of America as "an America First National Security Strategy". The introduction to that document reads "This National Security Strategy puts America first. An America First National Security Strategy is based on American principles, a clear-eyed assessment of U.S. interests, and a determination to tackle the challenges that we face. It is a strategy of principled realism that is guided by outcomes, not ideology."[11]

"America First" was a phrase used by the Ku Klux Klan at its peak in the 1920s, where racist, xenophobic sentiment was widespread.[12][13] The Immigration Act of 1924 sponsored by Washington U.S. representative Albert Johnson proved to legislate xenophobia and white supremacy, excluding immigrants on the basis of ethnicity and national origin in an effort to preserve white racial demographics.[14] Johnson's leading role in the immigration restriction bill elicited strong support from the Ku Klux Klan.[15] Later in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the term became associated with fascism and bigotry against Jews, as mouthpieces for antisemitism including Elizabeth Dilling, Gerald L. K. Smith,[16][17] and Charles Lindbergh became leaders for "America First" causes.[18]

Critics have derided the America First policy as "America Alone".[19][20][21]

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

"America First" has been used as a slogan by both Democratic and Republican politicians. At the outbreak of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson used the motto to define his version of neutrality as well as journalist William Randolph Hearst.[22] The motto was also chosen by Republican Senator Warren G. Harding during the 1920 presidential election, which he won.[23]

America First is best known as the slogan and foreign policy advocated by the America First Committee, a non-interventionist pressure group against the American entry into World War II, which emphasized American nationalism and unilateralism in international relations. The America First Committee's membership peaked at 800,000 paying members in 450 chapters, and it popularized the slogan "America First."[3] While the America First Committee had a variety of supporters in the United States, "the movement was marred by anti-Semitic and pro-fascist rhetoric."[24]

In later periods, the slogan was used by Pat Buchanan, who praised the non-interventionist WWII America First Committee and said "the achievements of that organization are monumental."[25] Buchanan's "call for an America First foreign policy has been compared with the America First Committee."[26]

Presidency of Donald Trump[edit]

"President Trump's Six Months of America First", a video released by the White House

Donald Trump, who had run against Pat Buchanan in the 2000 Reform Party presidential primaries, first revived Buchanan's slogan in a November 2015 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.[27] In its early going, the Trump campaign publicized an article by Jeff Kuhner on the World Tribune praising the candidate as a "nationalist who seeks to put America first";[28] campaign manager Corey Lewandowski (who later published a book with the title[29]) promoted Trump with the phrase;[30][31] and both Sarah Palin[32] and Chris Christie[33] featured it in their endorsements of Trump. Trump later incorporated the slogan into his daily repertoire following a suggestion and historical comparison by David E. Sanger during an interview with The New York Times in March 2016.[34][35] In subsequent months, without referencing Pat Buchanan's prior usage or the America First Committee, candidate Trump promised that "'America First' would be the major and overriding theme" of his administration, and advocated nationalist, anti-interventionist positions.[36][35]

Following his election to the presidency, "America First" became the official foreign policy doctrine of the Trump administration.[9] It was a theme of Trump's inaugural address, and a Politico/Morning Consult poll released on January 25, 2017, stated that 65% of Americans responded positively to President Trump's "America First" inaugural message, with 39% viewing the speech as poor.[37] Trump embraced American unilateralism abroad and introduced policies aimed at undermining transnational organizations such as the European Union, and often critiquing them on economic terms.[38] In 2017, the administration proposed a federal budget for 2018 with both Make America Great Again and America First in its title, with the latter referencing its increases to military, homeland security, and veteran spending, cuts to spending that goes towards foreign countries, and 10-year objective of achieving a balanced budget.[39]

Trump's use of the slogan was criticized by some for carrying comparisons to the America First Committee;[40] however, Trump denied being an isolationist, and said, "I like the expression."[41] A number of scholars (such as Deborah Dash Moore), commentators (such as Bill Kristol) and Jewish organizations (including the ADL and JCPA) criticized Trump's use of the slogan because of its historical association with nativism and antisemitism.[41][42] Others have argued that Trump was never a non-interventionist.[43] Columnist Daniel Larison from The American Conservative wrote that "Trump was quick to denounce previous wars as disasters, but his complaint about these wars was that the U.S. wasn't 'getting' anything tangible from them. He didn't see anything wrong in attacking other countries, but lamented that the U.S. didn't 'take' their resources" and that "he never called for an end to the wars that were still ongoing, but talked only about 'winning' them."[44]

Trump's "America First" policy has been described as a major factor in the perceived increase in the international isolation of the United States in the late 2010s, and critics have described the policy as "America Alone."[19][20][21]

Usage past Trump's presidency[edit]

President Joe Biden discontinued many of President Donald Trump's "America First" policies at the beginning of his presidency, however he initially kept the Trump administration's COVID-19 vaccine export ban in place.[45] As of May 2021, the United States had started exporting vaccines out of its borders.[46] The United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack described far-right political commentator Nick Fuentes and former Identity Evropa leader Patrick Casey as leaders of the "America First" movement in a subpoena issued in January 2022.[47]

In popular culture[edit]

Following Trump's inauguration, the policy and its phrasing became a subject of international satire through the Every Second Counts video contest inspired by Dutch comedian Arjen Lubach and launched by German comedian Jan Böhmermann.[48] News satire television programs initially throughout Europe, and later from around the world, comically appealed to Trump to acknowledge their own countries in light of Trump's nationalist slogan, with a narrator mimicking Trump's voice, speech patterns, and exaggerated speaking style.[49][50] Lubach's initial version, for example, ended by noting that "We totally understand it's going to be America first, but can we just say: The Netherlands second?".[51][52]

In Spike Lee's film BlacKkKlansman (2018), David Duke and white supremacists are portrayed as repeatedly using the "America First" slogan.[53]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Olson, Lynne (2013). Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939–1941. Random House Publishing Group. pp. 220, 227, 234, 242, 243. ISBN 978-0-679-60471-6. Archived from the original on June 14, 2020. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
  2. ^ Rubino, Rich (January 25, 2017). Trump Was Not First To Use The "America First" Slogan. Huffington Post. Retrieved December 19, 2021.
  3. ^ a b Sarles, Ruth (2003). Kauffman, Bill (ed.). A Story of America First: The Men and Women Who Opposed U.S. Intervention in World War II. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-275-97512-8.[page needed]
  4. ^ "Ku Klux Klan stages an 'America First' parade in Binghamton, NY".
  5. ^ Gorman, Michele (July 22, 2016). "Former KKK leader David Duke announces Senate bid under "America first" slogan". Newsweek. Retrieved August 15, 2022.
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  9. ^ a b "America First Foreign Policy". whitehouse.gov. Retrieved January 26, 2017 – via National Archives.
  10. ^ III, Armand V. Cucciniello. "Don't dismiss Trump on foreign policy: Column". USA Today. Retrieved August 22, 2021.
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    Dunn, Susan (April 28, 2016). "Trump's 'America First' has ugly echoes from U.S. history". CNN. Archived from the original on March 6, 2017. Retrieved March 6, 2017. Seeking to brand itself as a mainstream organization, America First struggled with the problem of the anti-Semitism of some of its leaders and many of its members.
    Powers, Richard Gid (1995). Not Without Honor: The History of American Anticommunism. Free Press. p. 167. ISBN 0-684-82427-2. The America First Committee and Norman Thomas's group tried to maintain their distance from anti-Semites and fascists, but the lunatic fringe of countersubversives was drawn irresistibly to them, wild for the possibility of become part of a powerful mainstream political movement. Gerald L. K. Smith, Elizabeth Dilling, Gerald B. Winrod, William Dudley Pelley, Charles Coughlin, Laura Ingalls, and all of the country's other notorious anti-Semitic anticommunist crackpots joyously raised the temperature of the debate by attacking defense preparations as Jewish inspired and Communist directed.
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  46. ^ Ljunggren, David; O'Donnell, Carl; Ljunggren, David (April 30, 2021). "Pfizer to start shipping coronavirus vaccine to Canada". Reuters. Retrieved May 3, 2021.
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  51. ^ "Click this page. It's Huge. Like Donalds hands. It's the funniest website in the world! Believe us!". Every Second Counts. Archived from the original on February 7, 2017. Retrieved February 8, 2017.
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