Why 'America First' and Trump Reminds Me of My Time in North Korea 🇺🇸🇰🇵

• ~700 words • 3 minute read

President Trump gave his inauguration speech today. A recurring theme in his campaign was putting American interests first. This was probably best captured in the "two simple" rules he said would govern his policies going forward: "Buy American and Hire American!"

However, there can be a thin line between a call for national self-sustainability and global isolationism. Trump's rhetoric veers into the latter. In particular the parts on foreign policy, military strength and this quote on borders which I often find myself revisiting.

America First

A call for hiring more American workers and buying more American-made products is perfectly reasonable. In tandem with his other America First policies you can scarcely hear the call over the dog-whistles. He's confabulated this idea that there are evil un-Americans among us, surrounding us and against us the we need to remove or crush into the ground to return to greatness.

The irony in this thinking is that America at her greatest does precisely the opposite. We reach out to help others in need, at our own cost. Open our arms to be more inclusive — even if it comes later than it should. We falter plenty, but there has generally been a trend towards recognizing the inevitable fate of this planet is some form unity.

The way Trump speaks about bringing "back" jobs, building up military strength, defending our borders, crushing enemies and bending the rest of the world to our will (though he hasn't used the precise language, yet) reminds me of a place I visited last spring.

Me in North Korea

North Korea is a country that has embraced isolationism and military might as a means to faux-populism — see: Juche — to the point of parody. As the year and election progressed, when Trump's election seemed alarming possible but still improbable, I joked to some of my friends "The more I listen to him talk the more I'm reminded of my time in North Korea, so I feel strangely prepared for this!"

It was a joke, but like all good jokes there's an underlying truth revealed. I do not really think Trump can, in four years, literally turn us into something like North Korea. But I do honestly thing, were he to visit that country, he would come away thinking "What a nice country! Everybody seems to like their leaders, so they must be doing something right. They've put their own country first, secured the borders, have a strong military, and I'm told they have 100% employment. Maybe we've been wrong about Kim Jong-Un!"

Just a couple days ago, in an interview with the Washington Post, Donald Trump said:

“Being a great president has to do with a lot of things, but one of them is being a great cheerleader for the country,” Trump said. “And we’re going to show the people as we build up our military, we’re going to display our military.

“That military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we’re going to be showing our military,” he added.

In fact, the similarities between him and Kim Jong-Un are kind of astounding He talks about expanding our nuclear capabilities, leads a luxurious lifestyle completely removed from the reality of 99.9% of the people he represents and can attribute everything in his life to being born into the right family. They even both have stupid haircuts, for crying out-loud!

I'm trying to maintain positivity in the face of this, but it's difficult. I've found myself Googling more and more about non-violent tactics for dealing with dictatorships. I even setup a website to collect these resources at dismantlingdictators.com and sheet.dismantlingdictators.com.

There was one place where I did find positivity today, in all of this. My partner dropped some food outside my door on the way to work today, because she's sweet like that — a bottomless heart I'm continually impressed by. To it was attached this note:

"Starting today, more than ever, we will need to spread kindness and love with fiercity. I begin with this and with you. Let's support each other."

Feed Two Birds