It seems like most people are already sick of the inauguration and the protests and the never ending battle of politics and spin machines. They have chosen their side, or they have chosen no side, and they have constructed a comfortable narrative around themselves to reinforce their position. President Trump is going to, “Drain the swamp,” and finally, “Get things done.” Or, “Not my President Trump” is going to, “Roll back our rights,” and create a, “Fascist America.” Or, “Politicians are all the same and Trump is no different, so who cares what they do?”
Still, I can’t stop offering my two cents for those willing to listen. One thing I have been thinking about a lot is Trumps declaration that he/we will, “Put America First.” I know this resonates with many who feel like they have gotten the shaft from globalism but I see it in far more ominous terms and can’t stop thinking again of President Kennedy’s Inaugural, in which he said:
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
Obviously, JFK’s rhetoric was a bit over the top. No nation has infinite capacity in terms of manpower, wealth, or will to endlessly bear any and all burdens. Nevertheless, the point he was making is a very important one, one which was, “tempered by war,” and greatly informed by the times in which he lived. As a young man, he saw the first incarnation of the America First Movement and, under his father’s isolationist influence, he too became a supporter of the movement for a time. This radically anti-war, anti-foreign entanglements philosophy, grew out of The Great War (aka World War I), and the feeling that America had won a pointless victory at a very high price (more than 116,000 military deaths). While most Americans did not join any formal America First organizations, they did share the general sentiment, and they were willing to stand by as Hitler ravaged Europe and Imperial Japan laid waste to Asia. Not until we were directly attacked at Pearl Harbor did we wake up to the fact that we could not and should not withdraw from the world.
After that devastating, nearly Apocalyptic time, Americans became the driving force that charted a new course for the world, creating the United Nations, the World Bank, and so many other institutions and agreements that promoted international cooperation and the much vilified, “globalization,” of today. When President Kennedy, the first member of World War II generation to become President, took the Oath of Office, he wanted to reaffirm America’s commitment to this future and to make it clear that we would put American Values before any short-sighted ideas of, “America First.” He saw America as a moral leader, with an obligation and duty to lead, and prevent further world conflicts, even if this proved to be a burden for us. For the most part, all Presidents that have followed him have shared this sentiment. They may have disagreed on when and how American military might, foriegn aid, or diplomacy should be used, but they have not shirked from the idea that these things can and should be used when appropriate, nor have they taken an isolationist, let’s pull away from the world to, “Make America Great Again,” attitude.
The Trump Administration marks a titanic shift in many ways but not enough attention has yet been paid to his Fortress America mentality. Like his personal behavior – throughout his career in real estate, casinos, Reality TV, and numerous failed endeavors and scams – Trump sees the world of global politics the way he seems to view business, as a zero sum gain. I need to look after mine (and maybe screw you over) so that I “win” and someone else “loses.” The idea that we can all win, that we are all in this together, or that sometime there are values and ideals greater than getting the biggest piece of the pie or passing the finish line first, does not appear to cross his mind. His America First rhetoric is a call for us to be like him on the world stage. To, “get ours,” and let others attempt to get theirs, so long as they don’t get in our way. He wants to make this a more selfish, more “me” obsessed society, as if we don’t have enough of that, and the spin his puts on it is that he is doing this, “for us;” as if the promotion of isolationism and greed is really some kind of communitarianism.
I know, Trump Supporters will complain about this or that trade deal, international effort, or organization; and on an individual level they may have a point. Certainly there are improvements that can be made to everything and some things are just wrong. But the idea that America is a vital part of the world and must play a crucial role in it – that we must not fall into the simplistic, “America First,” mentality – is something we cannot afford to lose sight of. I realize that many people object to us being the, “Policeman of the world,” but I think that is an unfortunate phase for our role as a global leader. We are more like the World’s Fireman. Like it or not, we need to be there to help fight the small fires, lest they become an all encompassing blaze. And we need to do what we can to pull others from the flames. We cannot police the other 95% of the world’s population, but we must not jerk our knees and reflexively, “Put America First.” The best we can hope for in that scenario is to be the last house on fire.
One other interesting note about slogans that recently come to my attention. After Trump chose, “Make America Great Again,” for his campaign, the Purge film franchise chose a variation on this as a tagline for their third movie, The Purge: Election Year (2016), “Keep America Great.”
It’s a rather cheeses, formulaic dystopian story about a horrid future in which America’s get one night each year to commit any crimes they please, even murder. The New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA), the political party who rule in Washington created this system to remove the homeless and other people they see as draining our resources. One thing that is spot on about the film is they way they portray the corruption of our values, including the doctrine of Christianity, through the clever use of language. The NFFA justify Purge Night by saying that just as Jesus sacrificed himself for our sins, we must sacrifice others for the betterment of society. Given the fact that many self-professed Christians have convinced themselves that President Trump is somehow, “one of us,” and the fact the Klu Klux Klan pretends to be a Christian Organization, and the fact that even the Nazis were defended in Germany by many clergymen and laymen alike, I don’t see The Purge’s take on killing people for Christ as all that out there. It is a sad reflection on the fact that people can convince themselves of anything, if they want to. In a funny twist of irony, Trump has already said that he is considering the use of the slogan, “Keep America Great!” in 2020. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what meaning and significance we should see in this.