Contrary to what Kristol seems to think, America First is a notion sound and defensible and in no way depressing although it is vulgar in the root sense of the word as I will explain at the end of this entry. Herewith, some notes on what America First means, or rather, what I think it ought to mean. I fancy that I am not far from the meaning Trump would articulate if he were an articulate man.
It does not mean that that the USA ought to be first over other countries, dominating them. It means that every country has the right to prefer itself and its own interests over the interests of other countries. We say 'America first' because we are Americans; the Czechs say or ought to say 'Czech Republic first.' The general principle is that every country has a right to grant preference to itself and its interests over the interests of other countries while respecting their interests and right to self-determination. America First is but an instance of the general principle. The principle, then, is Country First. If I revert to America First, that is to be understand as an instance of Country First.
So America First has nothing to do with chauvinism which could be characterized as a blind and intemperate patriotism, a belligerent and unjustified belief in the superiority of one's own country. America First expresses an enlightened nationalism which is obviously compatible with a sober recognition of national failings. Germany has a rather sordid history; but Germany First is compatible with a recognition of the wrong turn that great nation took during a well-known twelve-year period (1933-1945) in her history.
An enlightened nationalism is distinct from nativism inasmuch as the former does not rule out immigration. By definition, an immigrant is not a native; but an enlightened American nationalism accepts immigrants who accept American values, which of course are not the values of the Left.
An enlightened nationalism is not isolationist. What it eschews is a fruitless meddling and over-eager interventionism. It does not rule out certain necessary interventions when they are in our interests and in the interests of our allies.
So America First is not to be confused with chauvinism or nativism or isolationism.
America First is as sound an idea as that each family has the right to prefer its interests over the interests of other families. If my wife becomes ill, then my obligation is to care for her and expend such financial resources as are necessary to see to her welfare. If this means reducing my charitable contributions to the local food bank, then so be it. Whatever obligations I have to help others 'ripple out' from myself as center, losing claim to my attention the farther out they go, much like the amplitude of waves caused by a rock's falling into a pond diminishes the farther from the point of impact. Spouse and/or children first, then other family members, then old friends, then new friends, then neighbors, and so on.
The details are disputable, but not the general principle. The general principle is that we are justified in looking to our own first.
The main obligation of a government is to protect and serve the citizens of the country of which it is the government. It is a further question whether it has obligations to protect and benefit the citizens of other countries. That is debatable. But if it does, those obligations are trumped by the main obligation just mentioned. I should think that a great nation such as the USA does well to engage in purely humanitarian efforts such as famine relief. Such efforts are arguably supererogatory.
One implication of Country First is that an immigration policy must be to the benefit of the host country. The interests of the members of the host country trump the interests of the immigrants. Obviously, there is no blanket right to immigrate. Obviously, potential immigrants must be vetted and must meet certain standards. Obviously, no country is under any obligation to accept subversive elements or elements who would work to undermine the nation's culture.
Suppose you disagree with the enlightened nationalism I am sketching. What will you put in its place? If you are not a nationalist, what are you? Some sort of internationalist or cosmopolitan. But the notion of being a citizen of the world is empty since there is no world government and never will be. What could hold it together except the hegemony of one of the nations or a coalition of nations ganging up on the others?
The neocons tried to press America and it values and ways upon the world or upon the Middle Eastern portion thereof. The neocon mistake was to imagine that our superior system of government could be imposed on benighted and backward peoples riven by tribal hatreds and depressed by an inferior religion. The folly of that should now be evident. One cannot bomb the benighted into Enlightenment.
Leftist internationalists want to bring the world to America thereby diluting and ultimately destroying our values. The mistake of the multi-culti cultural Marxists is to imagine that comity is possible without commonality, that wildly diverse sorts of people can live together in peace and harmony. Or at least that is one mistake of the politically correct multi-cultis.
So the way forward is enlightened nationalism. Trump understands this in his intuitive and inarticulate way.
As for Bill Kristol, his use of 'vulgar' betrays him. His brand of yap-and-scribble, inside-the-Beltway, bow-tied, pseudo-conservatism puts a premium on courtly behavior and gentlemanly debate that is an end in itself and rarely issues in ameliorative action. The people, however, demand action. Kristol is not a man of the people. Trump the billionaire is, paradoxical as that sounds. He is 'vulgar' in a way that Kristol can never be.