Our times resemble nothing if not 1930s Britain. Our politics are roiled by tensions between a large (largely young), ignorant population of idealists taken in with the concept of socialism/communism and an older, wiser populace who recognize the greatness of the contributions of our country. We face external enemies today as ruthless as those faced by England in the ‘30s. Our alliances are complex and our national fiscal situation is deeply concerning, just as the UK’s was. The similarities between Britain of that era and America of today, to my mind, are almost eerie. And the similarities between Donald Trump and Winston Churchill bear description.
I’ve taken comfort in these troubled times, however, in reading William Manchester’s three-volume biography of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion. In the midst of Britain’s turmoil in the early 20th century was an unusual man. Really, an incredible man. Winston Churchill. He was pugnacious beyond belief, maddening to his enemies, and often to his friends as well. Sound familiar?
The source of his inability to “fit in” was his own brilliance. And like most brilliant people, he recognized the disparity between his own immense intellectual powers and those of the lesser lights with whom he had to interact, producing a tiresome sense of pushing a Sisyphean boulder up a hill. In the governance of the British Empire, with its multitude of responsibilities, this was no mean feat. This intellectual imbalance naturally made for contentious relationships.
And like other genius statesmen in parlous times, such as Abraham Lincoln, Churchill was beset by the “Black Dog” - his euphemism for what we might call depression. One way that he coped with it was through self-medication with alcohol. Another way he coped was by directing his prodigious energies and powerful intellect into his unrivalled command of the English language and his preternatural understanding of history and England’s role in it.
And speaking of Churchill’s copious use of alcohol, I’m reminded of another interesting parallel with Trump. Although President Trump is a teetotaler, he shares with Churchill a mastery of the put-down. Churchill was once allegedly rebuked by his perpetual nemesis, Lady Astor, who accused Churchill of being “disgustingly drunk.” Without missing a beat, Churchill responded, “My dear, you are ugly, and what’s more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly.”
Is that really much different from Megyn Kelly starting a question to Trump in a 2016 GOP debate with: “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,’” and Trump abruptly cutting in with: “Only Rosie O’Donnell.”
Not quite as artful as Churchill, maybe, but equally devastating - and maybe not wholly undeserved, given O’Donnell’s treatment of Trump over the years.
Moving along, Churchill’s love for Victorian English ideals reflected his belief in the greatness of British culture and bears considerable resemblance to the visceral love that Donald Trump feels for America -- or the American Ideal. In another time, that might have been referred to as Manifest Destiny. The sense that God foreordained America to be the vessel through which He expanded human greatness and individual dignity, in opposition to some ever-present urge among many people to collectivize, to oppress, to assert dominance in the view that they alone possess the knowledge to achieve human happiness through the imposition of will.
For Churchill, this evil imposition of will took a very clear form in Adolph Hitler. As Manchester describes in his epic biography, genius is not some great cognitive ability to unravel mysteries that stump others (although there may be an element of that). Rather, it is the ability to see some vitally important goal in the distance and direct oneself toward that goal relentlessly, despite all the slings and arrows that one might encounter along the way. It is a resoluteness in one’s drive to realize that vision. In the case of a great statesman like Churchill, that vision took the form of recognizing the great threat to liberty for Western civilization that Hitler represented.
Unlike Churchill, Trump did not spend his life immersed in politics. President Trump arguably had a much more rounded life. He created a company that built great architectural projects and a brand that represented perfection. That is not to detract at all from the contributions of Churchill, whose great collection of literary works dwarf almost any other from the 20th century. It is only to point out the wildly divergent paths these two political giants took to come to a very similar place: an internalized belief in the greatness of Western civilization and the importance of ensuring its continued survival.
Several years ago, on the eve of President Trump’s election, I wrote about my sense that Donald Trump possessed the best and worst qualities of what I called a “junkyard dog.” I was trying to refine a metaphor that others had been using for him as a bull in a china shop, which I felt missed the mark. Trump was not a blunderbuss, as his critics would have it, smashing delicate, highly refined policies and alliances through arrogance, ignorance and gratuitous hostility. Rather, he possessed an intense, internalized understanding of American Exceptionalism, so obviously absent in our previous president, and sought to restore that exceptionalism through a combination of force of will and a lifetime of unparalleled deal-making expertise. He possessed the qualities of a highly protective guard dog who was fiercely defensive of his property (our country) and his master (the American people), and would sacrifice his life, if necessary, in that pursuit.
My conviction as expressed in that earlier essay has only increased, as I’ve watched President Trump endure an unprecedented onslaught from a Deep State comprised of Democrats, Never Trumpers and entrenched government apparatchiks, as well as 90 percent of the mainstream media, virtually all of Hollywood and academia from coast to coast.
While Donald Trump may not have possessed a deep grounding in conservative philosophy before his ascent to the presidency, he’s demonstrated that he possessed something far more important: a love for America as its Founders envisioned it.
In the same way, Winston Churchill understood how the British Empire lifted so much of the world out of darkness and into a better, more civilized place - with education and healthcare provided for the poor, markets for the industrious to sell their wares and thereby raise their station in life, and administrative and legal structures to provide due process and equal protection under the law.
I, for one, feel reassured that we have the equivalent of the British Bulldog sitting in the White House. Let us hope that President Trump has as successful a tenure as head of state as did Winston. He seems well on his way.
William F. Marshall has been an intelligence analyst and investigator in the government, private, and non-profit sectors for more than 30 years. He is a senior investigator for Judicial Watch, Inc. (The views expressed are the author’s alone, and not necessarily those of Judicial Watch.)