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Batavick: 'America First' puts U.S. in second abroad

That swooshing sound you hear is the pendulum of history swinging slowly but determinedly to the right. It moves us from a family of nations pledged to global cooperation and peace to a world where each nation declares its own singularity to compete with its neighbors for scarce resources and markets.

In his inaugural address, President Trump told everyone where the U.S. stands. He promised to protect our borders and factory workers from "the ravages of other countries," and he proclaimed, "From this day forward, it's going to be only 'America First'" and "Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families."

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Trump has reclaimed the "America First" slogan from the nation's dusty attic where we thought history had consigned it for all eternity. That's because the last time this clarion call sounded the world was preparing for war as Germany and Japan pitted themselves against their neighboring states.

The "America First" slogan was a favorite of Charles Lindbergh, the aviation hero who led the early 1940s isolationist movement. In a speech he delivered to a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Sept. 11, 1941, Lindberg urged the U.S. to fight the forces that were pressing the country into war. Among them he included the Roosevelt administration, Great Britain and American Jews. Yes, the movement was ugly, and it divided the American public and insulted our biggest ally.

Today, the nationalism and xenophobia espoused by Trump has echoes across the Atlantic as other nations reject the promise of globalization. In Britain, the Brexit vote paved the way for the U.K. to leave the European Union. In France, far-right leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen told supporters that European voters should follow the example of the Americans and British, and predicted that Brexit would start a "domino effect" with other EU countries. She added, "2016 was the year the Anglo-Saxon world woke up."

Nationalism often depends on creating a scapegoat that can be blamed for a nation's ills. Lindbergh chose the Jews, as did Hitler in Germany. In Europe, it is the Muslims, lately arrived from Syria, Turkey and elsewhere because of the region's wars and unrest. In the U.S., Trump has targeted the Mexicans and Muslims. He's also castigated the Chinese because so many U.S. manufacturing jobs have migrated to China. Even so, I am still amazed that he outsources much of his Trump Collection clothing line to China and Mexico. Has he no sense of irony?

Another sign of nationalism is the election of authoritarian leaders. We see this in the U.S. with Trump. Remember his "Only I can fix it" claim? We also see it in Russia, with Vladimir Putin.

So, what's the worst that can happen, and who might benefit from the rise of nationalism and authoritarianism? First, there is the threat to basic freedoms, from free speech to reproductive rights to freedom from discrimination based on race, creed, nationality and sexual preference.

Then there is the pitting of nation against nation that results from withdrawing from trade agreements, mutual defense treaties and nuclear disarmament agreements, all originally negotiated in good faith. We see this with the unraveling of the European Union, as well as with Trump's pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, his intent to renegotiate NAFTA, his criticism of NATO and his threat to re-ignite the nuclear arms race.

Who benefits from a weakened EU and NATO and a world fearful that America no longer keeps its promises? Look no farther than the Kremlin for the answer. Divide and conquer has always been the name of the game for Russia and its present leader. When Europe is strong, the Russian bear is kept at bay. When Europe weakens…

I support the stability that the EU and NATO have brought to Europe. Remember that 100 years ago Germany and France were at each other's throats. I only wish the Middle East was capable of such regional institutions.

There is no denying the economic impact of globalization on American manufacturing and the high cost of supporting NATO, but a new isolationism is not the answer. We were destined to play the leading role on the world's stage, and there's no sense in touting "America First" at home if we end up with the part of second banana abroad.

Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears Fridays. Email him at fjbatavick@gmail.com.

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