SISTERS, OR -- "America First," as a foreign and domestic policy, gained popularity during President Donald Trump's campaign. But, he's not the first American to embrace the concept. OSU Cascades History Professor Christopher McKnight Nichols says the idea has long been held by American loyalists, "The 'America First' concept has been wrapped in the flag and patriotism since it's origins in the late 19th century, but it's invoked in very different ways." He'll discuss and explore the concept Tuesday evening, at an OSU Science Pub event, "It's a really fascinating and complicated history; and I think it helps inform why the concept was so popular in 2016 in helping elect Donald Trump, and why it remains really popular and appealing even though some of the ideas that were there in the past, aren't really there in the present."
Nichols tells KBND News, "I think patriotism is the crucial component, because it means that those who oppose a certain position can be cast as unpatriotic, and therefore, their ideas are disregarded more easily." But, he says understanding its origin could lead to healing, "Tracking through this history, helps us see the fractures in the present moment, and also gives us a little bit of hope for the future."
The slogan began with the America First Committee that tried to keep the nation out of World War II. But, the idea was also adopted by the Ku Klux Klan and others campaigning for workers' rights during the industrial revolution. Nichols says progressives embraced the concept in the early 1900s, but many now view it as an isolationist, or even racist, policy. "What I try to do is show the longer history of the concept of 'America First,' and how it operated to help inform debates over the U.S.'s role in the world. And then, also, how it's changed in terms of domestic and foreign policy."
Nichols says he's not promoting a political view, only delving into the history of the movement as a way to better understand its appeal, "This talk is down the middle, conversation, analysis of the history that informs the present moment. I just want to get people thinking about what this means, what it could mean, to combat the hate part of it, and also consider the longer questions of global engagement." Science Pub travels to Sisters for "America First. Isolationism and U.S. Global Engagement in Historical perspective," Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., at the Belfry. It's free to the public but registration is required at OSU Cascades' website.