Like Churchill, Trump must never give in, never!

Like Churchill, Trump must never give in, never!
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This day, Jan. 24, marks 51 years since the death of the great statesman Winston Churchill, one of the most important men of modern times. After attending a pre-screening of the film, “The Darkest Hour,” a few months ago, I plunged myself obsessively into a tidal wave of his biographies, of which there are many. And why? Because he was, without hyperbole, the most important individual of the 20th century. He single-handedly saved the world from a period of darkness where inhumane, bloodthirsty men would have ruled and set humanity on a very bleak course.

Most of his biographers agree that, such were his personal qualities, only he could have done it. Though some important points of divergence exist, as one studies Churchill, it is striking that there are many parallels — in personality and in situation — with President TrumpDonald John TrumpMarine unit in Florida reportedly pushing to hold annual ball at Trump property Giuliani clashes with CNN's Cuomo, calls him a 'sellout' and the 'enemy' Giuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it MORE.

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Inaugurated as the 45th U.S. president one year ago, fortunately Donald Trump has not had to deal with anything as urgent as standing alone to defend the Free World against the Nazis. But  he does have our most recent fearsome foe, ISIS, on the run. Moreover, like Churchill, who succeeded Neville Chamberlain, Trump follows a government head who misunderstood and was ill-equipped to face the threat from the Western world’s most feared enemy — in this case, radical Islam.  

 

Both Churchill and Trump inherited situations in which their predecessors preferred to negotiate with an enemy bent on their nations’ destruction, rather than to fight. It was against President Obama’s narrative to even utter the words “Islamic terrorism.” He saw the ill-conceived Iran nuclear “deal” as an opportunity to appease a foe, not unlike Chamberlain and Britain’s foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, who contemplated a similarly misguided “deal” with the Nazis, fortunately thwarted by Churchill.  

Churchill opposed appeasement with every shred of his being. What better justification for this notion than his own words: “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Compare to Trump’s speech last month in which he laid out his defense strategy: “What we have built here in America is precious and unique. We must love and defend it, we must guard it with vigilance and spirit, and if necessary, like so many before us, with our very lives.

So, too, are Churchill and Trump united in the hostility they faced, from both opposition and their own parties, as well as the media. In almost identical fashion, Trump and Churchill are attacked by elements in their respective parties which distrust and scorn their approaches, on grounds of opportunism, suffused with ego.

While a strong sense of self-belief is critical for a good leader, it is nevertheless true that neither Trump nor Churchill conforms to commonly accepted notions of their political parties. Churchill earned distrust and enmity from the Tories as he actually switched parties and then switched back, depending upon circumstances.  But while both men earned enemies along the way, it is safe to say that they both believe in themselves more than in party principles.

In his book, “The Churchill Factor,” Boris Johnson reveals that early on in his political career, public perception of Churchill was that he was anything but a man of principle, but rather, “he was a glory-chasing goal-mouth-hanging opportunist” (p. 35) and “a Goering, and adventurer, a half-breed, a traitor, a fat baby, and a disaster for the country” (p. 34). Perhaps even Trump’s noisy detractors are kind by comparison, though they are always ready to hurl “racist” and “buffoon.”

Finally there is an enormous parallel that can be drawn with respect to the way these two men communicate strategically to the public. Both are masters of the art of words as weapons. While their respective styles are different, they both have the ability with their messaging to get points across colorfully, memorably and hence, successfully.  Though their messages might often roil the public, the special style is irresistible and earns media.

And then there are the barbs. Churchill did not, nor does Trump, bite his tongue. Trump has become famous for his tweeted quips that stir up the media to distraction. He shocks by calling Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGiuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it Sanders hits 1 million donors Democrats will not beat Trump without moderate policy ideas MORE “liar” or “corrupt,” or Rosie O’Donnell “crude, rude, obnoxious and dumb.” But before we condemn him, remember that Churchill, when a lady called him “drunk,” famously and quite shockingly fired back that in the morning he would be sober, while she would still be ugly. Or a less well-known Churchill quote about a preceding prime minister: “I wish Stanley Baldwin no ill, but it would have been much better if he had never lived.”

One could go on with comparisons of these two men. While Trump is off to a good start to making America safer and more prosperous, it is far too early to decide whether his presidency will be considered “Churchillian.” Others, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, have dared draw similar comparisons. It cannot be disputed that Trump shares a great deal in common, in circumstance and approach, with Churchill but it remains to be seen whether Trump, like Churchill, will be able to overcome both the brute force of global adversaries and a deeply-entrenched political establishment strongly opposed to his leadership. So far, there is evidence that he will.

Lee Cohen spent years advising the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Western European affairs, and was founding executive director of the House United Kingdom Caucus.