Nations, like individuals, are in never-ending conversation with themselves. And, as with individuals, these conversations depend upon symbolic language that can call us to higher things or justify extreme selfishness. In the lexicon of American national identity, two of the most powerful concepts routinely deployed in political debate are the ‘American Dream’ and ‘America First’. Both have received many column inches over the years, but rarely have they been examined together. Sarah Churchwell’s new book, Behold, America, suggests that we should see them as connected, offering contrasting answers to essentially the same questions about America’s politics, people and place in the world.
The book presents two main arguments. The first is that ‘America First’, a phrase enthusiastically adopted by Donald Trump but previously associated with the movement opposing US entry into the Second World War, was routinely used earlier in the 20th century by racists, nationalists and fascists to make