The office makes the man, as the saying goes. Think of Harry Truman, a back-bench senator who was unexpectedly elevated to the Oval Office in 1945. Or Donald Trump, as described in a new book with the grandiloquent title “Trump and Churchill: Defenders of Western Civilization,” which purports to show how an untested, bombastic real estate speculator grew into greatness.
And grew not just in the metaphorical sense. The Simon & Schuster website page describes one of the book’s two heroes as “a 6’4”, brash, Twitter happy, political neophyte, billionaire entrepreneur.” That would be Trump, of course, not the other guy, the “eloquent, eternally quotable wordsmith, pudgy politician of fifty years, wealthy aristocrat, war-time Prime Minister of England.” But at 6 feet 4, Trump appears to have grown a full inch since his last reported physical — or 2 full inches from the height recorded in 2012 on his driver’s license.
Oddly, in the book itself, Trump’s height is given, slightly more credibly, as 6 feet 3. Photographs of him alongside 6-foot-1 Barack Obama and 6-foot-3 Alex Rodriguez suggest that is also a generous description. But of course the real interest of the author, the conservative commentator Nick Adams, is Trump’s stature as a world leader, someone worthy of comparison to one of the greatest, albeit shortest, statesmen and orators of the last century. “There are many similarities and differences between the men,” Adams concedes, but proceeds to argue that Trump, in “largely going alone at the goal of saving Western civilization,” will be remembered as the greater of the two.
Here, the facts require somewhat more than an inch or two of stretching. Even Newt Gingrich, who was enlisted to write the foreword, seems to have had trouble treating the premise with a straight face, writing that “if Churchill is obvious as a champion of Western civilization, the case for President Donald Trump is a little more challenging,” before conceding that “in the end I think it holds up.” The book pays the expected tribute to Winston Churchill’s prescience about Adolf Hitler. It’s a little trickier to make the same claim for Trump without taking into account his inept handling of the pandemic, which has cost more than 100,000 lives in the United States, more than twice the estimated number of British civilians killed in the Blitz. You could chalk up the author’s neglect of that subject to unfortunate timing; the pandemic moved much faster than the publishing industry typically does. But Adams’s bland assertion that “it is actually Trump’s prescience that scares liberals” seems to call out for additional evidence.
The comparison to Churchill implies a grand historical sweep to Adams’s argument, evoking Trump standing on the ramparts against a world-threatening menace on the order of Nazi Germany. It might have been easier to make this case if Trump, like Churchill, had actually served his country in uniform, or if he had followed Churchill’s example of calling his countrymen to sacrifice rather than offering soothing promises that a return to normalcy was just around the corner. The prime minister who took office in the darkest days of World War II famously told Parliament: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Trump is likely to be remembered for promising, early in the pandemic, that the 15 cases then incubating among Americans would soon go to zero.
In his rather cursory treatment of Trump on the world stage, Adams is careful to overlook the president’s eagerness to court the approval of America’s enemies, even while making the opposite point about Churchill, who saw through Joseph Stalin’s superficial bonhomie to warn the world of the coming Cold War. He includes an anodyne remark by Trump about his dealings with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un (“my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one”), but leaves out the part about how after an exchange of letters Trump gushed that “we fell in love.” Churchill’s place in history was secured by his rejection of a policy of appeasement toward Hitler; Trump will be remembered as the president who refused to confront Vladimir Putin about Russia’s campaign of disruption against American democracy, docilely accepting Putin’s denials over the findings of American intelligence. This surely will rank as one of the very few books about Trump’s presidency in which the name “Putin” does not appear.
In fact, the enemies that Adams credits Trump with facing down seem to exist mostly in Trump’s own imagination, as projected onto his Twitter feed: “deep state” operatives, “triggered college students,” transgender bathrooms and, the perpetual bogeymen of conservatives, activist judges. And, of course, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who together merit 56 mentions in the text. However much you might loathe “liberals” (mentioned, sneeringly, 44 times), it’s hard to class them with the Third Reich as an existential threat to Western civilization.
Trump, unsurprisingly, gave the book his imprimatur in the form of a tweet, congratulating Adams and adding that it was “certainly a great honor to be compared, in any way, to Winston Churchill.” Humility is not a quality that has often been associated with Trump, except by Adams, who pays tribute to his “incredibly humble” acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in 2016. In any case, Churchill is by no means the greatest of the world-historical figures with whom Trump has been compared by his admirers and, notably, by himself: a list that includes Abraham Lincoln, the Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great, and, well, God.
“Google ‘Donald Trump’ and one of the first photos you are likely to see is of him hugging the American flag,” Adams writes, presumably with this memorable scene in mind:
Who was the greater patriot? Was Winston Churchill ever filmed mouthing “I love you, baby” to the Union Jack? The question answers itself. Western civilization has been saved again.
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