It’s the middle of June, 1940. Germany has just conquered all of Europe. The British have just withdrawn their army from the continent, in a miraculous evacuation that was the only redeeming note in a catastrophic defeat.￼￼
The army had left virtually all of its equipment – just about everything heavier than a rifle – in France; it would pretty much have to be re-equipped from scratch. ￼￼The Royal Navy had been badly bloodied. The Royal Air Force, likewise, leaving itself under strength to face the German Air Force in the upcoming campaign to try to bomb the UK either to the negotiating table or into a state ready to be invaded. ￼German U-boats were ravaging the merchant shipping on which Britain depended for not only all of its industrial raw materials and oil, but virtually all of its food.￼￼￼
Prime Minister Winston Churchill went on the radio and gave a speech after the last of the British Expeditionary Force arrived home.
What speech did he give?
He could’ve given a realistic speech – pointing out the sobering facts of the situation, and readying the British people for what was likely going to be at best a disheartening and economy-gutting armistice that left them sitting alone on their island, and at worst complete conquest in the face of an invasion that would certainly follow,￼ if the Navy and Air Force failed.￼￼
Churchill gave￼ a speech that was, if all you cared about was the facts on the ground, utterly unrealistic;￼ he told Britain, and the world, that the United Kingdom would fight to the last inch of ground, and if Britain fell the Commonwealth would carry on the fight forever, until Europe was free again.
It was a little like that poster of a mouse holding up a middle finger at a diving eagle; “the last great act of defiance“ was the caption.
And it was one of the greatest bits oratory in the history of the English language.
And it was completely unrealistic.
But it was leadership.￼
In 1987, Ronald Reagan had already proved he was the best president of my adult lifetime. His leadership had brought America back from the worst case of emotional depression it had ever suffered, and from an economic downturn every bit as nasty as 2008, but much more short-lived. And after running for office on a stridently anti-Communist message, he had￼ already sent the message that Soviet expansionism was off the agenda, and made it stick.￼
He was scheduled to give a speech at the Brandenburg Gate – the very symbol of divided Germany, and the high watermark of communism in the west.￼￼. It was a time when most political and academic “experts“ in the west expected the Soviet union – the “second world“ – was here to stay; well five years later everyone said the USSR was eventually going to collapse, nobody that anybody was paying attention to was saying it in 1987. They had the worlds largest military, the worlds largest nuclear arsenal, and they controlled a good chunk of Europe and Asia.￼￼
Reagan’s advisers urged him to take a moderate, conciliatory tone￼ toward the east Germans, the Soviets, their new (or at least newish) leader Mikhail Gorbachev, ￼and the wall he was standing in front of.
To give￼ a “realistic” speech.
￼ instead, he gave a speech that electrified the resistance in Eastern Europe, that galvanized support for democracy among the downtrodden, and did its part, along with much of the rest of Reagan’s policy, in the downfall of the Soviet union that had a thousand fathers by 1995, but was very nearly an orphan before Ronald Reagan was elected.￼
It wasn’t “realistic“ to the conventional wisdom of the day. It was leadership.￼
Donald Trump is no Winston Churchill, and he’s no Ronald Reagan.
This week, he said that he wants America to be “back to work“ by the Easter weekend.
Is this realistic? Maybe not. The experts say it’s unlikely. The legions of not very funny late night comics and ￼blue-checked droogs say the idea itself is risible.￼￼. And the whole business of declaring America open or closed is mostly the responsibility of the state governments, and the free market itself. I, myself, plan on working from home (although I am working, knock wood).￼
But America is a restless, endlessly creative, impatient nation, overstocked with people who are not going to sit on their hands and wait for things to get better; it’s a nation full of people who are descended from people who came from all over the world, uprooting everything they knew,￼ to make things better.
Trump could have echoed the words of the scientists and experts gathered around him. He could’ve lectured the nation like a hectoring schoolmarm, or like Barack Obama. But he’s got a stage full of experts, including his vice president, and more importantly 50 state governors, already doing exactly that.
Trump urging America to “go back to work“ Easter weekend is not the Dunkirk speech, and it’s not the Brandenburg gate speech.
It’s not eloquent, and it’s not going to go down in history.
But it’s leadership.￼.
The economy runs as much on psychology as it does on money, analysis and marketing. It’s trends depend as much on how people are feeling as objective fact. Don’t believe it? Have you checked the toilet paper aisle lately?
The nation’s psyche needs a boost. Trump is setting a tone; the United States is not going to be on sick leave forever. He’s telling a nation with cabin fever that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. When? Maybe Easter, maybe memorial day, but it’s coming.
It was brilliant. It wasn’t scientific. It may not of even been all that well advised.
But it’s what America wants to think, and wants to hear. We’re not stupid, we’ll hash out the details later.￼￼￼￼.