Long shadow of Lindbergh's 'America First'

Several readers of my Gazette column, reflecting on President Trump's Inaugural Address, asked me, considering my experiences during the Second World War, what did I think of his speech.

The first though that occurred to me was the historical record. I wondered, had Charles Lindbergh, the aviator and co-founder of the "America First" movement, been the elected president in 1940 and delivered a speech similar to the one President Donald Trump gave, whether most of the world, including the United States, would still be under Hitler's and Nazi domination.

The phrase "America First" was used by Mr. Trump repeatedly during his presidential campaign and in his inaugural address. But the phrase has also been the slogan of Nazi sympathizers trying to prevent U. S. support for Great Britain when it was under attack by Nazi-Germany and while opposing U.S. entry into World War II.

To many Americans, the term "America First," is associated with a dark phase in our nation's history, and as George Santayana warned, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

But according to Steve Bannon, the president's chief strategist, who advised Trump as a candidate, using the slogan "America First," was not meant to earn the support of the "alt-right" or Nazi sympathizers. "The movement that brought the president to power is based on economic populism," he said.

Trump, as a presidential candidate lacked the support of many traditional conservatives. In his campaign speeches, and inaugural address, for example, he had not proposed adherence to Henry Kissinger's realpolitik theory and practice. Instead, he turned into a bomb-thrower. According to many respected foreign policy experts, his words may blast apart alliances that brought peace and prosperity to many parts of the world during the past seven decades.

Fortunately, the system of governance in the United States was designed to have checks and balances. In addition, as a Dutch proverb tells us, "The soup is never eaten as hot as it is served."

As a presidential candidate and in his inaugural address Trump invoked the images described in Thomas Hobbes' work, Leviathan. "If people live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they will be in condition which is called war, and such a war is of every man against every man."

He added, "In that lawless state there will be continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."

This image is in sharp contrast with President Ronald Reagan's concept of what America represents. In his farewell address he said; "America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.... Good-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That how I saw it, and see it still."

President-elect John F. Kennedy, in 1961, in an address to the Massachusetts Legislature said: "During the last 60 days I have been engaged in the task of constructing an administration ... I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates 331 years ago ... We shall be as a city upon a hill – the eyes of all people are upon us."

Kennedy concluded, "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 a city upon a hill."

Shatz, a Williamsburg resident, is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and amazon.com.

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