Tuesday, March 29, 2016
At least he didn't say 'Work will make you free."
"My policy is America first," Donald Trump told Fox News Monday, "and will always be, America first."
Though anyone in the least bit historically-minded is already cowering in a paroxysm of disbelief, watching this presidential campaign in open-mouthed, Edvard Munch-strength horror, Trump's words have to send a new shiver across our blown-out sensibilities.
The America First Committee, the bund of isolationists and Hitler boot lickers that thrived for a year before Pearl Harbor, funded by xenophobes like Robert McCormick, starring sieg-heiling erstwhile hero Charles Lindbergh. It fought to make sure America was as unprepared for war as it could be, under the charmed notion that Herr Hitler and his allies would leave us alone as long as we didn't antagonize them. Trumpeting safety, it endangered the country, leaving us vulnerable.
FDR, whom they loathed, warned them.
"Let no one imagine that America will escape," he told Chicagoans during a visit in 1937, "that American may expect mercy, that this Western hemisphere won't be attacked."
This is exactly what Trump et al believe. If we bar immigrants and refugees, we can somehow keep terrorists at bay. It is a theory that imagines all bad things hovering outside our borders. All we have to do is not let them in. When the truth is far more complicated.
I can't even insinuate that Trump intended the reference as a dog whistle to his terrified rabble of followers. Even if he weren't ignorant of the past, his supporters certainly are—a chunk of America doesn't even know there was a World War II, never mind sweating the home-front details—and only resent when the obvious parallels between Trump and Hitler are pointed out: the stoking of support based on demonizing already-scorned minorities, the barely suppressed—so far—calls to violence.
You really should watch the Fox News clip where Trump says it. They play a snippet of Barack Obama suggesting we should let more refugees in. Then they cut to Trump, who reflexively wildly-exaggerates what Obama has said into talk about "open borders" as if Obama had invited the world in. As if they really don't know that America's current refugee policy is a profile in cowardice. Our country has let a couple thousand Syrian refugees in the past year, while Europe has welcomed millions. Even if terrorists were among them, pointing to terrorist acts as an argument against immigration is like pointing toward a car wreck as an argument for a 10 mph speed limit.
Haters see risk in the things they already hate. They can't grasp the risk of America turning its back on its values, on the thing that made us a great nation to begin with, not to mention providing the grease our economy needs to work. They don't see the harm of being a ghetto of white ignorance that feeds the phenomenon in the first place.
Perhaps the most galling thing about Trump is that he is not alone. His success is due to his shouting things the GOP has been whispering for years. While Trump is acting as the Harold Hill of haters, high-stepping toward the White House with trombones at full blare, the House of Representatives passed HR 4731 out of committee Monday. The "Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act," would reduce and cap our already minuscule refugee admissions, allowing timid state and local governments to opt out of letting any refugees in at all.
This isn't "America First." This is "Fear First."