“AMERICA FIRST” is not a new mantra. While Donald Trump used the phrase during his campaign and in his inaugural address, some of its most telling roots are in the America First Committee of the 1940s, which advocated staunch isolationism (and less explicitly, anti-Semitism) and sought to prevent the U.S. from entering the second World War.
For Trump, the phrase is connected to economic wealth. “I’m ‘America First,’” Trump told The New York Times in a pre-election interview. “But you can’t make America great again unless you make it rich again.”
When Trump declares he will make “America” first and rich, he’s clearly not referring to everyone in the U.S. “America first” is a battle cry for the privileged, those who already reap tremendous benefits off the backs of the marginalized. When Trump wants America to be first by being rich, he means white Americans at the helm of corporations and lobbies, whose success comes at the expense of others.
‘Prosperity breeds amnesia’
Christianity is rooted in a gospel narrative that urges its adherents to strip ourselves of attachment to worldly treasure and the egoism of being first (see Matthew 20:16). Despite that, Trump’s most supportive base is among white evangelicals. As Frederick Douglass put it, “Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.”
Why has so much of modern (white) U.S. Christianity—with its scriptures of the “first shall be last” and in light of hard-earned historical lessons of slavery, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement—aligned itself with values so antithetical to Jesus’ message? Perhaps some of the answer can be found in an insight from Walter Brueggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance: “Prosperity breeds amnesia.”