You just need to go back to the 1920s, years marked by three Republican presidencies, to realize that Donald Trump is simply serving up more of the same. In 1920, then-candidate Warren Harding launched his campaign with the slogans "Safeguard America First," "Think of America First," and "Exalt America First.” The entire decade was proof of this. Harding laid claim to this closed-mindedness when he refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles or adhere to the League of Nations, predecessor to the United Nations, despite both being projects inspired by President Wilson’s "Fourteen Points" plan. He headed the return to protectionism and isolationism, which, incidentally, failed to prevent interventionism in Latin America, the preservation of U.S. economic interests and general mistrust of Slavic and Mediterranean immigrants, alongside the application of quotas and multiple restrictions.
America witnessed a resurgence of racism targeted at black communities, with the Ku Klux Klan regaining momentum and recruiting thousands of new members, shamelessly parading in their sinister uniforms. The nativist movement claimed to defend “true Americans” against society’s rejects, and the proliferation of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture thrived on mistrust of orthodox Catholics and Jews.
Republican governments are formed by important industry leaders and favor the reduction of taxes on large corporations. Admittedly, the 1920s were wildly prosperous — though the Roaring Twenties ended in disaster with the Wall Street crash and the Great Depression of the 1930s — but success came at the expense of causing grave social inequality. Some 5 percent of the population received a third of the income earned by private individuals. The head of General Motors Corporation reportedly said in the 1920s, something he later proudly reiterated in 1953: “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.”
A World Shaped by the United States
These days, what’s even more tragically poignant is the fact that the United States maintains political, cultural and technological leadership that is incompatible with isolationist, protectionist and xenophobic values. Our world was largely shaped by the United States at the end of World War II. America possesses such power and such cultural and scientific standing — American scientists have amassed Nobel Prizes by the dozen — that an unforeseen withdrawal from its own interests would leave a void to be filled by powers less favorable to Western interests and values: Russia and Iran in the Middle East, China in the Pacific.
America’s interests are so interlinked with those of other countries that “Make America Great Again” implies a more skilled U.S. engagement in world affairs. Republican presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and George W. Bush were able to pragmatically reconcile U.S. interests with those of their allies. In contrast, Trump is admonishing Europe, mistreating Canada and Mexico, comparing nuclear buttons with North Korea in an altercation akin to a row between poorly-raised children, and reproaching Cuba and Iran for their violations of human rights, all the while approving his $100 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, a country unlikely to be heralded for its respect of freedom and public rights. It’s normal for Trump to want to defend his country’s interests — that’s why he was elected. But, his whims and impulses risk seriously undermining international relations.