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How ‘America First’ and ‘American Dream’ Went From Hazy Sentiments to Loaded Clichés

After the warfare used to be over, the word returned to being a rebuke to internationalist involvement — and turned into, more and more, the slogan of white supremacists and homegrown fascists. The Ku Klux Klan followed it as a motto, pointing out that “the ABC of the Klan is America First, benevolence, clannishness” (a reminder, as though we’d like one, that even essentially the most asinine rhetoric can also be fatal).

All those protean meanings can get complicated, and Churchwell tends to corral the unruliness of her subject material by way of overstating her case. Still, she’s a chic author, and when “America First” and “the American dream” come head-to-head in her e-book right through the run-up to World War II, the sudden (and alarming) historic coincidences start to resonate like demented wind chimes.

There’s the repeated excuse that Americans wanted to take care of their very own and subsequently couldn’t welcome any refugees. There’s the pro-authoritarian media magnate William Randolph Hearst, who emblazoned his newspapers’ mastheads with “America First Should Be Every American’s Motto.” There’s even a “rather flippant” Time mag article reporting the vile declarations of the white nationalist James B. True, who bragged that he used to be making plans a “national Jew shoot.”

Churchwell unearths some solace within the paintings of Dorothy Thompson, the primary American journalist to be expelled from Nazi Germany (and, for a time, the spouse of the novelist Sinclair Lewis, the creator of “It Can’t Happen Here”). Thompson skewered the ideology of “America first” and its adherents, even crashing a Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden to heckle the audio system. She used the word “American dream,” too, writing that it rejected authoritarianism and corporatism “with the spontaneity with which a healthy organism vomits poison.”

Of path, Thompson’s statement used to be inflated wartime polemic, now not exact research. And up to Churchwell insists that “the scourges of racism and anti-Semitism were fundamentally inimical to the American dream,” a powerful argument can also be made that the dream used to be at all times a myth of self-congratulation, inextricable from the slave society upon which it used to be constructed.

Churchwell strenuously resists any implication “that the American dream was invented as a fig leaf to protect white privilege, to obscure the racist foundations of the capitalist system in institutional slavery.” But the word didn’t have to be “invented” for that goal so as to function such. Her complete e-book argues in opposition to express defenses like hers. “Behold, America” illuminates how a lot historical past takes position within the hole between what folks say and what they do.


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