A Momentous Choice Faces Us Today as in 1776

As the historian David Hackett Fischer shows in Washington’s Crossing, his magisterial study of the opening months of the Revolutionary War, by Christmas 1776 things were looking exceedingly grim for the colonists. The British army, the mightiest in the world, had taken over three colonies, including New York, and were threatening Philadelphia, seat of the fledgling American government. 

Everyone knows now that, after several more years of brutal fighting, the story had a happy ending, for the colonists and for the world. But in the winter of 1776, the war was almost lost. There is a reason that Washington’s Crossing is part of a series about “Pivotal Moments in American History.” Had the chips fallen just a little differently, had George Washington made different choices about whom to attack, and when and how, the revolution would have been suppressed in its infancy. 

Fischer emphasizes the place of choice in the drama of history. His book, he says toward the end, “is mainly about contingency, in the sense of people making choices, and choices making a difference in the world.” 

It is a pregnant detail that Donald Trump kicked off the first of his four rallies in Pennsylvania on Saturday with a stop at the site of Washington’s headquarters, now private property, for his fateful crossing of the Delaware River. It was, in comparison with most of Trump’s rallies, a small and subdued affair. (Though with about 500 people attending, it was huge by Joe Biden’s standards.) 

The president spoke for about 30 minutes, short for him though, again, garrulous by the standard Biden has set for himself. The talk was not his usual off-the-cuff, rev-up-the-crowd spiel but a thoughtful summary of what is at stake in this election. Like Washington’s crossing in 1776, the presidency of Donald Trump is about contingency, about choices. In 2016, the American people voted to elect Donald Trump president of the United States. That choice tore the tattered bandage off the façade of the deep state. It revealed a suppurating wound beneath, a septic disaster the reality of which Americans had somehow concealed from themselves for decades. 

Over the last three-and-a-half years, President Trump has done much to cleanse that wound and help heal the organs beneath. But the deep state is in love with its debility, intoxicated by the poison that, so far, has hurt mostly the body politic, not its self-appointed managers. 

In just a few days, the nation will make another choice. It is this: either to continue the convalescence and resuscitation that Donald Trump began even before his inauguration in January 2017, or to reapply the cosmetic dressing of lies that will allow the sickness of anti-American hatred to fester unchecked. 

Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states where this election is likely to be decided. I believe that the president is correct that Pennsylvania, the state where the American Revolution was born, will also be the state that, come Tuesday, “will save the American dream.”

But we should be under no illusions about the momentousness of the choice that faces the country, nor about the determination of the forces arrayed against the preservation of that dream. 

Even now, nearly four years into President Trump’s sanitizing tenure, the fetid tentacles of the deep state exert a poisonous grip on many of the institutions of our government and its handmaidens in the media and the culture at large. 

For the state of Pennsylvania, the choice is particularly stark. During his 47 years in government, Joe Biden has been a consistent cheerleader for policies that hurt energy- and manufacturing-rich states like Pennsylvania. His globalist orientation shipped American jobs, including many in the American steel industry, overseas. His capture by the radical environmental lobby, foreign as well as domestic, has led him to embrace fantasy energy alternatives like windmills and to deprecate coal and fracking, technologies that, in the space of a few short years under Trump, made America energy independent for the first time in decades. 

It is easy to forget how strange a contingency the election of Donald Trump was in 2016. He was the consummate outsider. Although rich, he didn’t have the same pedigree as most professional politicians. He didn’t talk like them. He didn’t act like them. Above all, he didn’t respond to criticisms and attacks as they did. Instead of calculating the odds, trimming his sails, going along to get along, he fought. 

The establishment hated him for it. They still do. I believe that they are still not quite certain how someone like Trump slipped through their radar and, having done so, how he managed to persevere for nearly four years. How many attempts have been made to take him out? Not one has succeeded, but Trump is right—if the contingency goes against him this time, the deep state will do everything in its considerable power to make sure that another interloper like Trump is impossible. 

“From day one,” he noted, “Washington insiders have been trying to stop me because they do not own me and they do not control me. If these corrupt forces succeed in electing Joe Biden, Washington will see to it that another outsider never becomes president again. They will take back control, and they will never give it up.” I think that is a correct assessment. 

I also think that the president is correct that the far-left forces that control Joe Biden are determined to keep America locked down and cowering before the Chinese virus—a respiratory ailment from which some 99.7 percent recover—because what they are primarily interested in is not health, but power and control. 

Joe Biden was tapped to be his party’s nominee not because of his record or his talents but because of his pliability. He has, as the president noted, “surrendered his party to the radicals, socialists and left-wing extremists.” And note well: “Today’s Left tolerates no challenge and brooks no dissent. If you disagree with them, they try to humiliate you, smear you, cancel you.” 

This is the bottom line: 

A vote for Joe Biden is a vote to give this radical movement absolute power and unchecked control over every aspect of American life. Joe Biden and the socialist Left are absolutely convinced of their own moral superiority, while their agenda devastates the poor and the American middle class. They support crippling shutdowns that crush blue collar jobs, while they can work at home. They close down schools for your children, while they hire private tutors for their children. They ban you from going to church, while they let left-wing extremists burn down the church. They lecture you on the need for open borders that flood your cities with illegal drugs and gangs while they live in walled-off compounds. They want to defund your police, and confiscate your guns, while they themselves are protected with armed guards. 

In 1776, the choices made by George Washington and other American patriots put the colonists on the road to victory. It was a long and difficult road, but the rewards—beginning with weighty perquisites of self-government—were rich. 

America faces a kindred choice on Tuesday. You may or may not approve of Donald Trump’s style. But the substance of his leadership has yielded the most astonishingly successful first term in decades, maybe ever. 

My point is simply Fischer’s. What we are facing is a matter of “contingency, in the sense of people making choices, and choices making a difference in the world.” What happens in this election will make an outsized difference in the world. We are surrounded by so much cacophonous static that it is sometimes difficult to keep those simple realities in focus. May the president’s calm review of the facts be a guide for the perplexed. 

About Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press), The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee).

Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

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