Among the more memorable of Winston Churchill’s speeches during World War II was one he delivered on 19 November 1942. At this point in the conflict, the Axis Powers had reached the furthest extent of their conquests, which included all of continental Europe as far east as the banks of the Volga, and North Africa as far as the Egyptian border. Add to this the Japanese conquests in the Pacific theater, and the speed and breadth of the spread of 20th century fascism was truly historic.
Even so, Allied successes at El Alamein, Egypt (where British forces repelled the advancing army of General Rommel) and Stalingrad (where the Russian defeat of a German relief effort would lead to the surrender of General Paulus’ entire army) provided a turning point. The first major reverses suffered by the Germans since the outbreak of the war, these two results also represented the first hard evidence justifying Churchill’s unshakable belief in ultimate victory. Under the circumstances, the pugnacious Prime Minister’s tone was muted yet resolute:
“This is not the end,” he uttered gravely. “It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Fast forward to America’s current battle against the forces of 21st century fascism, in which, during the July 2018 meeting in Helsinki, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin attempted to pass themselves off as duly-elected public officials interested in something other than mutual self-aggrandizement and the exploitation of their positions of power. In truth, the episode was reminiscent of nothing so much as a Steve Martin/Dan Akroyd wild-and-crazy-guys routine, except that, unlike the comedians, the real-life pretenders would prove as unfunny as they were incompetent.
Now, despite Trump’s unambiguous defeat in the election of 2020, the MAGA movement, aided by various innovations in electronic communication, continues to spread its seditious conspiracy theories with all the subtlety of a Panzer battalion racing toward Dunkirk, and it remains for us to rid ourselves of its malignant influence on our politics.
Indeed, we are likely only at the beginning of an ongoing battle against the dead-ender MAGA crowd, which has shown few signs of being influenced by something as trivial as Reason, let alone legal arguments. Witness the latest Congressional hearing’s powerful reminder of the moment when thousands of Trump adherents crowded the Capitol grounds chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A!”—as if their obscene antics (which included defecating in the halls of Congress) had anything whatever to do with patriotism.
For Trump and his partner in global tyranny, the conspiratorial smugness of their Helsinki charade has faded. At long last the rule of law appears to be catching up with Trump in the stolen documents case, yet his veiled threats of nuclear espionage, together with Putin’s reaction to his bungling of the war in Ukraine, suggest that both are prepared to play the mutually-assured-destruction card. In the words of Karl Marx, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce;” with due respect to the untold suffering of former times, the present farcical villains have proven every bit as dangerous as the tragic ones.
Meanwhile, whatever results the pending mid-term elections produce, all defenders of democracy would do well to adopt the cautious optimism of Churchill’s famous pronouncement. While recent events tend to augur well for the fall of today’s would-be fascist leaders and their ill-informed dupes, the need to secure American democracy against all enemies, foreign and domestic, is and will remain a pressing concern.
What we have witnessed in the long train of lies and abuses leading up to our present situation is a concerted attack on the principles of pluralism that underpin all truly democratic societies. As the Trump era comes to its ignominious end, much work will be necessary to restore a belief in the things that have long made the United States a beacon of hope throughout the world: the multi-national, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-gender impulses and traditions of a movement far greater than could ever be expressed in a banal campaign slogan emblazoned on a baseball cap.