This is something you see Trump and his supporters tweet a lot and hear them say a lot, but what does it mean?
Before I can explain, I feel it necessary to provide some comfort.
America First is a slogan quite frequently used by the racist oppressors who believe that their European heritage gives them privilege to claim America as their country, a white country. When they say ‘America First’ they are not using ‘America’ as an inclusive term, but as an exclusionary term to mean ‘White America’.
The KKK and ‘America First’
The image to the left is the oldest reference to the KKK using the slogan ‘America First’ that I am personally aware of, but it likely was in use for some time before that coin was created.
The coin also has the phrase ‘Preserve Racial Purity’ clarifies exactly what they mean by ‘America’ in the slogan ‘America First’ – they clearly mean ‘White America’.
The image below is also from the 1920s and depicts a parade in Binghampton, New York which is in the Southern Tier close to the Pennsylvania border.
This image is from https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/ku-klux-klan-stages-an-america-first-parade-in-binghamton-news-photo/514702614#binghamton-ny-ku-klux-klan-stages-an-america-first-parade-in-ny-picture-id514702614
Of interesting note, not only does the image use the ‘America First’ slogan but it also brings religion into the mix, they are claiming authority from God. This is a similar tactic to what the GOP currently does, and what many white supremacists still do:
While “America First” is not used there, the racially hateful newspaper does feature the “Make America Great Again” slogan that Trump and his supporters frequently use with “America First” and this racist paper, like the 1920s KKK, claims a Christian authority to their hate.
While I am not personally aware of the “Make America Great Again” slogan being used by racists prior to Trump, there is a similar slogan that was previously used by fascists: “machen Deutschland wieder groß” – which translates to “Make Germany Great Again”. I probably do not have to tell you which fascist that was…
Back from the sidetrack to the KKK and “America First” –
Three of those Klan members appear to be women, I can not determine the sex of the Klan member all the way to the right.
As you can see, they are again using the ‘America First’ slogan, and clarifying their intent – ‘America for Whites’. I do not know the date on that image, but from what I can see of the automobiles, I would guess at least the 1950s.
The phrase ‘America First’ without a doubt had specific meaning as a phrase to the Ku Klux Klan.
Trump and the KKK
There is plenty of evidence directly linking many Trump supporters to the KKK but there is no direct evidence linking Trump himself to the KKK.
There is however evidence linking Trump’s father to the KKK.
In 1927 he was arrested at a KKK rally in New York.
Trump supporters are quick to point out that just because he was arrested at the scene doesn’t mean he was part of the KKK. However it seems unlikely that with over 1000 marchers and only seven arrested, that an innocent bystander was arrested.
Donald Trump (who was not yet born at this time) claims that it never happened, but the newspaper gives both the name and the address, and the address corresponds to where Trump’s father was living at the time. It happened.
This was in the 1920s in New York, just like the photograph with the ‘America First’ slogan from the Binghampton KKK parade.
In fairness, even if Trump’s father was marching with KKK as is likely the case that does not itself indicate he was a member. The KKK had heavily distributed flyers enticing other people to join their march and it seems that many who were not members did so.
America First Committee
The America First Committee was a political committee that formed in 1940 and grew to a rather large size, with over 800,000 members and 450 chapters.
The primary purpose of the committee was to keep the United States out of World War II.
Prior to the German invasion of France in 1940, Americans were largely neutral with respect Germany. In fact, you can find many positive mainstream journalism articles written about Germany and Hitler in the United States prior to the invasion of France.
With the German invasion of France, many Americans started to change their mind and voice support for America joining the Allies in the war against Germany. The America First Committee was formed to lobby against joining the war, and many among them actually supported the fascists in Germany and Italy.
Once Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor, they knew keeping us out of the war would no longer be possible and the America First Committee disbanded.
During that era, Dr. Seuss created the following political cartoon:
The phrase “America First” here was not specifically associated with a White Supremacy group, but there were many racists involved in the committee and there were anti-Semitic writings produced by the committee, and the committee backed fascism is Europe.
America First Party (1944)
In 1944 a political party was founded called “America First” and this political party was without a doubt a very racist party.
The party founder, Gerald Lyman Kenneth Smith, was a member of the Silver Legion of America which was a white supremacist group modeled after Hitler’s Brown Shirts. He lobbied for the release of Nazi War Criminals convicted at the Nuremberg Trials.
He also was a Holocaust Denier, claiming that the Jews were not killed but instead has immigrated to the United States.
America First Party (2002)
This is a current political party formed by some former members of the Pat Buchanan “Reform Party”.
The party is not overtly racist but they are opposed to affirmative action, racial quotas, and immigration. The party also believes the government should be allowed to mandate prayer in public schools.
While the party does not use specifically white supremacist language, they clearly want the right for companies to be racist in who they hire.
The party does seek to preserve “traditional families” which while not specifically racist, it does demonstrate intolerance.
Seeking forced prayer in public schools is also very problematic given the history of racist groups in America like the KKK and the 1944 version of the America First party claiming a religious duty for their racism.
Members of this party that I have personally run across deny the reality of White Privilege, oppose the Black Lives Matter movement, and often describe themselves as proponents of Classical Liberalism or Libertarianism.
Anti-Defamation League and America First
In 2016 before the election, the Anti-Defamation League specifically asked Trump not to use the phrase “America First” due to its known racist history with the anti-Semitism in the America First Committee.
Trump rejected their request and continues to use the term frequently, even using it on Twitter on MLK Day.
Alice Wonder and America First
First of all, the clear racist history of the phrase makes it something that anyone with deference would not use.
Trump supporters are quick to point out that the phrase by itself does not have anything to do with race, and they are correct.
The problem however lies in that those who quite heavily used the phrase before interpret “America” to mean “White America” and by continuing to use the term, at a minimum Trump is giving a nod and a wink to those groups. They clearly get the message, for they continue to support him.
If as a politician I frequently used the phrase “By Any Means Necessary” I and my supporters could easily claim that the phrase itself had nothing to do with the radical wing of Antifa that uses that phrase, but anyone of intelligence would see that I was clearly giving them a nod and a wink by its use.
The same is true of the phrase “America First”. Trump is giving the racist factions that use the phrase to mean “White America First” a wink and a nod, making it clear that at a minimum he is not going to interfere with them, and that he may even privately support them.
But forget all that. Even if the phrase had nothing to do with racism, it is still a problematic phrase.
For the evangelicals that support Trump, their own Bible says something quite different. When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus replies “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
Nowhere did Jesus say anything about loving the artificial construct of the nation you happen to be a citizen of.
If you are not an evangelical, Thomas Jefferson said “dissent is the highest form of patriotism” – it isn’t the political body that matters, it is the people that matter.
Put people first, not a government.
How does one put people first? I like this list from the DSA:
- Decrease the influence of money in politics
- Empower ordinary people in workplaces and the economy
- Restructure gender and cultural relationships to be more equitable
What that means – currently, we have a problem. Our government should be for the people and by the people. It isn’t.
A very small percentage of the people currently hold the majority of the wealth. When they are allowed to use that wealth to influence politics, we are no longer a democracy, we are an oligarchy.
We need laws to restrict corporations and extremely wealthy people from being able to donate to political campaigns. When given a large sums of money, the politician that received those funds feels obligated to give special favors to the donor.
If they don’t, they can kiss re-election goodbye because the donor will donate to someone else and that money will help the someone else win the next election.
Politicians selling out to corporations is a natural consequence of allowing large donations and we become an oligarchy.
On the other hand if campaign funding is restricted to small donations from the people, then the politician feels obligated to serve the people because if they don’t, the people will donate to someone else. Democracy is preserved.
With respect to empowering ordinary people in the workplace, right now we live in a society that is very classist. If you are born into a family with privilege, the odds that you will receive a quality education and become a member of the upper class as an adult are much greater than if you are born into a family without privilege.
This is not to say successful people do not work hard to get to where they are at, but it is a lot easier to work hard to get to where you are at if you have the opportunity to do so.
Just an example, my sister and her husband are very well to do. They each make more money than most families earn. They have one daughter. She went to a high school with a tuition that is higher than many colleges. She had field trips to France and field trips to Africa. She has opportunities that look really good on her college applications, and she had opportunities that despite the wealth of her parents, made it possible for her to get most of her college education paid for with scholarships.
She has a much better chance of becoming a successful adult than someone with the same intelligence but was born in Compton and attended over-crowded public schools with classes in temporary buildings and textbooks that are severely outdated and worn out.
Empowering ordinary people in the workplace and the economy means we need to look for a solution to that problem, so that all people regardless of where they were born and what family they were born into have a fair chance at making it.
With respect to restructuring gender and cultural relationships to be more equitable, this means actually addressing the problems we have with both the gender wage gap and the racial wage gap. White men make the most money. Not just because the current elite are white men, at every level white men make the most money.
In just about every industry, if you are white you make more money than if you are not white. That is part of white privilege. If you are cisgender male you make more money that if you are female or transgender or agender.
This needs to change, and we need to stop talking about change, we need to make it change.
This is putting People First – fuck America First.