In the very first speech of his presidency, Donald Trump chanted the slogan of a 1940s isolationist and anti-Semitic organization that had been opposed to America’s entry into World War II. The newly minted president of the United States chanted “America first” twice during his inauguration speech, shortly after taking the oath of office on Friday.
“We assembled here today our issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power, from this day forward, a new vision will govern our land, from this day forward, it’s going to be only America first,” said Trump. “America first.”
The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. From this moment on, it’s going to be #AmericaFirst🇺🇸
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 20, 2017
America First was an organization founded in 1940 at Yale University after Hitler invaded Poland. The organization urged isolationism in the face of Hitler because Nazi Germany was not threatening the United States. “We demand that Congress refrain from war, even if England is on the verge of defeat,” the organization said in an early petition.
The group had many anti-Semitic members, most notably Charles Lindbergh, who joined the organization in April 1941 and became its spokesperson.
“[The Jewish people’s] greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government,” he said in one infamous speech in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1941. “The British and the Jewish races… for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war.”
This isn’t the first time Trump has said America first, despite the term’s anti-Semitic connotations. Last April, the Anti-Defamation League urged Trump to reconsider using the phrase.
“The undercurrents of anti-Semitism and bigotry that characterized the America First movement — including the assumption that Jews who opposed the movement had their own agenda and were not acting in America’s best interest — is fortunately not a major concern today,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, in a statement. “However, for many Americans, the term ‘America First’ will always be associated with and tainted by this history. In a political season that already has prompted a national conversation about civility and tolerance, choosing a call to action historically associated with incivility and intolerance seems ill-advised.”
Still, Trump continued to use the phrase throughout the campaign. In August, his team unveiled an “America first” app for Android and iOS devices. After his victory in November, he used the phrase again during a victory tour speech.
The idea of “America first” parallels the ideology of far-right movements abroad. In the United Kingdom, the political party “Britain First” was one of the biggest advocates for leaving the European Union. While “Brexit” was sold as a form of populism, the Brexit campaign also involved rampant xenophobia; shortly before the vote, an anti-Brexit member of parliament was murdered by a white supremacist who yelled “Britain first.”
The new White House website now has an entire section dedicated to an “America First Foreign Policy.”
“The Trump Administration is committed to a foreign policy focused on American interests and American national security,” the website says. “Peace through strength will be at the center of that foreign policy. This principle will make possible a stable, more peaceful world with less conflict and more common ground.”
The page goes on to say that the United States will rebuild the military and “pursue aggressive joint and coalition military operations when necessary” to “defeat ISIS and other radical Islamic terror groups.”
Despite pervading media myths that Trump is an isolationist, it’s clear that a Trump administration will likely exacerbate world conflicts. Trump supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2011 invasion of Libya, has called for putting between 20,000 and 30,000 U.S. troops in the Middle East, and doesn’t seem to see any problems with using nuclear weapons.