Sarah Churchwell is Professor of American Literature and Chair of Public Understanding of the Humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. In her book, Behold, America (Bloomsbury 2018) she explores the entangled history of America First and the American Dream.
‘The American dream is dead,’ Donald Trump said when announcing his candidacy for president in 2015. How would he revive it? By putting ‘America First’.
The ‘American Dream’ and ‘America First’ are two of the most loaded phrases in America today, and also two of the most misunderstood. The American Dream began as a pledge for equality rather than as a dream of supremacy and ‘making it big’. America First has not just served as an isolationist term, but as an early slogan of the Ku Klux Klan with surprising links to the present.
Both phrases were born nearly a century ago and instantly tangled over capitalism, democracy and race, coming to embody opposing views in the battle to define the soul of the nation. Behold, America recounts the unknown history of these two expressions using the voices that helped shape that debate, from Capitol Hill to the newsroom of the New York Times, students to senators, dreamers to dissenters.
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