December 2016 Brief: Volume 23, Number 34
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By John Hendrickson
“‘America First’ will be the major and overriding theme of my administration,” stated Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump. As the Republican nominee, and now President-Elect, Donald Trump is the first major party candidate in some time to run for office under the banner of placing America first in both domestic and foreign policy. Patrick J. Buchanan wrote that if Trump is elected, “U.S. policy will be dictated by U.S. national interests.” As Donald Trump stated:
Trump’s “America First” philosophy and approach is bringing much criticism from all sides of the political spectrum, and his critics have accused him of being an isolationist, xenophobic, and even racist. These characterizations are not true, and one of the main differences that separates Trump’s philosophy from that of his opponents is that he is a committed nationalist and not a globalist. Critics of “America First” often recall the vocal anti-interventionists before America’s entry into World War II, but the tradition of “America First” does not mean closed-off isolationism. Trump’s “America First” philosophy is rooted in traditional conservative philosophy that was often a pillar of the early twentieth-century conservatives. Presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover all supported placing American interests first in the realm of foreign policy, trade, and immigration. Warren G. Harding even campaigned on an “America First” theme in 1920.
Perhaps the most controversial aspects of Trump’s “America First” platform is his call for restructuring our trade and immigration policies. During the campaign, one of Trump’s main issues was his criticism of our national trade policy, which has resulted in the loss of numerous manufacturing jobs. Trump is calling for the restructuring of American trade policy, including renegotiating NAFTA and opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership and other agreements. Trump’s attack on trade has resulted in individuals from all over the political spectrum labeling him a “protectionist” for his views on trade. During a speech to the Detroit Economic Club, Trump argued that:
Trump’s “protectionism” is actually a policy that is grounded in the conservative tradition and was the dominant policy for much of our nation’s history. Patrick J. Buchanan defined the historical significance of protectionist trade policy when he wrote:
The “America First” trade policy of protectionism through tariffs was not only a constitutional way of protecting national sovereignty, but also of putting the economic health of the nation first. The policy of protectionism was often debated within Republican circles, but it was a policy that many took seriously as a key component to an overall successful economic program. Tom Piatak, a contributor to Chronicles magazine and Rockford Institute, wrote in response to Trump’s victory that “the America First GOP of McKinley and Coolidge may be on the way back.”
As Robert Lighthizer, who served as a trade representative in President Ronald Reagan’s administration, wrote:
The same is true for immigration. Trump campaigned on the theme of border security and the need to get control of our failed immigration policy. Trump was correct when he argued that a nation without borders is not a nation at all. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge argued that two policies that were essential for a sound economy were restrictions on immigration and trade protectionism.
On Election Day 2016, the nation voted in support of Trump’s call for a return to “America First” policies. The globalist elites may call Trump and his supporters “deplorable” or other names, but in the end Donald Trump is starting a historic effort to restore America.
 Donald J. Trump, “Read Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ Foreign Policy Speech,” Time, April 27, 2016, <http://time.com/4309786/read-donald-trumps-america-first-foreign-policy-speech/#.> accessed on November 6, 2016.
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John Hendrickson is a Research Analyst with Public Interest Institute, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Contact him at Public.Interest.Institute@LimitedGovernment.org.
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