I have always struggled with President Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy. Its historical links to Charles Lindbergh and anti-Semitism bothered me. A year ago, then-candidate Trump’s inability to elucidate a clear set of goals frightened me. And as president, Trump’s foreign policy gaffes and flat-out alienation of some foreign leaders is quite troubling.
In his Warsaw speech, I think we’ve finally seen the outlines of what “America First” really means, and to me, it’s not so bad.
To explain, I have to go back into history, and to the roots of our current Western globalist presuppositions.
On January 6, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood before Congress and delivered a speech that reverberates in Washington, D.C., and throughout the country, today. It was called the “Four Freedoms” speech, and in it, FDR outlined “four essential human freedoms.”
They were freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. In a speech, these concepts sound absolutely wonderful. In practice, they are impossible to achieve. That’s because of the most troubling aspect of FDR’s speech: These freedoms were not for America—they were for the whole world.
The first three freedoms were postfaced with the words “—everywhere in the world.” The freedom from fear was defined thusly: “translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.”
These “Four Freedoms” were really four globalist fantasies. Even Roosevelt know they were nothing more than rhetoric. He used them in a speech asking Congress for money to pay for armaments!
In FDR’s speech, patriotism was defined as an act of sacrifice to these world principles. Roosevelt called for more defense dollars, raised from taxes instead of war bonds. “If the Congress maintains these principles the voters, putting patriotism ahead pocketbooks, will give you their applause.”
The world has been applauding ever since. Congress, and the military, addicted to tax dollars, has used the “four freedoms” to fight five wars since World War II. America has become the human rights super-hero of the world, and has been held accountable when we fail to live up to the super-hero status.
President Barack Obama was the pinnacle and embodiment of FDR’s globalist fantasies. Obama bought every word of FDR’s vision. “The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society,” Roosevelt said.
The great, unsolvable problem of the “Four Freedoms” is that, in scope, and in the human experience, they cannot be fulfilled. In fact, the attempt to fulfill them will result in one or more of those freedoms being consumed by the others. As an example, the freedom from fear where nations are disarmed would make impossible the protection of the freedom of speech and freedom to worship. Standing against evil is a business that requires arms and force.
Roosevelt knew that once the Nazis were defeated, another great evil or threat would rise up. The UN, as wonderful an idea it was for nations to solve their differences without war, was pie-in-the-sky. Within 4 years, the UN flag would fly over hundreds of thousands of American soldiers fighting Communist Chinese. So much for “freedom from fear.”
But the West ate up the “Four Freedoms” and used it as the basis of European pluralistic society. Meanwhile, America footed the bill for 46 years of standing up to the Soviet Union. In Germany, where paying taxes is considered the highest form of patriotic duty, they still yearn for Roosevelt’s vision. They can’t stand our current president.
Thursday, in Poland, citizens heard and understood a vision that marks a break from FDR and Obama. President Trump illustrated the value of American leadership in a way not seen since Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate.
After Trump’s speech, I believe I understand “America First” as Trump intended it to be understood. It’s an undoing of FDR’s four fantasies, and a restoration of America’s freedoms and our leadership among nations that value those freedoms (not try to sell them like snake-oil).
You see, the U.S. Constitution—and the Declaration of Independence that preceded it—never promised Americans FDR’s “Four Freedoms.” The Constitution barred our government from interfering with free speech and freedom of religion. It never promised that other governments would do the same.
Our founders never promised a freedom from want or fear. Those things are part of being human. Charity and comfort cease to be what they are when the recipients of those virtues claim ownership of the fruit and demand the tree. Instead of war bonds purchased by individuals as a patriotic act of sacrifice, a tax is a burden on all.
The world cannot be sold on buying a Coke and singing in harmony. Religious freedom must be defended. Freedom of expression must be defended. Most nations–even in the West–don’t offer those freedoms to the degree America does. The West has been buying FDR’s four fantasies for so long that they believe “just a little more time” and we will see it happen.
Then Brexit. Then radical Islamic terror. Then Russia destabilizing Ukraine and invading Crimea. Then Syria, then Iran, then North Korea–shall I go on?
I believe Trump sees “America First,” at least the way I see it, is to mean that we will run our country in the way that allows America to help others, but not to guarantee their own freedoms. Those freedoms are for their own citizens to purchase, not demand. The Poles who heard Trump’s speech understood this, having paid a high cost.
“Our citizens did not win freedom together, did not survive horrors together, did not face down evil together, “ Trump said, “only to lose our freedom to a lack of pride and confidence in our values.”
Our freedom. Our values. Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness—on these we stand. Unfortunately, speeches don’t govern, or tweet, or make deals with tyrants. But in principle, I support Trump in what he’s finally managed to elucidate to America and to the world.
If Trump’s “America First” succeeds, FDR’s four globalist fantasies may finally cease to ring. And that’s not such a bad thing after all.