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America First and Trump’s Word Wars

| June 26, 2017

Theodor Geisel's cartoon was first published in PM Magazine on Oct. 1, 1941, two months before American entry in World War II.

Theodor Geisel’s cartoon was first published in PM Magazine on Oct. 1, 1941, two months before American entry in World War II.

By Olivia Alperstein

These days I find myself thinking often about a cartoon by the late Theodore Geissel.

In it, a woman with a sweater that reads “America First” reads aloud from a storybook to two children: “And the Wolf chewed up the children and spit out their bones,” she relays. “But those were Foreign Children and it didn’t really matter.”


Geissel — better known as Dr. Seuss — was criticizing Americans’ purposeful isolationism during World War II. But it’s never felt more prescient, as a sitting American president embarks on a dangerous and deadly new “America First” policy.

These days, “America First” is apparently code for using language to provoke other countries into aggressive stances or all-out war. “America First” apparently means making us the first to get mixed up in yet another endless, costly war — or three.

Instead of “America First,” we really need “Diplomacy First.”

On the global stage, even a slight mischaracterization or poor choice of words by a world leader can provoke a diplomatic crisis. That’s why I was shocked to see the White House’s brief statement on the recent attacks in Iran, which states: “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.”

That sounds awfully like the president was blaming the innocent Iranians targeted by ISIS gunmen a few weeks back for their own murders.

The last administration negotiated the Iran deal for the precise purpose of avoiding an unnecessary war with Iran and deescalating the country’s nuclear program. It was arguably life-or-death diplomacy.

The new administration’s approach, on the other hand, is more like kick-the-hornet’s-nest-until-it-stings-you-then-blame-the-hornet.

other-wordsOur president has a history of strange and poorly timed statements and tweets — for instance, he called for a Muslim travel ban right after a recent terrorist attack in London, only expressing sorrow or sympathy for victims or families several hours later.

This is impulsive and intentionally careless. Those are words you never want to hear about foreign policy, especially in a world so beset by crises. It’s playing whack-a-mole with a bunch of brush fires — while someone else is lighting a cigarette.

Iran isn’t the only country to get Trumped. The complex crisis in Syria has come at a huge human cost — and yet Trump is considering escalating the conflict. In Afghanistan, he recently authorized the first battle use of the “Mother of All Bombs,” and now he’s giving the generals the go-ahead to send thousands more U.S. troops there.

A few weeks ago, Trump also handed over a $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which routinely violates human rights and continues to wage war on its poorer neighbor Yemen. As for the Yemenis, Trump has been unwilling to aid in the humanitarian crisis that war has caused — including a growing famine — by using U.S. leverage over the Saudis.

And I’ve yet to hear Trump speak a single word on the systematic slaughter of LGBT people in Chechnya while he defends Russia.

As Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Trump seems to love picking fights with European allies and countries we’ve cut hard-won diplomatic deals with, but can’t seem to find the words to speak up about real humanitarian crises caused by his friends.

The United States is no longer a global leader. While other countries try to work together to solve problems and continue to lead on global progress, we’ll get left behind chanting “America First.”

Olivia Alperstein is the Deputy Director of Communications and Policy at Progressive Congress.

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8 Responses for “America First and Trump’s Word Wars”

  1. Sherry says:

    Just take a look at this recently released PEW International Poll that shows hard “FACTUAL” numbers saying that the vast majority of people around the world think trump is a terrible president and that our entire country is therefore perceived much more negatively on the world stage:

    http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/06/26/u-s-image-suffers-as-publics-around-world-question-trumps-leadership/

  2. Watching Closely says:

    Sooner or later even the hard core trumpers are going to have to admit he is nuttier that a fruitcake…and if he were even shut up in a room with a couple of professional psychiatrists…we would see him led away in a strait jacket. Sadly this isn’t crazy Aunt Mary we’re talking about here that we could just smile at each other and shrug our shoulders….this is the potus. This is VERY scary.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sure the whole world wants to work together, as long as the U S Pays for the programs with our dollars, and their defense with the lives of our young military personal..

  4. Anonymous says:

    Sherry, It really doesn’t matter what the rest of the world’s opinion is a lot of these people would slit an American’s throat if they had half a chance. The rest of the world didn’t vote and elect Trump, Obama, the Bushes, or Nixon, we did. They were all our presidents whether the rest of the world liked them or not. As long as our Presidents protect and defend the constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign or domestic says Presidents have to put America first. Who cares what some world opinion poll says?

  5. A real American says:

    Yes, unfortunately the way they electoral process works, Trump got into office (how much help did Russia provide). I don’t think a lot of foreign countries want to cut American throats. I think they are laughing at us, feel sorry for us, and want us to deal with the mess that Trump has and is creating. Its not America first for him. Its Trump first. Go back in look up a political ad by Ohio Gov. Kasich where he warned our country in 2015 that Trump will be doing all this horrible stuff. Trump threatened a lawsuit to have ad taken down, but not he’s in office, Trump is doing all those things. Wake up America before it is too late!!

  6. Sherry says:

    Most intelligent, educated people understand that we share planet Earth with BILLIONS of other people in almost 200 other countries with different government, cultures and societies. . ., and our country is in the vast MINORITY!

    Lets take a look at the approximate numbers:

    195 separate countries/cultures/socities
    4.475 BILLION people in ASIA
    1.215 BILLION people in AFRICA
    743 Million in Europe
    422 Million in South America
    321 Million in the USA

    It is nothing short of dangerously “asinine” to think that the FACTUAL opinions of the VAST MAJORITY of the people on this planet “doesn’t matter”!!!

    FOX has, for over 30 years, brainwashed millions into FALSELY thinking that anyone from another country “wants to cut American throats”. Those filled with FEAR and HATE are far easier to manipulate!

    We all see the result in some of the comments posted here. . . how very sad and pathetic!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Sherry all the highly educated intelligent people you speak of all look the same to a terrorist bomb or an AK 47 bullet coming at you. Survival of the fittest and smartest doesn’t mean reciting Shakespeare at your enemies to hold off an attack. Have you ever heard the term “Educated Dumb Asses”? Don’t worry about the rest of the world so much, they want what we have, but don’t want to work for it. If they could take it from us -they would! Its the uneducated people of America who have to fight the wars for all of you educated despots who think your way into these international treaties and agreements through your weak intellectual, abstract ways of thinking.

  8. Sherry says:

    Like I said,dangerously asinine.

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