Opinion: What can we learn from Winston about resisting Trump?

Lesson for today from Churchill's war

WASHINGTON, D.C. - “Every strain of his infected and corroding fingers will be sponged and purged and, if need be, blasted from the surface of the earth.”

No, that is not a Tweet from a Democrat mocking Donald Trump and his famous, small hands. Winston Churchill spoke these words to the British Parliament about their enemy, Adolf Hitler.

I have been wallowing in Churchill since the New Year. I recommend it. I am now braced with a stiff upper lip and clarity of purpose for the Trump era, though I pray it is brief.

Churchill may seem an odd model for how a confused and divided America should resist Trumpism.  He was a creature of empire, too imperial, martial and politically incorrect for modern sensibilities. He is, as he might say, just the ticket, however.  Democrats and liberals especially should study the great Conservative Party leader.

A benevolent spirit beckoned me to re-read one of my favorite books, “The Last Lion: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932,” the first volume of William Manchester’s classic biography. Now I know why. Regardless of your take on Trump, treat yourself to the book’s brief, brilliant preamble, “Lion at Bay.” If you think Trump and his collaborators threaten core constitutional mandates and civic values, as I do, then read it twice.

Now, don’t get into a tizzy. I’m not comparing Trump to Hitler. I am, however, committed to total vigilance against what is already the most serious and dangerous anti-democratic, un-American political phenomenon in generations. Trumpism appears to be part of a global trend. The potential for disaster — Trump’s favorite word — is obvious. Appeasement would be reckless.

Churchill conjured the image of Hitler’s “infected and corroding fingers” after Dunkirk, a moment when “Churchillian rhetoric seemed Britain’s only shield against Nazi conquest,” in Manchester’s words.

No Republican or Democrat, no pundit or preacher has found the rhetoric or arguments to shield America from the Trump tsunami.

The Republican Party, nominally Trump’s own, has cowardly capitulated in ways that would make Neville Chamberlain, Churchill’s Nazi-appeasing Tory nemesis, proud. The Democrats are locked out of legislative power, unconfident and self-serving.

They are also depressed, like many #NeverTrumpers.  Churchill endured bouts of severe depression, too. He named it Black Dog. 

Churchill surmounted despair with constant action, not introspection. This also applied to his statesmanship. For example, during the appeasement before Britain entered WWII, “England’s decent civilized Establishment” saw Nazism “as the product of complex social and historical forces,” Manchester wrote. They pondered and dithered.

When Churchill came to fully recognize the dire threat, his response was “Manichean,” black and white; he would lead the army of good against evil, immediately, with all he had.

Sadly, the #NeverTrump resistance seems paralyzed by exasperation and outrage. Democrats seem content with politics as usual, which means getting re-elected.

No conventional weapons have wounded Trump yet, so the job now is to experiment and relentlessly resist.

Trump despises protesters, so his every public step should be smothered in peaceful protest. The Republicans won’t conduct proper hearings on crucial nominees and proposals, so the Democrats should hold their own.  #NeverTrump donors should fund investigative reporting, litigation, grassroots organizing, lobbying, political reform policy and new media on a scale that would make the Koch Brothers look like the Marx Brothers.

Break rules, like Trump did, but not principles.

Manchester quotes a moment of humility rare for the Last Lion: “It was the nation and the race dwelling all around the globe that had the lion’s heart; I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.”

Not for one second do I believe that an American lion will come forward and chase Trump back to his Tower. But I believe and hope that his political demise, if it doesn’t come from his own mouth, will come from “the nation.”

But the nation today is not just divided; it is fragmented tragically.  America’s exceptional pluralism has been the country’s exceptional strength. The early years of the 21st century have seen that sour. Like the Tower of Babel, too many groups don’t speak the same language, enjoy the same culture or even believe the same “facts.”

The Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton proved, cannot lead the mission of bonding willing but insular communities into anti-Trump nation. Something new must.

Churchill was a master of the English language. His words spoke to his nation.

It isn’t a great leader we need most; it is a common language.

My greatest worry for America is that will not happen.

But with Churchill as my inspiration, I shall soldier on, sending my words into the breach.

Citizens able to see through the darkness of Trump must take action even if it seems Quixotic.

What would Winston say?

We declare that we shall not flag or fail. We shall fight on Capitol Hill and we shall fight on the airwaves; we shall fight in the Facebook and in the Tweets, we shall fight on K Street and we shall fight on every Main Street from sea to shining sea; we shall never surrender.

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