America, First


Others, more eloquent than I, have called out Donald Trump for invoking the “America First” slogan on the campaign trail.  The slogan was a prominent cry among WW II isolationists, including Charles Lindberg, who (in particular) stoked anti-semitic rhetoric as an excuse for staying out of the war.

I’m anti-war myself, on principle.  But I get that there are times when we have a moral obligation to fight.  Sometimes it’s for the country, and sometimes — much more often, in the last half-century — it’s for something else.  For the species, maybe.  And the species trumps and should always trump the country, from a secular humanism perspective.  Absolutely no pun intended.

I hate flags.  When I was a kid I disliked the pledge of allegiance.  I hated the idea that it was compulsory.  Forcing kids to pledge allegiance has no rational purpose except to indoctrinate them to the inherent — irreproachable — rightness of love of country. But in a perfect and just country, that would never be necessary.   And in any other country, it’s contemptible.

I love the US in a lot of ways, and I’m glad — more than glad — that I live here.  I love the freedom and the democratic idealism.  But I hate the exceptionalism.  The US is a part of history and a part of a larger historical context, and I think the worst things about our country are encapsulated in this idea that we are special.   What makes the US special, if anything, has always been our inclusivity, our embracing of the throwaways from every other country.  Yet that’s exactly what the current crop of isolationists reject in our country.

And I think I just, honestly, hate flags — specifically, not metaphorically.  I just don’t want a rooting interest against the rest of the world.

About the author

Tom Howard

Tom Howard is the author of Fierce Pretty Things (Indiana University Press, 2019).

He received his MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Fierce Pretty Things won the 2018 Blue Light Books Fiction Prize, and his individual stories have won the Ninth Letter Literary Award in Fiction, the Indiana Review Fiction Prize, the Robert and Adele Schiff Award for Fiction, the Carve Magazine Prose & Poetry Contest, the Tobias Wolff Award in Fiction, the Innovative Short Fiction Prize, the Willow Springs Ficiton Prize, the Rash Award in Fiction, and the Robert J. DeMott Award for Short Prose.

He lives with his wife in Arlington, Virginia.

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