When a New York Times journalist recently pressed Donald Trump on whether his current campaign slogan, “America First,” suggested a sinister historical reference point for his candidacy, he said he was “familiar” with the phrase from history but intended it as a “a brand-new, very modern term.” Per Trump custom, no details were forthcoming. Fair enough, one could say. Any US president worth his or her salt should put American national interests “first” among his or her priorities. But as this is a presidential election, and the “trust factor” looms ever larger as election day approaches, it’s worth considering whether Trump’s “America First” message isn’t intentionally directed at a key minority of Trump backers versed in US history and receptive to an ideological signal the candidate is sending.

The “Committee to Defend America First” was formed in September 1940 to lobby against US military intervention in Europe at a time when Britain and France were already fighting Nazi Germany. The organization secured a charismatic leader in the person of dashing blond pilot Charles Lindbergh, who had made clear in 1936 that—if forced to choose between Communism and Nazism conquering Europe—he would choose Nazism. By the time “Lindy” visited Germany in 1938 to marvel at an aircraft engine factory and receive the Service Cross of the German Eagle from Reichstag President Hermann Göring (“by order of the Führer”), Hitler had already invaded and annexed the territory of more than one neighboring country.

A year later, the Nazi tyrant’s determination to plunge the continent into total war would become as unequivocal as his regime’s domestic complexion after Kristallnacht. Yet Lindbergh refused even verbally to condemn Nazi Germany as late as January 1941, telling Congress that “nothing is gained by publicly commenting on your feeling in regard to one side of a war in which your country is not taking part.” Worse, Lindbergh actually opposed a “conclusive” British victory over Germany, coldly evading any expression of sympathy even for Britain defending herself.

Fast-forward seventy-five years. The nationalist-imperialist regime of Vladimir Putin in Russia has unilaterally annexed the territory of a neighboring country, the first such act in Europe since World War II. A strongman popular with most of his subjects, Putin menaces small neighboring states, masses troops and heavy weapons systems near the borders of countries America is treaty-bound to defend, and regularly reminds the world that his state possesses a nuclear arsenal lest anyone contemplate a serious countermeasure. Russian military aircraft have periodically encroached on western European and US airspace. A Kremlin-backed “cyber war” against the West—complete with an army of internet trolls paid to hurl abuse at anyone criticizing Russia or its leader—is in full swing. European parties (including large, well organized ones such as France’s Front National) receive Russian financing and score unprecedented electoral gains.

Meanwhile, America’s Republican nominee not only refuses to condemn Putin; he actually hails him as a “strong leader” with whom he would get along “very well.” Putin returns the compliments. Among Trump’s prominent advisors are people favoring warm ties with Russia and a lifting of sanctions over Putin’s Anschluss in Ukraine. Trump’s millions of minions include a cohort of literate “#AmericaFirst” allies in the “Twittersphere” defending him (and often Putin) against attack or accusation. Russia’s state-controlled media blatantly favor Trump in the election.

Assuredly, Trump’s style bears little resemblance to that of Lindbergh, who, if he ever put his name on the side of a plane, used much smaller print than what we’re used to seeing from “The Donald.” Likewise, Russia’s enduringly corrupt post-Soviet decrepitude stands in stark contrast to Nazi Germany’s industry and efficiency. But the parallels with 1941 are obvious, and Putin does not have to be a carbon copy of Hitler for Trump’s “America First” candidacy to generate legitimate apprehension.

Since Trump has never publicly fleshed out his “America First” refrain with substance, perhaps he is holding out hope to latter-day “America Firsters” that he privately idealizes the strong isolationist mood that prevailed in pre-WWII American society and was personified by the America First Committee. Since Trump (by his own admission) keeps counsel primarily with himself, perhaps he really does entertain such secret fantasies.

But while any principled conservative should welcome a conservative foreign policy as much as conservatism in domestic affairs, “America First conservatism” is a chimera. Resurrecting the isolationism of a misguided WWII-era lobby group that dismissed the global danger of Nazism is not conservatism; it is fetishism—and I say this partly as confession. Many years ago, I too entertained the sophomoric notion that “America First” represented a hopeful precedent for a more cautious and circumspect US foreign policy. Part of the cure to that delusion came from living and working in several different countries, including Britain, a civilization linked to the United States by unbreakable, organic bonds.

For “America Firsters,” the Anglo-American “special relationship” is a hollow cliché, and even if the United States is a product of British civilization, that fact is irrelevant in discerning US interests. Lindbergh’s refusal in 1941 to admit a preference between Britain and the Third Reich reflects the enduring “America First” view that the US should try to put all foreign nations on an equal moral plane when judging national interest, because America’s uniqueness obviates any American need to value one country over another in international affairs. Since Trump has never spoken of a “special relationship” or of Britain as an “ally,” perhaps it is worth pressing him to clarify whether indeed he sees anything “special” about the relationship at all. If he does, would the relationship be any more “special” under his presidency than that between Washington and, say, Tokyo or Berlin? Since his attitude is that “Europe’s problem” isn’t America’s, would he prioritize the security of (European) ally Britain over, for example, lucrative real estate deals with Russia? Even this late in the campaign, he gives no indication that he would.

For those in the United States who welcome Brexit as an opportunity for America and Britain to become even closer politically, economically and culturally, Trump’s “America First” campaign is disconcerting at very least. While several EU member states have shown signs of “going wobbly” over sanctions, Britain has never been among them. The rise of Trump has created a sense that Britain could find itself feeling lonely again, and since Brexit was in no small measure about increasing British national security, that is sad.

EU policy has posed a threat to Britain’s security not only by seeking to accommodate hundreds of thousands of un-vetted migrants from the Middle East and North Africa in a bloc that regards the “free movement of people” principle as carved in stone. EU governments wanting a return to “business as usual” with a crooked, bribery-driven Russian government while pushing for closer political union among their respective states have created a formula for the breakdown of the rule of law on the European continent. The British people—via Brexit—proved they could read the tea leaves.

Significantly, Trump recently identified himself as “Mr. Brexit,” though he was as shy on substance as on “America First” and a host of other issues. This is no drag on his popularity ratings, since most Trump fans have no idea what Brexit is, just as they have never heard of the America First Committee or will ever see first-hand what Russia looks like. But what is clear is that Trump cannot simultaneously be an “America Firster” and a “Brexiteer,” because the two concepts simply don’t mesh. “Brexit,” on the one hand, is a mass popular movement to advance British national interests through reclamation of sovereignty; the America First Committee, on the other, was unmistakably anti-British.

Trump’s exposure to foreign affairs is largely limited to views from five-star hotel suites, limos and meeting rooms on business trips or vacations overseas. If he ever did visit Russia, he wouldn’t see life in ordinary communities far from the opulence of central Moscow. Either Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about on foreign policy or his relations with Russia are even more unseemly than they appear—or both.

His successful wrong-footing of his rivals, backtracking on his comments and generally avoiding detailed explanation reveal a knack for distraction and a fondness for keeping others guessing. As long as people are guessing at what he’s really made of—as long as his convictions can only be guessed at—he has a chance. I am reminded of Philip Roth’s “what if” historical novel, The Plot Against America, in which Charles Lindbergh is elected president in 1940, denying FDR a third term and keeping America out of the war in Europe. I was kept guessing to the end: is Lindbergh a Nazi puppet or just a “conservative” isolationist popular with broad swathes of a war-weary American public? I’ve always found that sort of fiction fun.

Sadly, this election isn’t fiction. It’s all too real.

Chad Nagle is an attorney living in the Washington, DC area