Friday, April 20, 2018

What's In A Name?

     Sometimes a name becomes too closely linked to a group to ever get free of the associations -- modern-day Communists prefer "Socialist," and hope you'll think of voluntary self-help societies, food co-ops and early unions, not food shortages and Tienanmen Square.  Only the most rabid of Nazis fly that banner openly, and so on--

     And yet, as the Greatest Generation dies off, we have no shortage of "America First" groups.  Putting one's own country first seems sensible enough, and it's a handy slogan -- but it's got a history.

     The oldest America First Committee tried to keep this country out of WW II.  Aviator Charles Lindbergh was one of its most visible faces and the group explicitly rejected racism and and anti-semitism; when war came, the organizers packed up and got behind the war effort: "We have been stepping closer to war for many months. Now it has come and we must meet it as united Americans regardless of our attitude in the past toward the policy our government has followed. Whether or not that policy has been wise, our country has been attacked by force of arms and by force of arms we must retaliate." (Lindbergh, 1941). On 11 December, 1941, in the wake of a formal declaration of war against Japan, the leaders voted to dissolve the committee.  --But despite good intentions, they had not been able to control the messengers: Aviatrix Laura Houghtaling Ingalls had been giving speeches for the committee of a distinctly pro-German or even pro-Nazi bent; the FBI had been keeping a close eye on her and in December of 1941, she was arrested, tried and convicted of being an unregistered agent of a foreign power.

     That left a bit of a taint on the name and it was about to get worse.  Gerald L. K. Smith,† a former associate of "Kingfish" Huey P. Long and one-time director of Long's "Share The Wealth" program,* decided to use the name for a political party in 1943 -- and Mr. Smith was a former Silver Shirt who'd been rejected by the old America First Committee for anti-semitism. The America First Party ran its own slate of candidates and barely made a dent in the national consciousness; in 1947, perhaps a bit wary of their own past, they changed their name to the Christian Nationalist Party; in 1952, both that party and a remnant or reorganized America First Party tagged General Douglas MacArthur to be their Presidential nominee, though neither bothered to ask his permission.  The America First Party name has resurfaced periodically since, generally by candidates on the far-Right to over-the-right-edge side of the spectrum.

     So when I get a message on my phone from Mike Pence, telling me he'll be speaking at an America First rally this weekend, my awareness of history makes me flinch; at best, using the tag is appallingly tone-deaf.  At worst?  I think we can rely on the Press to find plenty of "at worst."  As for me, at one time I always voted for the GOP's candidate whenever there wasn't a Libertarian seeking the same office; now I'm going to need to do a lot more homework on the downticket candidates.

     I miss the boring old state-level Republican Party of my youth.
* The degree to which the former populist and even Socialist political types came to overlap the very far Right is a bit surprising, at least to me.

† In Studs Terkel's Hard Times, Smith, then consigned to the political wilderness, is given remarkably even-handed treatment.  Terkel was after a snapshot of the Depression and Gerald L. K. Smith was certainly one of the more striking images.


Monty James said...

"America Foremost"
"America Primarily"
"America Preferred"
"America? Rather!"
"America, Hot Damn!"
"America? Make Mine A Double"
"America With Whipped Cream And A Cherry"
"If America Lasts Longer Than Four Hours, Call Your Doctor"

Any of these do anything for you?

If what you have to point to is an arrest and trial, and not a movement that conducted terrorist activities or street battles or mass slaughter, then "America First" can probably be rehabilitated. The last administration nominated an honest-to-God communist for CIA director, and got him confirmed. The last administration was headed by someone who got his political start being mentored by an actual bomb-making terrorist. Didn't trip him up, why should anyone worry about a recycled motto? Wait, I just thought up another one:

"America Over All The Others"

Like it?

Anonymous said...

Carrying water for Nazis isn't cool, ever.

pigpen51 said...

Thanks Roberta, for this piece of history. I hate to admit, but there are many pieces of history where I am woefully uneducated. This is one of them. I know part of the things that led up to the beginning of the second world war, but some of the things like this are things that I have not retained or else never read before.

I do try to learn about as much as I possibly can, but the problem is that there is just so much that I would like to know, and as I get older, my memory should still work like it did when I was younger. But alas, a few too many concussions in high school football, and oops, there goes another piece of my memory that I don't need.

Heck, I don't even remember what I had for lunch sometimes. But I do learn a lot from your blog, and also from Tam. I love the pictures that she takes, by the way. And your cooking? If you get tired of your day job, you can get a gig on the side as a private chef. Be well, and have a good weekend.

Comrade Misfit said...

Lindbergh flew a number of combat missions in the Pacific in both Corsairs and P-38s. It's been reported that his expertise in efficient long-range flying enabled the P-38s to increase their combat radius by 200 miles.

Glenn Kelley said...

Roberta ,
Something that has always baffled me about American politics is that socialists are always referred to as liberals . Why the aversion to calling a socialist a socialist ?


Roberta X said...

Monty James, would you be referring to former CIA Director John Brennan, who was George W. Bush's deputy executive director of the CIA from March of 2001 onward? Dude voted for Gus Hall in 1976, when he was a college student, and later worked for CIA for 25 years; I'm pretty sure the Agency would have known if he was a for-real communist and it *might* have affected his prospects.

The GOP's use of "America First" is a dogwhistle or just plain ignorant. Neither one is excusable, and a lot less easy to overlook than a smart-alec college kid voting wrong in some kind of half-baked protest.

It's also pretty cheap and easy to play at being a home-edition Joe McCarthy, and toss out vague, impressive-sounding accusations -- but it's 2018. The facts are only a websearch away.

Today's Republican party has lost all credibility with me; the Dems never had any. That's a difference but sadly, it's not much of one.

"They did it too" has never been an acceptable excuse for grown-ups,

Roberta X said...

Comrade Misfit: Lindy was kinda soft on Nazis in the years leading up to WW II, but when war came, he stepped right up for the U.S.

Glenn Kelley, ask them. Darned if I know but I'll hazard a guess. It's all marketing and the "Socialist" brand never sold well in the States. I've been reading Upton Sinclair's "The Brass Check," about the newspaper business when he was busy trying to peddle socialism to 'em from the turn of the 20th Century onward, and it wasn't going over too well at all -- but when the economy tanked, guys like Huey Long, Francis Townsend, Gerald L. K. Smith and FDR were only too happy to grab a big old handful of socialist redistributionist notions, file the name off and tempt the voting public. It worked pretty well for FDR and that's how the "liberal" wing of the Democrats came to embrace that form of "Social Justice." It's easy to forget that at one time, both parties had their "liberals" and "conservatives," not quite in the same sense the terms are used today, and back then the GOP was was the "progressive" and anti-segregation party.

Antibubba said...

Roberta, may I share this, with full attribution of course?

Roberta X said...

Yes, you may. Post a link in comments here, please.

markm said...

I think the socialism-by-another-name thing started with Bismarck, who saw corporate socialism as a way to head off the revolution the German nobility richly deserved (but the bourgeois didn't), and still keep their privileges.

In the USA, Bismarckian socialism (with extra racism) was further disguised as "Progressivism", and enthusiastically embraced by the elites of both major parties. For 30 years, the only choice in Presidential candidates was between whole-hearted progressives like Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Calvin Coolidge, and half-hearted, cautious ones like Taft and Coolidge, or those who mixed progressivism with idiotic populism like William Jennings Bryan. By 1932, the name "Progressivism" was getting tainted, so FDR declared himself a "liberal" - in a near 180 degree reversal from classical liberalism.

And now they've stank up "liberal" and are thinking about going back to "progressive". But the one thing they certainly won't do is to call it what it really is - corporate socialism, which is the best thing invented to maintain and elevate the position of the elite since people lost belief in the divine right of kings.