I like being an American. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. To my antecedents, America was a lifeboat. They clung to it and embraced it and tried hard to forget the dismal sea they had been drowning in before there was America for them.
No one is more dismayed by the steady rise of anti-Americanism around the world than I am. I like to think we still represent the city on a hill that J.F.K. referred to in a 1961 speech:
“We must always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us. Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us—and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill—constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities
When people around the world need help, it’s American intervention they hope for. Of course, they tire of it almost immediately when it is offered. You often hear the “criticism” that America doesn’t act out of altruism or magnanimity, but only out of self-interest. Duh. Yes, of course. We’re not going to act against our own interests, and neither is anyone else. It’s quite absurd to expect that.
And I totally get that we have often made things worse. We propped up every right-wing dictator we could find in the name of anti-communism after WWII, and there are plenty of people and governments who won’t forgive us for that. All this tends to strengthen our natural desire for isolationism and protectionism at home, as people of good will grow weary of having their efforts to benefit others turn sour and cause resentment. Let’s focus on fixing problems at home, they say, and they have a point. I feel that way myself.
Trump’s inauguration speech was notable for its combativeness, and absence of the traditional themes of reconciliation and working together to make things better. It did, though, revive an old slogan, “America First”. The man-baby may or may not know the provenance of this slogan as he knows so little, but I’m quite sure some of the people around him, Steve Bannon for example, know exactly where it comes from and who it’s directed at.
For those who have forgotten, or perhaps never knew, “America First” is the slogan of anti-semites. In 1941, the America First movement, led by the estimable hero and noted crackpot, Charles Lindbergh, campaigned tirelessly to keep America out of World War II. They were sympathetic to the cause of the Nazis, thought England should be left to its own inevitable defeat, and accused “the Jews” of both trying to take over Germany and agitating for America to enter the war against its own best interests.
In a Des Moines speech, Lindy says,
It is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany. The persecution they suffered in Germany would be sufficient to make bitter enemies of any race.
No person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution of the Jewish race in Germany. But no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy both for us and for them. Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences.
Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastations. A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not.
Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.
I’ll leave aside the “us and them” for today.
The trick of “not condoning” persecution while strongly advocating steps that will increase it is a favorite of Bannon, Breitbart, and the alt-right. That Trump is oblivious to it is upsetting and disheartening. To Bannon, “the Jews” are whiny brats. And while, according to him, he is not an anti-semite and doesn’t condone it, he has created a petri dish for it to grow and mutate, and now has inserted his thoughts and language into the brain and mouth of our clueless new Chief Executive.
Are Jews in America more at risk today than, say, Muslims? Who knows what the Orange Dystopia will bring. Uncertainty and chaos is assured, but, beyond that, no one can say. We will reel from one slogan, idea, and policy to the next.
For now it’s America First. Again.