“America First” Is Not Hate Speech

Neither Hitler, nor the KKK

Does having a slogan in common with a group mean that you have entirely common goals? There’s a credit union called “America First” that’s been named that since 1984. Have they ever been protested as racist or pro-KKK?

The effort to terrify people over the historical outliers who have used the phrase “America First” in the past, is not about the slogan or even the general idea. It’s just about politics.

If you have to make a tweet to explain why it is political signaling, it is kind of … not. Not “overt” at all, anyway, right? That’s kind of not what overt means.

Yes. The KKK did use the phrase. And yes as well: Prior to Pearl Harbor, some favoring appeasement of Hitler used the phrase. Some (not all) of those people, we would identify as being particularly pernicious anti-semites.

The reason we condemn them, though, is not because they used that phrase. It’s because they were truly horrible people. They enabled genocide, lynched people, bombed churches, terrorized people, and advocated racial prejudice and violence, promoting hatred. It is not because they said “America First.” On the contrary, they used the phrase to attempt to legitimize what that they were doing. To make the things they were doing, look not so bad. Because the phrase is good.

The two words involved, America and first, are both good words. The word “America” means the continent (technically two continents) we live on, and is frequently used to refer to the country of the United States of America. That’s what it means. “First” denotes primacy. That is its meaning. Both of the words together in the phrase “America First” is not an inherently bad phrase, either.

We all believe in loving oneself, right? If someone tells you that loving your own self is dangerous, we should kind of be cautious about those people. That’s the way an abuser would talk.

Loving yourself is not the same as hating other people or being obsessed with yourself. On the contrary, loving yourself is generally recognized as a baseline from which more love can grow. It protects you from being made into a doormat by opportunists, enables you to stand with self-respect, and in a sense, it even enables you to truly love others and to be loved by them.

Likewise, there is nothing inherently wrong with loving your country or even putting it in a place of primacy or esteem. That is not inherently the same as hating other countries, either. It is just a simple perspective that does not need to be inherently objectionable. Like loving yourself, it is an attitude that can protect against your being taken advantage of, especially if you have a naturally giving nature.

To raise red flags about the use of the phrase, and not about actual dangerous activity, makes it look like this is Much Ado About Nothing. It makes it more difficult to see where the real problems are.

And by “Much Ado About Nothing,” I am not trying to say that “nothing” is happening, but that “America First” is nothing to make a stir about… if there are things that are worth making much ado about… make ado about them, right? No need to waste time on the minor, distracting initially positive-looking things that require special “I know what they really mean” understanding to read inflammatory subtext into them. It looks almost petty, or at the very least unfocused. Not an effective way to engage others. Especially not when there are actual bad decisions and bad policies being made, right?

We’d be wiser and more effective to criticize the policies directly, with critical thought and dialogue, than to flare in rage over non-issues, right?

Dialogue over real issues brings in allies and connections, which gives us power. Manufactured rage over non issues makes us look like we’re losing it, which drives allies away and leaves us stuck with an outraged core of true-believers. Without care, it can leave us stewing in a tiny, raging echo chamber. I hope we can avoid that type of close-walled thinking area; it is not a healthy place to be.