Politics & Government

Trump’s inaugural address echoes anti-Semitic isolationists and a Batman villain

President Donald Trump pumps his fist after delivering his inaugural address after being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States during the 58th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.
President Donald Trump pumps his fist after delivering his inaugural address after being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States during the 58th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. AP

What do filmmaker Christopher Nolan and renowned pilot Charles Lindbergh have in common?

On Friday afternoon, versions of their words seemed to come from the mouth of President Donald Trump, delivering his inaugural address.

Within the first few lines of his speech Friday, Trump said his presidency was about “not merely transferring power from one administration to the other, but from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.”

That particular line stuck out to some people, particularly fans of the 2012 Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises,” written and directed by Nolan. In that film, Bane, the villain, is preparing to take over the fictional city of Gotham when he says: “We take Gotham from the corrupt! The rich! The oppressors of generations who have kept you down with myths of opportunity, and we give it back to you … the people.”

The similarities both in tone and phraseology were apparent to social media users, who quickly spread the word. The fact that Bane also encourages a populist uprising aimed against the wealthy and elite seemed to resonate with observers

But while Trump’s movie quoting drew the most attention online, one of the main points in his speech seemed to reference a decades-old movement with anti-Semitic ties, calling back to earlier charges of discrimination against his campaign.

“From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first,” Trump said in his address.

The America First Committee was formed in 1940 to oppose U.S. intervention in World War II at a time when the United Kingdom was the only major power left fighting against Nazi Germany. The committee peaked with 800,000 dues-paying members and encompassed a large swath of political opinions, but several major figures in the movement expressed anti-Semitic views in trying to persuade Americans to stay away from war.

Charles Edward Coughlin, a famous Catholic priest and radio host, automaker Henry Ford and pilot Charles Lindbergh were at the forefront of this element of the committee.

“When we get through with the Jews in America, they'll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing,” Coughlin said in one of his broadcasts.

“Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastations,” Lindbergh said in a speech. “A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not.”

After the events of Pearl Harbor, the America First Committee dissolved. Since then, some have disputed how much the committee encouraged and harbored anti-Semitism, pointing to the harsh reaction of many to Lindbergh’s words and the membership of two future U.S. presidents: John F. Kennedy and Gerald Ford.

However, the name “America First” has since been adopted as the name of several isolationist political parties since World War II. Its most recent iteration was founded by far-right reformer Pat Buchanan and opposed gay marriage and called for the abolishment of hate crimes.

In April, Trump used the term to describe his policy goals, and the Anti-Defamation League quickly issued a statement asking him to use a different slogan, calling it “a call to action historically associated with incivility and intolerance.”

Trump’s campaign was also hit with accusations of anti-Semitism in several other instances, as his supporters slammed reporters with hateful messages and he sent out a tweet with the Star of David that seemed to play off Jewish stereotypes.

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