ISSN 2674-8053

What is America First?

Illustration by Eleanor Shakespeare for TIME

Throughout the history of the United States, it is possible to perceive a pendular movement around the Isolationism-Interventionism axis. Recently, there has been a tendency to seek to analyze in advance the foreign policy of the US presidents in terms of the political party and its alleged connection with one of the extremes of this axis. (Republicans with isolationism and Democrats with interventionism). I propose an analysis that understands these movements in a more elongated way, based on ages.

To understand this reading, the first question we must ask ourselves is: what does the expression mean America First and where does she come from?

The expression America First (“United States first”, in a free translation) goes back to President Thomas Jefferson (third US president, ruling between 1801 e 1809) , when it enacted the Embargo Law of 1807 (https://govtrackus.s3.amazonaws.com/legislink/pdf/stat/2/STATUTE-2-Pg451b.pdf) . This law replaced legislation from the previous year that sought to restrict imports, was an attempt to make it difficult to import products from some countries, specially focused on England and France. Even if your goals have been unsuccessful, clearly posed the idea that the United States should think of itself first.

In general lines, The America First is a policy that places nationalism and isolationism as a basis for public policy. Among the various possible political actions to be developed under the inspiration of the America First there are trade embargoes, boycott or even withdrawal of international organizations and, potentially, the use of military force, political and economic in order to make the United States maintain its leadership in the world.

The slogans used by the presidents of the United States are very important as indicative of their macro-goals. The table below presents some slogans that were adopted in campaigns by the winning candidates.

YearPresidentMatchSlogan
2000George W. BushRepublicanCompassionate Conservatism
2004George W. BushRepublicanA safe world and a more hopeful America
2008Barack ObamaDemocratYes we can
2012Barack ObamaDemocratForward
2016Donald TrumpRepublicanMake America great again
2020Joe BidenDemocratRestore the soul of the Nation

When analyzing the slogans of US presidents, what is perceived is a search for the centrality of the United States and its “manifest destiny”. Although the international dimension was only made explicit in the second term of the Bush administration, a more careful analysis of the other slogans shows how the country's political culture is based on the idea of ​​a strong and important country in the world.

Even though the Trump government has made explicit, more than the others, that the United States must be the center to which other nations must converge, it is possible to see this same trend in the others.

currently, under the Biden government, we can already see how much this trend will continue. Contrary to what was indicated by some analysts, the Biden government's foreign policy should not be utopian-multilateralist. It is not about seeking agendas relevant to Humanity, regardless of the costs that will be incurred by each country., including the United States itself. More than that, the issue is the use of the multilateral system as a way to increase the ability of the United States to influence international politics. THE America First will continue its logic in the Biden government, perhaps even gaining contours even more pronounced than those existing in the Trump government.

https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1484-395X | Website | + posts

Post-Doctorate in Territorial Competitiveness and Creative Industries, by Dinâmia - Center for the Study of Socioeconomic Change, of the Higher Institute of Labor and Enterprise Sciences (ISCTE, Lisboa, Portugal). PhD in International Relations from the University of Brasília (2007). He is Executive Director of Mapa Mundi. ORCID https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1484-395X