Columns

What Exactly Is Wrong with a President Putting America First?

President Trump answers questions from the media on Dec. 25, 2018, in the Oval Office of the White House. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Today is the day we ostensibly remember the American presidents, and as it comes around this year we all know that to say “America First” is racist, anti-Semitic, and evil in all kinds of other ways, and that the best U.S. presidents have been those who were most respected around the world, in places such as Communist China, the socialist European Union, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Don’t we?

Well, there are still a few dissenters among us. While roughly half of the American population today thinks that the current occupant of the White House is one of the worst presidents in history, an active danger to the nation, there is still that pesky other half, which refuses to bow to our socialist, internationalist moral superiors and regards president Trump as an unparalleled champion of the American people, a true defender of the common man in a way that has not been seen in Washington for many, many decades.

On this President’s Day, it’s worthwhile to ask the question: what exactly is wrong with being America First? If the president of the United States doesn’t put America first, exactly which country should he put first? Or should he put some nebulous idea of “global interests” first, with those interests being defined not by Americans, but by the likes of China, the EU, and Iran?

In Donald Trump’s Inaugural Address on January 20, 2017, he declared: “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First…. We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world — but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.” In response, neoconservative (and now Democrat) elitist William Kristol tweeted: “I’ll be unembarrassedly old-fashioned here: It is profoundly depressing and vulgar to hear an American president proclaim ‘America First.’”

Profoundly depressing and vulgar for the chief executive of a nation to put the interests of that nation before other considerations? Really? Throughout the history of the United States, most Americans would have found Kristol’s statement somewhere between baffling and treasonous. Yet Trump’s statement that “it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first” primarily, rather than those of the world at large, has been out of fashion since World War II, and in many ways since World War I. It has been mislabeled, derided, and dismissed as “Isolationism,” a fear or unwillingness to engage with the wider world, even as it is becoming increasingly interconnected and interdependent.

But to be America First does not necessarily mean that America will withdraw from the world; it only means that in dealing with the world, American presidents will be looking out primarily for the good of Americans. The term America First has also been associated, quite unfairly, with racism and anti-Semitism. The founding principles of the Republic, notably the proposition that, as the Declaration of Independence puts it, “all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” shows that putting America First has nothing to do with such petty and irrational hatreds.

In fact, the Founding Fathers and every president up until Woodrow Wilson took for granted that the president of the United States should put his nation first and would have thought it strange in the extreme that this idea should even be controversial.

Indeed, this is the oldest criterion of all for judging the success and failure of various presidents: were they good for America and Americans, or were they not? This should still be the primary way that the success or failure of presidents is judged. It is the guiding criterion that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Founding Fathers who were not presidents such as Alexander Hamilton would likely use when judging the occupants of the White House up to the present day.

The president’s most important job is clear from the oath that every president recites in order to assume office, and it isn’t to provide health care for illegal aliens, or to make sure that Somalia isn’t riven by civil war, or to make sure America is “diverse.” It is simply this: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

So what makes a great president? One who preserved, protected, and defended the Constitution of the United States. Or to put it even more simply, a great president is one who puts America first. That’s the criterion I used in my forthcoming book, Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster.

Today there is more reason to revisit and embrace the “America First” principle than there has been in a century. Socialism and nationalism have found favor among some Americans since before the First World War. Nowadays, however, although the entire Democratic Party is embracing socialism, it is still massively discredited as a political philosophy. Its sister ideology, internationalism, is facing more opposition today than it has since before World War II.

Accordingly, it’s time the assumptions of the likes of William Kristol and the modern historians who rate presidents were challenged. This is all the more important to do in light of the fact that several generations of American children have now been raised to despise the Founding Fathers as racist slave owners, and to consider American history to be one long record of racism, imperialism, and oppression.

Americans need to recover an appreciation of their history, and for the heroes of that history. Ranking the presidents on an America-First standard reveals that Donald Trump, who was rated the worst president ever in one recent survey and the third-worst in another, is actually, after just three years in office, one of the greatest presidents the United States ever had, if not the very best. And Barack Obama, who is rated in the top twenty in four polls and in the top ten in another, is actually the most damaging and disastrous president this nation has ever had.

This is not simply my political or personal preference. This is the inevitable result if one examines the U.S. presidents while holding in mind the descriptions of Executive power in The Federalist Papers, the nature of the presidency as explained in the Constitution, and the like.

If George Washington or Thomas Jefferson were alive today, I don’t think it terribly hubristic to say that they would largely agree with my evaluations. After all, I’m using the criteria they formulated.

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 19 books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.