On Thursday, the 45th president released a “blueprint” for the 2018 budget and tweeted that it was “a budget that puts #AmericaFirst.”
America First. That’s something we’ve heard a lot lately. So what does “America First” mean?
Well, today it means a $2.6 billion cut to the Environmental Protection Agency. Because Americans don’t need fresh air or clean water. We don’t enjoy spending time in nature or expect our food to be grown in soil that is not contaminated by chemical runoff.
It means a $2.5 billion slashing to the Department of Labor’s budget, particularly to programs like the Senior Community Service Employment Program and Job Corps, which provide job training to the elderly and disadvantaged young people. Because America is not at its greatest when we are all given an opportunity to succeed.
It means a $12.6 billion cut to the Department of Health and Human Services. A $9.2 billion cut to the Department of Education. A $4.3 billion cut to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. A $2.4 billion cut to the Department of Transportation.
But, as the president boasted in his tweet, the proposed budget makes “safety its no. 1 priority,” so the departments of Defense and Homeland Security would enjoy $52.3 billion and $2.8 billion increases, respectively. Because putting America first means putting war first.
But let’s not forget that “America First” has a historical context as well. In 1940, the America First Committee was formed to discourage America’s entry into World War II. While the formal group lasted little more than a year, it succeeded in attracting hundreds of thousands of members and urged peace with Adolf Hitler, insisting that the issue was a European and Jewish one, not an American one.
We all know how that turned out.
We also know that this administration has shown a penchant for turning a blind eye to the truth, at best, and, more often, for telling blatant lies. The 45th president places bravado before diplomacy, might before education, violence before health care – not just with this budget, but with his daily actions. Couple that with a growing isolationist mentality, and this country’s headed down a dangerous – albeit familiar – path.
Now, 45 has shown numerous times that he’s no scholar of history (remember the Frederick Douglass debacle?). So it’s possible that he doesn’t understand the dark history of “America First.” It could have been a pretty-sounding phrase that he heard and latched on to, like “Make America Great Again” – the kind of patriotic slogan that would really rally the uninformed masses.
But it’s likely that he knows the true meaning behind the words – at the very least, I’m sure Stephen Bannon would have been happy to fill him in – and stands by them. And he’s repeated them over and over again, throughout his campaign and even now, which serves as a reminder that he is taking us back to a time we swore we’d never revisit.
A time when America put itself first, and the unthinkable happened.