The phrase “America First” comes with a whole lot of historical baggage, not all of it inspiring:
Gerald L. K. Smith, a former associate of “Kingfish” Huey P. Long and one-time director of Long’s “Share The Wealth” program, decided to use the name for a political party in 1943 — and Mr. Smith was a former Silver Shirt who’d been rejected by the old America First Committee for anti-semitism. The America First Party ran its own slate of candidates and barely made a dent in the national consciousness; in 1947s, perhaps a bit wary of their own past, they changed their name to the Christian Nationalist Party; in 1952, both that party and a remnant or reorganized America First Party tagged General Douglas MacArthur to be their Presidential nominee, though neither bothered to ask his permission. The America First Party name has resurfaced periodically since, generally by candidates on the far-Right to over-the-right-edge side of the spectrum.
So when I get a message on my phone from Mike Pence, telling me he’ll be speaking at an America First rally this weekend, my awareness of history makes me flinch; at best, using the tag is appallingly tone-deaf. At worst? I think we can rely on the Press to find plenty of “at worst.”
Of course, that’s the deal: she has an actual awareness of history, which in political discourse these days seems to be a decided disadvantage.