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Jacob Heilbrunn US Politics

Is Donald Trump a new Winston Churchill?

December 27, 2017

6:30 PM

27 December 2017

6:30 PM

Is Donald Trump a new Winston Churchill? Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, whose daughter Sarah serves as Trump’s press secretary, suggested as much in a tweet yesterday. After watching the new biopic Their Darkest Hour, a tribute to Churchill’s fearlessness in 1940, Huckabee announced that he had been reminded of ‘what real leadership looks like’. He added in a second tweet that for eight years America had a Neville Chamberlain in the form of Barack Obama; now such pusillanimity has been replaced by resolute courage: ‘in @realdonaldtrump we have a Churchill.’

A new battle over Britain has now erupted. Huckabee’s animadversions have been met with outrage and ridicule in the New York Times and among Never Trumpers such as David Frum, who noted that it was the America First movement, led by Charles Lindbergh, that opposed intervening on Britain’s side in the first place. But on the American right Churchill idolatry has flourished for some time. Conservatives used to liken Ronald Reagan to Churchill. Trump is simply the latest instalment in a long-running revue. Indeed, when he was still in good odour on the right, Frum himself wrote an essay for the Weekly Standard in January 2000, elevating Churchill above Franklin Roosevelt as the man of the century. Trump himself restored Churchill’s bust to the Oval Office and invited lawmakers over to watch the new Churchill film on December 18. The Churchill mania extends even to his clothing—visit the Turnbull & Asser townhouse on East 57th in New York and you can pick up a navy and white polka dot bow tie manufactured in honour of the old boy.

The real question isn’t whether Trump is a new Churchill, but why Americans, who earned their independence by ousting George III and his hated Hessians, now cower before the British aristocracy. In his discerning book Blood, Class and Nostalgia, the late Christopher Hitchens depicted it as a result of the American attempt to ape the British empire, American epigones seeking to supplant their betters. A good case can indeed be made that Theodore Roosevelt and his circle were the neocons of their day, though Hitchens, who became an ardent champion of the George W. Bush administration’s imperial adventure in Iraq, couldn’t quite escape the lure of the white man’s burden himself. Whatever the diagnosis, this chronic sense of inferiority, even servility, can be seen in everything from the American cult of Churchill to the fascination with the British royals, and it won’t be going away anytime soon.

In any case, Trump has bigger worries than comparisons with Churchill on his mind. The Gallup poll has just announced that Barack Obama has once more won the nod among Americans as the most admired man in the country. Trump came in second, the only time in history that a sitting president has failed to win the sweepstakes.


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