America First

The Orange in Chief, continues to use a phrase with questionable historic significance, “America First.” He has used it in terms of national security, business and economics, and multiple times both on the campaign trail and while in office. For people of the modern age -and maybe even for Trump at his advanced age of 71- the phrase seems innocuous at first, maybe one part oblivious and one part obnoxious American, but standard enough. The problem is that it is not. The slogan, “America First,” has had a long and problematic history, and to many in our great grandparent’s generation it would have sounded like a dog whistle going off in the dead of night. Let us explain…

The First America First Committee
The America First Committee may sound like a club that promotes making sure the United States is always listed as America, in online forms, because they are sick of scrolling all the way down to the U’s… but its not. The AFC was founded in 1940 and featured several high profile members, including: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and future US Supreme Court Justice and Boy-Who-Lived, Potter Stewart. Moreover, the committee hosted prominent politicians, businessmen, and celebrities in over 450 chapters across the USA. Some of its funding came from members dues, but the bulk came from private investors such as the German-born manufacturer, William H. Regency, the founders of Sears-Roebuck, and the Chicago Tribune. Now all of this sounds well and good except for one small issue…

The America First Committee was… well… they were kind of pro-Germany, or at the very least Anti-Roosevelt. In public they believed that America should:
A) Not Get Involved in World War II;
B) Stop Sending Supplies to England and France; and
C) Close and Defend the American Border Against Everybody… especially Jews.

Yeah… Now, to be fair it is not like the America First Committee set policy on Jewish refugees leading up to the Second World War, and 83% of Americans at the time were against accepting refugees. However, Charles Lindbergh, the group’s most visible personality, gave a series of a lectures and rallies with the intent of keeping America from helping the British beat back the Nazi’s. On September 11, 1941 -less than 3 months before Pearl Harbor- Lindbergh gave a speech in Illinois that suggested the Jewish communities advocating for the war were Un-American. He continued saying that Jewish “ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government” was the “greatest danger” to America. The speech got labeled as anti-Semitic, and Lindbergh himself was labeled as “Pro-Nazi,” which may not have been entirely untrue.

You see Charles Lindbergh was very beloved in Nazi Germany, as he was an international aviation hero, and it didn’t hurt that he was blonde, blue-eyed. and white. The Nazi’s even let him get a sneak peek at their state-of-the-art air force, the Luftwaffe, but in fairness Lindbergh did report what he saw to the US government. Unfortunately, he also showed a great admiration for Germany and the white race in general. He once said, “We can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood, only so long as we guard ourselves against attack by foreign armies and dilution by foreign races.” Even after America entered the war FDR was convinced the Lindbergh was a Nazi and personally barred him from serving in the war, and Old Lindy wasn’t alone on that list.

Avery Brundage, the former chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and prominent member of the AFC was notoriously anti-Semitic. He had even prevented two Jewish American runners from participating in the Berlin Olympics. Aviator, Laura Ingalls, another public face of the AFC, was arrested by the FBI about a week after the Pearl Harbor attack, and convicted of being a Nazi agent. Henry Ford was similarly problematic. His anti-Semitic views were a matter of public record. He wrote a book titled, “The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem.” It was a bestseller in Nazi Germany. He hated immigrants, but especially Jews. He blamed Jewish bankers for everything from the Great War to the Great Depression. He was also uncomfortably pro-Nazi. The Ford subsidiaries in Germany were very profitable and Ford had a great love for German efficiency and manufacturing. Ford was even mentioned in Mein Kampf and received the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Nazi officials in 1938. It was the highest honor given to any foreigner and represented Adolf Hitler’s personal admiration. Even after war broke out in Europe, Ford kept his relationship with Germany alive and kept his factories there running, even after they stopped making cars and started making tanks and bombs. It is also almost certain that Ford was aware in one fashion or another that his German factories were being worked by Jewish slaves.

Realistically, the America First Committee may not have been a publicly Anti-Jewish/Pro-Nazi organization, but a lot of its more prominent members definitely were.

Make America First Again
Though, we are aware that Donald Trump is not a student of history… or science… or grammar… or business… or really anything useful, someone around him probably is. There should have been someone there to tell him about the uncomfortable correlations between racism, Nazism, and “America First,” and yet he still continues to use the phrase. Of course, the real problem is that there are people around him who get the connections, and who like them. Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, are given a lot of credit for reviving this particular slogan, and we would bet dollars to racist-donuts at least one of them is aware of history… Not that Donald Trump is no stranger to discrimination first policies, himself.

In 1973, Donald Trump and his father were accused of violating the Fair Housing Act, by discriminating against minority renters. The case was quietly settled in 1975, without the Trumps having to admit any wrongdoing. However in 1978, the Department of Justice renewed their case against the Trumps for housing discrimination, saying that they violated their agreement. The Donald was also accused of the same thing in 1983 by the New York Times, and was penalized in 1992 for removing an African American dealer in one of his casinos at the request of a wealthy client. In 1989, Donald Trump bought full newspaper advertisements, advocating the death penalty for the New York Five, five minority boys who were accused of killing a jogger in Central Park. They were found innocent thanks to DNA evidence. He insulted Native Americans in a Congressional hearing in 1993, and in 2000 he funded a series of anti-Native American advertisements that included images of syringes and cocaine. In 2011, he started the “Birtherism” movement, a campaign to discredit President Obama’s citizenship and Presidency. And this was all before he was a candidate and called Mexicans “rapists,” insinuated a defense of people rallying at a Nazi/KKK rally, tried to ban entry by Muslims into the country -on two separate occasions- and all the rest of his unending list of racial injustices, discriminations, and all the insults he has hurled at minorities and others since he rode down that golden escalator…. but he likes people from Norway.

It is also worth noting that Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump, was arrested at a KKK rally in 1927. So maybe, the America First apple doesn’t fall too far from the AFC tree. Regardless, of whether or not Trump understands the racial undertones of his America First slogan, he certainly embodies them, both in office and as a private citizen. In fact, with his rhetoric and his isolationist and racial policies we would say he takes the dream of AFC one step farther. At least the America First Committee had enough good sense to publicly cut ties with their more anti-Semitic members -and that one woman who turned out to be an actual Nazi spy- but Donald Trump is both public and proud of his Tweeted policies. So regardless of whatever dimwitted defense his son tries to come up with, we all need to be very clear on thing: Donald Trump is a racist.

Like many children of the 80’s and 90’s most of us here at The NYRD were fortunate enough to be raised by a third parent, television. The moving images on the screen kept us entertained and taught us many lessons  in the process. Bugs Bunny expanded our vocabulary -indubitably- and how to avoid hunters by cross-dressing. Reading Rainbow taught us that the USS Enterprise has a really good library, but it was Saturday Morning Cartoons that taught us all about what it meant to be a hero, to be the good guy. So, in this turbulent time of politics, struggle, and uncertainty it might be time we all stepped back to our younger days and revisited those Saturday mornings, when the difference between “good” and” bad” was defined by a character’s actions.

While other boys and girls were modeling their ideals of adulthood on professional sports players, teachers… mailmen? We wouldn’t really know… For many of us our vision of responsibility came came from men and women who fired lasers at each other, while never once killing anyone. It came from mutated ninja creatures who brandished dangerous weapons, while never once killing anyone. It came from talking-car-robots, talking-cat-warriors, and even that one show where spacemen rode dinosaurs. Truly, it was a magical time to be alive. Do you remember when you got up earlier than you ever would again in your life? When you stuffed yourself full of cereal and spent a solid four or five hours ingesting as much animated antics as possible? There was nothing like being hopped up on sugar and watching the forces of good do battle with the minions of evil. The best part was that in shows like, He-Man, G.I. Joe, Jem and the Holograms, Transformers, or Thundercats you always knew who was the good guy and who was the bad, and it wasn’t just because some were dressed like snakes.

There was always one particularly defining moment in every single cartoon that separated the good guy from the bad. It is a TV Trope, called Save the Villain, but around here we simply call it the “Cliff Test.” There always came a time when the hero was fighting the villain high atop a mountain, or suspended walkway, or floating balloon-platform-death-machine. Whether it was Duke duking it out with Cobra Commander, Lion-O battling-O with Mumm-Ra, or He-man He-punching Skelator in the face, it usually ended the same way. Inevitably, the villain would lose his footing and fall, grabbing for the ledge at the last moment. Then the hero would step to the precipice to find their fiendish mortal foe dangling helplessly by a mere few fingers. It would be so easy to finish them off and end the fight, but not for our true blue hero. Instead the good guy would reach down his hand and grab the very same person he or she had spent the last five minutes fighting in a life and death battle.

It was in those moments that heroism became defined for many of us. When a foe was clinging helplessly to life, regardless of how evil or terrible they were, the hero had to save them. It was almost an obligation, an understanding that all life is precious. The real test of valor is passed once the hero makes the decision to assist their nemesis, even in spite of all the bad that person had committed, and  the fact that seconds before the hero would have killed that villain in combat given the chance. It is the difference between self-defense and letting a helpless man -even an evil man- suffer needlessly, because that would not be heroism. That would be cowardice, and it serves no one, least of all the hero. Despite how childish that kind of thinking might seem to some people nowadays, it is not an ideal we should be so quick to discard as people or as a nation.

A Mutant Teenager’s Guide to Politics
Nowadays, when we look at the news and read about how some States are trying to deny services and opportunities to the LGBTQ community; or how we -a nation of immigrants- fear those who are fleeing violence and oppression in the Middle East; or that the front-runner for the GOP nomination is… well a literal cartoon super-villain we have to take a step back and wonder. Are we really the heroes we want to be? Did we grow into the men and women that those little sugar-addicted-cartoon-devouring kids would be proud to be? We are not claiming that America is the bad guy in this story, but it is also time to wonder if we are still the good guy, or at least the hero?

Everyday we watch the country and those around us succumb more and more to greed, fear, and mistrust. When we were growing up we would watch TV and find colorful heroes teaching us lessons of selflessness. The children of today now watch TV -but most likely the Internet- and see Presidential candidates openly condoning the bombing and torturing of enemies and innocents. That is not just a failure of the Cliff Test, that is like gleefully throwing a box of small puppies at your helpless enemy, in hopes of knocking him from his perch. If our cartoons gave us hope for a better future and a better us, where will the children of today find hope when they see how we treat our most vulnerable? What will they grow up believing when Tennessee, North Carolina, and a slew of other States use the thin guise of religion to mask their bigotry, like the plot of a Saturday Morning Cartoon that would border on unbelievable even if Shredder himself came up with it. We are not just failing the Cliff Test, but actively plotting to push people off in the first place.

We are not saying that we should all hope for peace and love, because those cartoons were also about fighting for what was right -and selling toys. We are not naive enough to believe that the world is black and white, filled with Autobots and Decepticons -a thought that was more appealing pre-Michael Bay- but it is worth measuring our actions today against the expectations of our childhood selves. After all, when refugees from war torn countries, who are begging for our help and fleeing the very enemies we claim to oppose, don’t we have an obligation to do so? Isn’t that what Master Splinter would tell us to do? If we are the heroes than we have a sacred duty to pull them to safety, and yet even in this we often fail to live up to our potential. Maybe you cannot apply technicolor 2D morality to our 3D world, but does that mean we should stop trying? Maybe it is easier to close our borders, “bomb the sh*t” out of everyone else, and deny rights to anyone who is different from us, but is that what Optimus Prime would do? Is that what Lion-O would do? Is that what the eight year old you would do?

‘Curse Your Sudden but Inevitable Betrayal
In those old cartoons -undoubtedly- the villain would use the moment he is being saved to revel a weapon or try to do something to knock the hero from the ledge, just as he or she reached down to grab them. There may be some who will point to that as a worthwhile and cautionary metaphor. A bad guy will always try to use our heroism against us. They will inevitably take advantage of our good graces and our compassion, but that does not mean we should stop having compassion. In the Cliff Test, when the villain lashes out it often forces the hero to jump back resulting in Cobra Commander or Skeletor or whoever falling to their doom -at least until the next episode- but that betrayal is not the point of this test. The test is not about what a villain can do, only about what a hero should do. You show compassion not because of the person you are saving but because it is the right thing to do… roll credits. The betrayal will come or it won’t, but it cannot affect how we conduct ourselves.

Being a hero means choosing hope for us and those around us. If we allow ourselves to live in fear of the infinitesimal percentage of refugees who are actually criminals -let alone terrorists- or if we find it easier to hide behind “Religious Freedom” rather than face those who are different, than we had better be ready to stop claiming any moral high ground. No, if we as a nation want to be the “good guys” that we have always told ourselves that we are, we have to be prepared to climb to that precarious ledge, and fight and help anyone who is vulnerable or downtrodden, whether they be Muslim, LGBTQ, or even a Trump supporter. They all deserve to be rescued from whatever ledge they are grasping desperately onto, because if we refuse than what will today’s cereal-eating eight year olds come to believe about heroism? If we disenfranchise the next generation during their formative years than one day we may find that we are the ones dangling from that cliff, without anyone willing to help us.

Ultimately, the Cliff Test is not about the villain at all, but about the hero. By helping the bad guy, the good guy is helping himself. It is a way to reaffirm his or her actions and reinforce the kind of world we are all fighting for; a fair one, a just one, and a merciful one. So in fact, the hero is not only reaching down to save the villain, but they are reaching down to save themselves. Right now we all stand upon a similar cliff, over a a possibly hot and menacing volcano. Everyday we are faced with others in need who are dangling by mere fingers, ready to fall. This is true for us as a nation and for us as individuals in our day-to-day lives. We may not agree with them, we may even hate them, but we can never turn our backs on them or forget that they are human beings who deserve a chance at hope.

There are issues facing our country and our world that just seem so big, too heavy to lift, and it would be simple to let them fall away. It would be easy to stop fighting and stop caring. It literally requires that we do nothing, but is that what He-Man would do? Is that the principals that GI Joe, the Ninja Turtles, and all the rest of those colorful childhood heroes fought for? We can choose to do nothing or we can reach down and help, and not because that person may be someone we see as an enemy, but because they are a person. It is not about agreeing with them, but it is about choosing to believe we can all be better. We need to do the right thing for no other reason than because it is the right thing to do. We all stand on a cliff, everyday, in big and small ways. So what will you do?

For anyone who is not in the “know,” and by that we mean a complete Trekkie, the Prime Directive is the first imperative of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets. It is a rule of non-interference. The developed Federation and by extension Starfleet cannot interfere with the affairs of developing worlds, or they might taint their evolutionary progress, even if the planet and its refugees are under threat of destruction or death. Yet, is this a policy we should be adopting when it comes to our own planet?

Maybe there comes a time in the life of every person, and every nation when we need to ask ourselves the hard questions. What kind of people do we want to be? Does the Prime Directive have any positive divisors other than 1 and itself? What kind of world do we want to live in? What Would the Federation Do? We suppose the short answer is: “Boldly go wherever Captain Kirk’s libido has never gone before,” but another answer may become our very own Prime Directive, not in regards to any alien race, but in regards to how we treat other people in this world.

The Conscience of the King
As Jean-Luc Picard says the Starfleet Prime Directive is not just a set of rules, but “a philosophy.” At its core it is about letting a people fend for themselves. It is about teaching fellow sentient creatures self-reliance, to figure out the hard problems on their own, and without the technological and economical hand-outs of a more developed nation. In the end, one could actually interpret it as a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” type of policy from the normally leftist Federation, but is it one directive we are willing to put to use in today’s world? What would Picard do?

Currently, Europe and the world are facing one of the largest refugee crises in a generation. 4.1 million people have fled the violence currently taking place in Syria, thanks to ISIS and other warring factions. That is nearly double the amount displaced by the Rwanda genocides in 1994. Europe and other countries have had varying responses to the flood of refugees trying to stream across their borders. Countries like Hungary have been cracking down while countries such as Germany have been opening their nation to fleeing refugees, but they have been forced to “drop it down to impulse” in the past week. Yet, what is the right way to handle this crisis?

The humanitarian side would say that we have a moral and ethical obligation to help the people who are currently fleeing war and violence. After all they are fighting for their lives and the lives of their family to make it to safer grounds, flooding into Mediterranean countries by land and sea. However, a more practical side could also argue that from an economic and security standpoint, letting thousands of unknown refugees from a high risk area of the world, unquestioningly, come into your country may not be the best choice. After all, when the Klingon moon of Praxis exploded and threatened the lives of everyone on the Klingon homeworld of Qo’nos, did the Federation decide to take the risk and help its most hated enemy?… Well, yes they did, but in all fairness they never had the Internet.

Balance of Terror

Alleged Romulans at a rally in Germany.
Alleged Romulans at a rally in Germany.

There has been a lot passed around on Facebook and social media about this current crisis. The most famous image is the picture of what appears to be an ISIS flag being held aloft by refugees during a clash with German police. It often gets posted to show why countries should be closing their borders to this outpouring of humanity. The picture is also falser than Seven of Nine’s implants. It is a picture from 2012 taken at an anti-Islam rally in Bonn, Germany. the flag is not an ISIS flag at all, but another Muslim flag with a similar color scheme. Many Muslims believe that one of the banners carried by Muhammad was black and monochromatic, so it’s a very popular color scheme.

In fact, according to the ship’s LCARS and our own research the only violence that we could uncover -that was even remotely related to the surge of refugees- had to do with anti-refugee protests. We are talking about people who already live in the affected countries and commit violence against migrants and government facilities, such as the arson attack against a planned center for refugees in Germany back in August. So far it seems as if most of the Syrian refugees have been relatively peaceful, especially in contrast to some of the more horrifying conditions they have been met with. 22 refugees, including 4 children, drowned while attempting to reach Greece, and that story is not at all out of the ordinary. What would Sisko do?

The Trouble with Tribbles
The problem with the refugees is that there are a lot of them, and they keep multiplying everyday, but nobody seems to be able to agree on what to do. A meeting of the EU this week in Brussels by European Union Interior Ministers failed to come to any formal agreement or plan. The ministers failed to set any binding quotas for how many people each EU member nation should be obligated to take in. The group did propose a system of camps for refugees to be housed in Africa, which for anyone who is bad at geography, is not in Europe. The minsters also agreed, in principal, to share the current 160,000 refugees, which are already in Italy, Greece, and Hungary, but all 22 nations could not agree on a time schedule or a quota.

There is a school of thought that this may simply not be Europe’s problem? The United States pledged to take 70,000 refugees from all over the world this year and will take an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees next year, but many in the US look at this problem and feel very little responsibility toward the solution. The USA has donated $4 billion in humanitarian aid, but takes a view as if this is an issue to be dealt with by the Old World, if not the Middle East itself. Yet, what is our Prime Directive in this mess? Is this really just a Middle Eastern problem?

Many people have criticized, and with good reason, the lackluster response from other Middle Eastern countries and their failure to take in more refugees. According to CNN and Amnesty International Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and other Gulf countries have offered no resettlement places to Syrian refugees. Many of the wealthier countries have donated money with Kuwait giving $101.9 million; Saudi Arabia $2.7 million; Qatar $2.5 million; and the UAE giving $2.2 million, but those amounts are a small bit of latinum compared to the troubles being faced by the international humanitarian crisis. However, it is easy to point fingers and lump all Middle Eastern countries together, but the truth is more complicated than the plot of Star Trek V.

The Immunity Syndrome
First of all, not all Arab countries have turned their backs. Lebanon has taken the most migrants per capita of any country so far, housing roughly 232 refugees per 1,000 refugees. They are followed by Jordan and Turkey at 81 and 27 per 1,000, respectively. Even Iraq has accepted 249,000, and Egypt has taken 132,000. In contrast, Germany is only currently housing 2.6 refugees per 1,000 refugees, and the United States ranks at a measly 0.8 refugees per 1,000. Secondly, it is not only Arab countries who have shut their borders to their neighbors in need. Israel, has offered no resettlement for displaced Syrians, which many have criticized because Israel is one of the richest and most powerful countries in the region, shares a border with Syria, and because the Jewish people themselves should empathize with the plight of refugees.

We do not say any of this to be critical against any country, only to show that this issue is not as black and white as some Internet memes would have it appear. As humans we like to make generalizations: Arab countries aren’t helping, Syrian refugees are all terrorists, all Star Trek: Enterprise episodes were horrible, but they weren’t. That was a decent show canceled before its time, but by making unthinking gross judgements we risk falling into a Tholian Web of inaction and excuses. In fact, even a lot of people whom live in countries whose governments are refusing to lend aid or resettlement, are doing everything they can to ease this crisis. Israelis, Saudis, Britons, Hungarians, Americans and all sorts of individuals are helping, because sometimes humans can be amazing creatures. We feel a responsibility toward our fellow humans, but are the responsibilities of an individual the same as the responsibilities of a nation? Wouldn’t accepting these extra people put a burden on countries, like Greece, who can barely afford their own citizens? Is that even logical. What would Spock do?

The Way to Eden
There may be other reasons for developed nations to take in more refugees, we can handle it. According to a US News report, smaller countries such as Jordan will spend upwards of 2.4 billion dollars on caring for displaced migrants. They will strain their country’s already limited water supply and other essential services. However, European and North American countries tend to have a sturdier infrastructure, and a lot more employment opportunities when compared to Middle Eastern ones. That is actually a boon for developed nations because any country that can shoulder the initial costs of a large influx of migrants has, historically, benefited in the long run. There are more people to work jobs, more people to consume products, more people to pay more taxes, and to just generally do more things.

For example, in Cleveland, the local service for refugees spent roughly $4.8 million back in 2012 to help a small number of refugees get established, but, according to Chmura Economics & Analytics, those refugees had a long term economic impact on the community equal to about $48 million, or about 10 times the initial resettlement investment. It makes a certain amount a sense. Refugees want to create opportunities and provide for their families, and they tend to be younger. Countries with younger populations often benefit economically, educationally, and militarily. Maybe it is not surprising that most Western countries are getting older, considering that the majority of EU members want less immigration. Yet, the United States continues to maintain a youthful population due to our constant influx of foreign immigrants -both refugees and non-refugees. New people means new ideas, new opportunities, and a new spirit of diversity, cooperation, and profit. What would Quark do?

Remember, the United Federation of Planets is made up of thousands of worlds, hundreds of different species, and each brings their own strength to the table, and that is the real philosophy of the Federation, and of our planet. The Prime Directive might be a guideline for technologically advanced civilizations, but we aren’t members of Starfleet dealing with a culture who are imitating early 20th century gangsters -for some reason. We are all humans, dealing with our fellow humans. There is this idea that we are somehow different from the people of the Middle East, or Europe, or any other nation, but we are all the same. To any passing Andorian, we are just humans, and maybe its time we treat each other like humans.

Maybe that should be our real Prime Directive.

Photo courtesy: