As I approach birthday 75 at the end of July, there is a darkness and panic abroad comparable to 1942, the year before my birth. Our nation was losing a desperate two ocean war that seemed hopeless until the Battle of Midway in June 1942. British and American forces “survived the initial hammer blows of 1940-41,” according to naval historian Craig Symonds, “and could now contemplate taking the initiative.” Bold, determined leadership was at the helm in Britain and the United States and, equally important, was supported by their electorates despite waves of horrible news. We have forgotten the years of desperation and hopelessness as Germany and Japan embarrassed our forces in one engagement after another. (1)
Looking at our nation today from the perspective of the values that won the Second World War, I see a constitutional system receiving numerous hammer blows. Resistance to Trumpism is loud and growing yet lacking organized leadership and strategy. Still, battles must be waged at our Southern border and in the Senate, or wherever Trumpian flashpoints occur. But the most strategic battles now taking place are in races for Congress and Senate. Victory over the forces of darkness is only possible if the Party of Trump loses majorities in the House and Senate in November.
Let us not deceive ourselves. Victory in November is a matter of survival to halt damage to our nation and provide a base for taking the initiative. A strategy for victory must be waged in Congress, in the courts, and in the presidential election of 2020 to overcome the forces threatening to overwhelm our constitutional democracy and world peace. The election of 2018 may be compared to the Battle of Midway which, Craig Symonds reminds us, was a defensive stand that made it possible for the Allies to go on the offensive against the Germans in North Africa and the Japanese in Guadalcanal. Symonds also reminds us of Churchill’s assessment in November 1942, recognizing a turning of the tide that was only “the end of the beginning.” (2)
Feeling overwhelmed by the daily barrage of disgusting public actions and statements by the party in power, I have turned for solace to reading histories by Craig Symonds and Jon Meacham. Symonds’ comprehensive World War II At Sea is an unemotional accounting of the superiority of German and Japanese naval forces and of the desperately low fortunes of British and American forces until late 1942. It is amazing the calming effect that is found in reading about a time of utter hopelessness which nevertheless turned into victory.
Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America is calming for a different reason. We are experiencing another round of an internal struggle that keeps recurring – and the “better angels” usually win. Trump’s rally speeches bring Hitler’s ranting tirades to mind, as ICE agents remind us of brownshirts wreaking havoc among political opponents. A more American example, based on Meacham’s account, is Senator Joseph McCarthy whose personality, character, and use of the media have been updated in the Trump presidency. (3)
According to Roy Cohn, the lawyer for McCarthy who was a mentor for Trump, the Senator’s downfall came when the public tired of his endless salesmanship and media overexposure. This leads to hope that I am not the only citizen tired of the ruthless daily media barrage – and that perhaps national Trump fatigue may save our political system. The political rally in Montana on July 5 may indicate the tide is about to turn, for the audience was notably smaller and those standing behind the President rolled their eyes or showed less enthusiasm for his train of verbal indiscretions.
The international system sponsored by the United States since the Second World War has promoted peace and economic development throughout the world. It has not been perfect, but it has drawn most nations into a system that can be improved to work for everyone.
I am disturbed to see, toward the end of my life, an American President setting out to destroy the American world order that has worked pretty well for most of my life. Reading histories by scholars like Symonds and Meacham calms me and builds determination to help turn the tide of Trumpism. Perhaps others in the Resistance can draw strength from these and other histories as we do our best to ensure that November elections begin restoring balance and stability to the world.
(1) Craig L. Symonds, World War II At Sea: A Global History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 268.
(3) Jon Meacham, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels (New York: Random House, 2018), 184-203.