America First refers to a foreign policy stance in the United States that generally emphasizes isolationism. It first gained prominence in the interwar period (1918–1939) and was advocated by the America First Committee, a non-interventionist pressure group against the U.S. entry into World War II. Since 2016, an identically-named campaign slogan and foreign policy that emphasizes withdrawal from international treaties and organizations has been pursued by the administration of US President Donald Trump.
"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. The motto was also chosen by Republican Senator Warren G. Harding during the 1920 presidential election, which he won.
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." 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."
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." Buchanan's "call for an America First foreign policy has been compared with the America First Committee."
History under President Trump
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 its early going, the Trump campaign publicized an article praising the candidate as a "nationalist who seeks to put America first"; campaign manager Corey Lewandowski (who has a forthcoming book with the title) promoted Trump with the phrase; and both Sarah Palin and Chris Christie featured it in their endorsements of Trump. Donald Trump later incorporated the slogan into his daily repertoire following a suggestion and historical comparison by David E. Sanger during a New York Times interview in March 2016.
In subsequent months, without referencing Pat Buchanan's prior usage or the AFC, candidate Trump promised that "'America First' will be the major and overriding theme" of his administration, and advocated nationalist, anti-interventionist positions; following his election to the presidency, America First has become the official foreign policy doctrine of the Trump Administration. 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. 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.
The slogan has been criticized by some for carrying comparisons to the America First Committee; however, Trump denied being an isolationist, and said, "I like the expression." 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.
Others have said that Trump is not a non-interventionist and never has been. Columnist Daniel Larison from The American Conservative writes 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." Trump has made both economic and politically-based critiques and policies aimed at undermining the European Union.
In popular culture
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 following Trump's inauguration. 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 employing a similar voice, speech patterns, and exaggerations to those of Trump himself. 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?".
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While the America First Committee attracted a wide array of support, the movement was marred by anti-Semitic and pro-fascist rhetoric.
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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The American people need an administration that will tell them the truth and a president who will put America first. That’s what I intend to do.
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