Correct. O.K.?

Trump has decided that the thing to call his foreign policy is America First. I heard that on NPR a couple of days ago and was stunned. Hello Colonel Lindbergh? We’re going openly pro-Nazi now? Seriously?

Plus also it’s just hideous on its face, for the obvious reasons? It’s like sitting down at a crowded dinner table and shouting “Me first!”

I’m late in noticing this, but you know how it is – I was hoping to be able to get away with ignoring Trump, until the convention made that no longer tenable.

The New Yorker was on it a couple of weeks ago.

When the New York Times interviewed Donald Trump in March, one of the reporters, David Sanger, suggested that Trump’s foreign policy could be summed up as “America First”—“a mistrust of many foreigners, both our adversaries and some of our allies, a sense that they’ve been freeloading off of us for many years.”

“Correct. O.K.? That’s fine,” Trump responded. Sanger pressed him to be sure. “I’ll tell you—you’re getting close,” Trump said, in his typically staccato style. “Not isolationist, I’m not isolationist, but I am ‘America First.’ So I like the expression. I’m ‘America First.’”

So he adopted it and ran with it. Ok then, says Louise Thomas.

Sixty-five years ago, the spokesman for America First was another celebrity, Charles Lindbergh, who was famous for his historic solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic, and because of the kidnapping and murder of his child, which was reported so exhaustively and sensationally by the press that it became known as “The Crime of the Century.” In 1935, Lindbergh and his family fled to Europe. Unlike Trump, he didn’t want the notoriety. He was a man of secrets. He sought privacy.

But he also wanted order. In the years immediately before the outbreak of the Second World War, he visited Germany, and it impressed him. While the rest of the world seemed to crumble, Germany struck him for its “organized vitality.” “I have never in my life been so conscious of such a directed force,” Lindbergh recalled in his 1978 memoir, “Autobiography of Values.” “It is thrilling when seen.” He toured the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, and became convinced that no power in Europe—or the United States—could defeat it. A war with Germany would be bad for the United States, he believed. And it would be bad for “the white races.” He condemned Kristallnacht, but he wrote, in an infamous essay published by Reader’s Digest in November, 1939, weeks after the war in Europe began, that Western nations “can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood.”

That’s what Trump is aligning himself with.

In 1940, Lindbergh, who had by then returned to the U.S., was recruited to speak on behalf of America First, an antiwar group founded by several Yale students (including Gerald Ford, the future President, and Potter Stewart, the future Supreme Court Justice) who saw the Second World War as an awful consequence of the First—and who were determined to avoid another disastrous war. The group attracted a wide range of supporters, from celebrities to pacifists (including the leader of the Socialist Party, Norman Thomas, who was my great-grandfather); America First also included more than its share of people whose views had less to do with the catastrophes of the First World War than with their nativism and xenophobia. At its peak, it had eight hundred thousand dues-paying members, many in the Midwest. Lindbergh was the ideal spokesman: charismatic, handsome, brave, sympathetic. His appeal was democratic—until it wasn’t.

On September 11, 1941, Lindbergh gave a speech to a huge crowd in Des Moines, in which he described the agitators for the U.S. to enter the war. There were three groups: the British, the government, and “the Jewish race.” “Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government,” he told the audience.

That’s what Trump is aligning himself with.

Anti-Semitism was prevalent in Lindberg’s time; his attitudes were not fringe. He had not made a secret of his interest in eugenics, nor his racial attitudes, which today seem reprehensible. But with that 1941 speech he seemed to cross a line. He was strongly and swiftly condemned for his anti-Semitic and divisive words—not only by interventionists who were opposed to America First but by those who had lionized him. The Des Moines Register called his speech “so intemperate, so unfair, so dangerous in its implications that it cannot but turn many spadefuls in the digging of the grave of his influence in this country.” The Hearst papers, which were generally sympathetic to the non-interventionists—and open about their hatred of Franklin Roosevelt—condemned Lindbergh, calling his speech “un-American.” His home town took his name off its water tower. Three months later, the Japanese attacked at Pearl Harbor. Lindbergh, who had resigned his commission in the Air Force at the demand of Roosevelt, asked to be recommissioned; Roosevelt denied the request. In the public’s view, too, Lindbergh was disgraced. His reputation did not fully recover.

I hope Trump will join him in that fate.

10 Responses to “Correct. O.K.?”