Two intriguing media events occurred in the last few weeks. One was the arrival of a splendid movie on Britain in wartime, "Darkest Hour," spotlighting the heroic role played by Winston Churchill in rousing the British to resist the Nazi foe. The other was the publication of a much less believable work on the Trump White House by celebrity journalist Michael Wolff, "Fire and Fury," containing a plethora of charges, many of which have been adamantly denied either by the White House or by sources quoted, that Mr. Trump is too mercurial, too childish, too impulsive, or too simple-minded to be president.
Could there be something to be learned from the Churchill movie illuminating how a chief executive who could preside over a booming economy, a soaring stock market, the passage of major tax reform, and a reformed and invigorated judiciary and executive branch be perceived as a buffoon unfit for the job?
At one level, it’s not surprising that following a couple of weeks of extraordinary accomplishment for President Trump his critics would seize on a major hatchet job, as virtually every accomplishment of this administration has been followed by some such claim of unfitness, mental instability, impeachable offenses, or some sort of politically incorrect behavior.
In short, it’s traditional for Democrats to question the intelligence, good faith, sincerity, and even sanity of Republicans, and, to a certain extent, vice versa. This might, then, just be chalked up to politics as usual in this sadly divided country.
I think, though, that comparing President Trump to Winston Churchill might reveal something deeper, to wit, that with our current president, the U.S. has a leader who might be uniquely fit for the time, and yet one who might be too easily and thoughtlessly dismissed by enemies and critics. That is, those who simply seem unable to grasp what he is about.
Consider, then, some of the quite surprising similarities that Mr. Trump has with the great prime minister. Both are men with almost superhuman appetites. Churchill astonished his friends and colleagues with his fondness for alcohol and his indefatigable energy.
While Mr. Trump doesn’t drink, Mr. Wolff reports on his inordinate fondness for cheeseburgers. We already knew about his penchant for steak and Diet Coke.
Both Churchill and Trump were, at various times, despised by the better sort, and as the "deplorables" venerate Trump, so did the British common people take to Churchill. Both had their spectacular failures, Gallipoli for Churchill, and business bankruptcies for Trump.
Neither went to the premier colleges; Churchill graduated from Sandhurst (Britain’s military academy), not Oxford or Cambridge, and Trump went the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (an outstanding business school), but not Harvard or Yale. Both came from wealth, both switched political parties, both were outsize personalities, both were extraordinary at public speaking.
Both Churchill and Trump have a talent for invective, in Churchill’s case perhaps in a more picturesque manner, as he once referred to a timid colleague as "a sheep in sheep’s clothing." But Mr. Trump’s characterization of Mrs. Clinton as "crooked Hillary," of Jeb Bush as "low energy," or of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as "Little Marco," do show some sort of nearly literary flair, as do his pungent tweets. Both may have occasionally overstepped the bounds of decorum, but both could astutely measure character, and individual character, of course, is what really counts.
Most importantly, however, both Churchill and Trump were, in the end, principled politicians, and, I think we’ll see, both were powerfully principled conservatives. That Churchill manifested the stoic virtues of the British character needs no elaboration, but perhaps not everyone has been able to understand the basic conservative principles that led some of us to support Mr. Trump from the beginning of his candidacy, and which distinguished him from Mrs. Clinton.
These were an understanding that the philosophy of our Constitution is to preserve our rights and not to redistribute our property; that our government is founded on rule by the people and not by bureaucratic experts, and that only adherence to the rule of law, the separation of powers, and federalism will preserve our republic. This was a philosophy all but abandoned by the Obama administration and, indeed, by Mrs. Clinton herself.
Few politicians experienced the excoriation that Churchill did, and yet few were eventually revered as greater statesmen. This ought to be something that might well be a source of cheer for a remarkably similar politician, Mr. Trump, and something that might help ignore the brickbats launched against him.
Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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