‘America First’ – The Trump Slogan the Establishment Hates

Why do they hate Donald Trump?

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” does mean 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.

World War II is the supreme narrative of the interventionists, both right and left, whose version of its genesis bears no more resemblance to its true origins than does the creation story of the Bible to the Big Bang theory. As Patrick J. Buchanan points out in his Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, World War II was merely a continuation of World War I, the latter making the former nearly inevitable. And the results of the second conflagration embroiled us in half a century of conflict. As Pat put it in his newspaper column:

“They went to war for Poland, but Winston Churchill abandoned Poland to Stalin. Defeated in Norway, France, Greece, Crete and the western desert, they endured until America came in and joined in the liberation of Western Europe.

“Yet, at war’s end in 1945, Britain was bled and bankrupt, and the great cause of Churchill’s life, preserving his beloved empire, was lost. Because of the ‘Good War,’ Britain would never be great again.

“And were the means used by the Allies, the terror bombing of Japanese and German cities, killing hundreds of thousands of women and children, perhaps millions, the marks of a ‘good war’?

“[Washington Post columnist Richard] Cohen contends that the evil of the Holocaust makes it a ‘good war.’ But the destruction of the Jews of Europe was a consequence of this war, not a cause. As for the Japanese atrocities like the Rape of Nanking, they were indeed horrific.

“But America’s smashing of Japan led not to freedom for China, but four years of civil war followed by 30 years of Maoist madness in which 30 million Chinese perished.”

We are now in the midst of yet another global struggle, the “war on terrorism,” which has decimated the Middle East, exhausted the US military, driven us to the edge of bankruptcy, and led to nothing but horror and blowback on a scale not even anti-interventionist critics of the decision to enter it imagined.

For Trump to raise the banner of America First in this context challenges so many political and financial interests, so many of the underlying assumptions of US foreign policy since the end of World War II, that the vicious assault on his politics and his character is entirely explicable. Like his predecessors in the America First movement – who weren’t “Nazi sympathizers,” as the smear artist Dunn avers, but ordinary Americans who wanted to simply live in peace – Trump wants a Fortress America that will keep the country safe behind two oceans and a renewed vigilance without going abroad in search of monsters of destroy.

He wants out of NATO, out of South Korea and Japan, out of harm’s way for American military personnel – all too many of whom have come back either in body bags or horribly maimed, only to be treated like unworthy supplicants by a heartless bureaucracy and left to sit on street corners begging for change.

The America Firsters became “obsolete,” USA Today informs us, “But they never went away.”

Of course we didn’t. That’s because ordinary Americans – as opposed to the foreign lobbyists, the arms contractors, and the laptop bombardiers in their Washington “thinktanks” – have always been reluctant to go crusading overseas. The 9/11 attacks induced a fit of madness that made them forget their common sense objections to trying to make alien cultures into Arabic versions of Kansas, but that soon wore off as the costs – in troops and treasure – added up. And as their own country began to disintegrate, both physically and culturally, while George W Bush was busily engaged in “nation-building” in Afghanistan, Americans began to ask: is it worth it?

Today the answer to that question is clearly a firm negative – except, of course, in the precincts of power on the Potomac.

Of all the “experts” hauled out to attack Trump and his “America First” foreign policy, my favorite is left-wing dingbat and “historian” Adam Hochschild, a co-founder of Mother Jones magazine, who blithers that we’re too “deeply enmeshed” to put our own interests first:

 “Trump can no more successfully pretend we’re not involved than isolationists of the 1930s could. How can we put ‘America First’ as far as climate change is concerned? Trump does not have the power to make rising ocean waters lap only at other countries’ shores.”

This is what the globalists are reduced to, now that the neoconservative version of internationalism is out of style: we have to keep policing the world because the seas are rising!

One good thing about climate change is that, as the oceans rise, they’ll engulf coastal areas such as the Bay Area, where dingbat Hochschild resides, and he’ll be forced to “enmesh” himself in Middle America – Trump Country – where normal Americans live. Although perhaps he’ll prefer to go under, along with the rest of the die-hard arugula-consuming Trump-hating elites….


You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].