America First, how sweet the sound

I’m in the “relax and enjoy it” phase of Donald Trump’s candidacy for the GOP nomination. If he wins it, so be it. His prospects are certainly good, but I rate his chance of winning the general election as asymptotically approaching zero. All I can do is observe the scene honestly.

I won’t enjoy watching the damage that Trump’s candidacy will do to the Republican Party in the general election, but there isn’t much I can do about that. I do hold the prospective damage against Trump and his enablers. When Senator Sessions loses his chairmanship of the Immigration Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, I vow to remember to wish him all the best as ranking member. I’m sure Senator Sessions will miss colleagues including Senators Ayotte, Johnson, Portman, Toomey, and others.

Donald Trump embarrasses the views that have attracted many supporters and should be an embarrassment to his supporters. Although Trump can do many things, there is one thing he can’t do. He is apparently incapable of embarrassing his supporters.

I’m not sure why Donald Trump should choose to expound his deep thoughts on foreign policy to the New York Times, but he has done so. David Sanger and Maggie Haberman report the results in “In Donald Trump’s worldview, America comes first, and everybody else pays.”

As I relax and enjoy it, I wonder about Trump’s knowledge of modern American political history. I wonder if he is aware of the checkered history of the America First movement that preceded America’s entry into World War II. Trump told Sanger and Haberman that he agreed with what must be their “suggestion that his ideas might be summed up as ‘America First.'”

“Not isolationist, but I am America First,” he said. “I like the expression.”

Sanger and Haberman add that Trump “said he was willing to reconsider traditional American alliances if partners were not willing to pay, in cash or troop commitments, for the presence of American forces around the world. ‘We will not be ripped off anymore,’ he said.”

America First has unfragrant associations for people like me. I assume that Trump is unaware of the associations. He just doesn’t know that much. If he is aware, he obviously doesn’t care, but my guess is that he isn’t.

As a bona fide American hero Charles Lindbergh threw the weight of his reputation against all efforts to lend assistance to Great Britain and France in opposing Germany as World War II got underway. Lindbergh spoke frequently on behalf of the group that went under the name of America First. He was the group’s biggest draw, as Scott Berg puts it in his biography of Lindbergh, “making thirteen public appearances as its featured speaker in practically every region of the country.”

In October 1939, Lindberg gave a speech in Chicago in which he confided the result of his first-hand research on the causes of the conflict in Europe:

The underlying issue was clear. It was not the support of “democracy,” or the so-called democratic nations would have given more assistance to the struggling republic of post-war Germany. It was not a crusade for Christianity, or the Christian nations of the west would have carried their battle flags to the confiscated churches of Russia. It was not the preservation of small and helpless nations, or sanctions would have been followed by troops in Abyssinia, and England would not have refused to cooperate with the United States in Manchuria. The issue was one of the oldest and best known among men. It concerned the division of territory and wealth between nations. It has caused conflict in Europe since European history began.

As events unfolded in Europe, Lindbergh continued to turn up the heat against the Roosevelt administration. In September 1941, for example, Lindbergh helpfully explained to a Des Moines audience: “If any one of these groups– the British, the Jewish, or the administration — stops agitating for war, I believe there will be little danger of our involvement.”

After Pearl Harbor, Charles Lindberg’s reputation never recovered. Trump’s standing with his supporters, on the one hand, and with the rest of the American people, on the other hand, is such that no particular harm will be done.


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