The Un-American History of America First

They say that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  But, that presumes that those who do remember the past, and those who do not, wish to avoid a recurrence.


President Trump routinely evokes two phrases from the past: “fake news” and “America First”.


The phrase "fake news" is strikingly similar to Adolf Hitler’s “lugenpresse”, German for “lying press”, which Hitler would scream during his rallies.


More troubling than Trump’s use of “fake news" is his phrase “America First”, and the policies he employs in its name.


America First was the name of Charles Lindbergh's committee formed during World War II that advocated appeasing Hitler keeping the United States out of the War.  Lindbergh was a proponent of some tenets of Nazism, writing in an essay that America must "preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood.”  In 1941, Lindbergh gave a speech at an America First rally in which he blamed “the Jewish race” for pushing America to intervene in the War.[1]


Philip Roth, in his novel The Plot Against America, theorized what would have become of the country had Lindbergh and his group prevailed.  Roth paints a world not only in which Jews live in terror, but in which nativism and Nazism is the new world order. And Roth’s vision was not far from becoming a reality.


The America First Committee not only would have had the country allied with the most evil regime in history, but Lindbergh’s obsession with maintaining the purity of “European blood”, and the Committee’s racist claims that Jewish refugees would endanger America, were directly responsible for turning literal boatloads of the Holocaust’s refugees back to face gruesome deaths by starvation, by ovens, by poison gas.[2]


Ships such as the St. Luis, packed with 900 refugees desperately seeking asylum, were turned away and sent back to Germany and its death camps.  It is important to note that the St. Louis set sail after Kristallnacht. The refugees aboard were not merely seeking a better life, they were seeking rescue from execution.  One third of those 900 aboard were later murdered by the Nazis.[3]  Among those denied asylum was Anne Frank.[4]


This week, Trump’s Director of f US Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinnelli, stated in an interview that we should change the inscription on the Statute of Liberty to  "Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."[5]


Trump has revived the America First Committee’s name, and its racist policies. Once again, our country is turning away refugees fleeing violence, using racist fears that the refugees pose a danger.              Trump’s complaint that too many immigrants came from “s-hole countries”, and his statement that the country should limit immigration from certain countries in favor of “immigrants from places like Norway” echo Lindbergh’s cries to “preserve European blood” and the America First Committee’s racist claims that Jewish refugees were somehow dangerous or inferior to Anglo-Saxon immigrants.


The America First of today not only leaves refugees on distant shores in danger, but endangers Americans as well.  In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a gunman slaughtered 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue and injured many others.  The shooter’s stated reason for the massacre was that Jews were funding immigration.


In the weeks leading up to the shooting, right wing media personalities had begun claiming that “Globalists” – alt-right slang for “Jews" – were funding the migrant caravans.  Trump himself asserted this claim, just one week before the massacre. [6]


More recently, a shooter in El Paso murdered 30 and injured dozens of others. He told police that he chose his locale and his victims because he sought to stop an “invasion” of immigrants, a phrase used by Trump, along with variations of “immigrant infestations” in dozens of tweets and rallies [7]


There can be little doubt that the America First of World War II cost thousands of refugees their lives. Philip Roth imagined how many more would have died had Lindbergh prevailed.  I wonder how many would have been saved if America had said "decency first", instead of America First.


If the president did study World War II history, he is adhering to the wrong side of it.


While there is no war raging today, at least not on a battlefield, we are faced with refugees in need, refugees seeking what is inscribed on the Statute of Liberty, rather than what Trump would have inscribed upon it. Will we say “America First”, or will we stand by the values this country was founded on?  The history is being written today.



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Contributing Editor: Howard Altman, Long Island, New York

I am an attorney and aspiring writer living in New York with my golden doodle, Barney. I cook, bake, play the piano and write. I wanted to be Weird Al when I grew up, but had to settle for the law and Twitter. You can find me on twitter @HowardA_Esq.