Last week, a prominent American replied "Of course not" when he was asked on FOX News whether Donald Trump was racist. He added that America wasn't racist, either. When asked about NFL players protesting during the national anthem, he declared: "We should never denigrate our flag and our national anthem. We should always be Americans first." When pressed on the ugly aspects of the American past, he stated: "We are no longer in slavery, we have self-determination, and this country is the greatest country in the world." He also noted the contributions made by American whites to the elimination of slavery and segregation: "The advancement of black people in this country is based upon white people who risked their lives just to do the right thing to make the playing field level and balanced." He even affirmed that "We should look at ourselves first before we look at the president. The black community . . . has a responsibility regardless of what the president does."
Given the way the media covers Trump and the academy presents the American past and the American present, one would be forgiven for thinking that the speaker was at least an embittered opponent of the civil rights movement, and perhaps even a hardened racist. In fact, the speaker was NFL Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, a longtime black activist. Given that history, Brown's defense of Trump, and of America, was extremely credible. (It was also very welcome to this native Clevelander. I was brought up to revere Jim Brown and to regard any argument that he wasn't the greatest running back in NFL history as arrant nonsense. Brown retired at the peak of his career not long after I was born, but I well remember my Dad describing the one time he saw Brown in person off the football field, at a Howard Johnson's restaurant in Cleveland, in a tone approaching awe).
Brown has never been afraid to speak his mind, but there are signs that his views are representative of the views of a small, but growing, part of the electorate: black voters who realize that American blacks would be prime beneficiaries of any genuine America First policy. After all, the economic prospects of American blacks have been harmed by mass immigration and free trade, both of which have depressed wages by expanding the labor supply. The upturn in black employment since Trump's inauguration is due at least in part to Trump's efforts to tighten the labor supply by changing America's trade policies and by enforcing America's immigration laws. As Brown's FOX interviewer noted, Trump's approval rating among blacks has doubled and now stands at around 35%. If Trump could win just half of those votes, no Democrat could beat him in 2020.
The convergence between Trump and Brown and those who think like him is based on a shared belief that "We should always be Americans first." Globalism has exacerbated the divisions among Americans, both by widening the gap between haves and have nots and also by sending a clear signal that those who run our country see no difference between Americans and foreigners or even prefer foreigners over their fellow citizens. By contrast, an America First policy of valuing Americans over foreigners and of valuing each American as an American holds the promise of not only easing economic inequality but of helping to overcome the many divisions in today's America.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.