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Pittsburgh, Paris, and Pyongyang

This Week in the Narrative – 30

Nigel Clarke

I am a fan of language.

Particularly enjoyable to me is when a word can have different meanings depending on context, especially when the meanings are contradictory.

Call someone ‘bad’ and you may mean ‘not good’ or ‘very good.’

Along these lines, what I find most interesting is when the establishment purveyors of the mainstream narrative seek to covertly alter the definition of a word or phrase.

This type of alteration was, for me, the overarching theme of a week abnormally saturated with geopolitical tomfoolery.

Trump’s “America First” has, to this point, been a relatively straightforward concept – a sort of pseudo-protectionism in the age of globalism.

While campaigning, he proclaimed that the United States could not continue to police the world at the expense of domestic spending and debt.

He criticized trade deals like the TPP and NAFTA for benefiting multinational corporations but hurting the American worker.

During his inauguration speech, he said:

For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.

Whether you believe or believed the truth of his words does not change the ideology many Trump supporters thought they were voting for – “America First” as a rejection of government run for the benefit of a very few.

This is exactly the type of ideology which the establishment most opposes (*paging Bernie Sanders*).

And this is why it is unsurprising that the mainstream media, led by ‘conservative’ outlets like Fox News, have decided to nakedly change the meaning of “America First.”

This week, President Trump decided to pull the United States out of the Paris Accord, selling this decision to the public by sticking to the original meaning of “America First,” arguing that the agreement would be harmful to the U.S. economy.

Just how harmful it would or would not be is up for debate. Critics of the Paris Accord have pointed out that the so-called ‘aims’ of the agreement are non-binding and unenforceable. It has also been pointed out that even if these voluntary targets were met, it would still be insufficient to meet the stated goals of the agreement. In or out, the agreement is functionally irrelevant.

Also curious is that something purported to be harmful to the economy would receive support in the form of a letter to President Trump signed by major corporations like Shell, BP, Dupont, Walmart, and others, urging him to stay in the agreement.

Perhaps this is because the Paris Accord provides these signatories with cover; advertising that something is being done about climate change without obligating them to change their behavior.

(That is kind of the Obama special.)

Most important, however, was how the decision to break from nearly every country on Earth and disavow the Paris Accord was presented in mainstream ‘conservative’ media – as the U.S. standing above, unique and apart from, the haberdashery of international cooperation.

Collaboration neither required nor desired.

They described the rejection of the Paris Accord as a situation where Donald Trump had, within the global hierarchy, finally put America First.

Also this week, less prominent but perhaps just as important, was the continued escalation of tension in Asia by the Trump administration; this time through a speech given at a conference in Singapore by Defense Secretary James Mattis.

In it, ‘Mad Dog’ threatened North Korea, calling them a “clear and present danger” – a phrase usually understood as a precursor to attack. He also sought to intimidate China, condemning them for, of all things, breaking international laws.

We oppose countries militarizing artificial islands and enforcing excessive maritime claims unsupported by international law. We cannot and will not accept unilateral, coercive changes to the status quo.

That the United States would criticize another nation for disregarding international law is a glass house stone throw of hilarity. But it is also a somewhat frightening display of warmongering at a time when tensions are high and militaries champing at the bit around both the South China Sea and Korean Peninsula.

Clearly, warmongering does not put “America First” in its traditional definition.

The cost of war and global militarism directly corresponds to the deterioration of programs and infrastructure at home.

Yet while mainstream ‘conservative’ media predictably relish in America’s imperialist muscle-flexing, they do so in a way which presents the U.S. as back at the front of the line; in position to order, bully, and push around other nations – a position they describe as America First.

It is interesting to go back and look at what then-Senator Obama was saying during the lead-up to the 2008 election in speeches and debates.

Many people loved Obama at that point. Because he was intelligent and charismatic and cool, but also because of his message.

Hope and Change – remember that?

It is striking to look back now and see that much of Obama’s message was only slightly less flamboyantly radical than what made Bernie Sanders so popular in 2016.

But somewhere within the course of his presidency “Hope and Change” got redefined.

Senator Obama’s advocacy for universal healthcare became President Obama’s “Obamacare,” which was, of course, presented in mainstream media as the furthest change we could hope for.

Senator Obama’s message of peace and diplomacy became Libya and Syria and Yemen and Somalia and Pakistan, etc. as the mainstream media repeated ‘we hope you can see the dramatic change from George W.’

For all of Trump’s buffoonery, the portion of his message which resonated so strongly with those most affected by inequality was the opposition to oligarchy implied in “America First.”

Like “Hope and Change,” no sh*t “America First” requires a historical redefinition in the mainstream narrative.

Quote of the Week:

Read More This Week in the Narrative:

Week 29: The Emperor’s Imperialist Pilgrimage

Week 28: Impeaching Democracy

Week 27: Trump’s Tricky Dick

Week 26: Behind Trumpcare’s Facade

Week 25: A New Home


Written by Nigel Clarke

Writer and notorious vagabond. From the frozen north. Follow Nigel on Twitter @Nig_Clarke.

Nigel Clarke is a Writer for Progressive Army.

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Pittsburgh, Paris, and Pyongyang