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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56 responses to “A Momentous Choice Faces Us Today as in 1776”

  1. Agreed. And if we make the wrong choice, America will cease to exist as we know it. Any conservative who fails to vote is without excuse. Any RINO still opposing Trump is partner with the radicals trying to destroy our country. Pray. With all the corruption of the Democrats and the fake news media (but I repeat myself), plus all the voter fraud now taking place, we need a miracle. . . like 2016.

  2. Wonderfully written article. The author hits the point precisely. We need a second Trump term to save the nation. A Biden presidency would ruin our nation.

  3. The choice is clear. Liberty or tyranny. Much like Washington, Trump and his supporters face an army of hate and violence. May God grant us peace and mercy and may he give you and the president wisdom.

    • One might also say this election is about keeping our freedoms make choices.

      Biden’s plan to mandate masks while driving down the freeway alone in your vehicle is a classic example of how he will take “more control” over a vir(US) where the average age of fatalities is two years beyond our average life expectancy. Fail to comply and state police can pull you over, fine you and even arrest you.

      Sadly the know nothing Digital Zombies Big Tech monopolies have manipulated into voting for the candidate they own are intentionally being misguided away from such facts.

      • I’m one of those “brainless hooligans”. I have an earned PhD from a major state university. Most of my friends and relatives who are also Trump supporters are similarly well-educated.

  4. Get out and vote for President Trump… He has earned the support of everyone who believe in the American Ideal.

  5. We simply must vote straight Republican ballot to save our country for our children, grandchildern and ourselves. We need to keep Trump in office, maintain and gain in the Senate and take backt he House. Only with all 3 branches with Republican majorities will we be able to root out the corruption in DC and drain the swamp.
    POTUS Trump is the right man, at the right time to accomplish this- MAGA 2020 President Trump all the way!

    • The orange POS is going down. His cult can go rend their garments in their trailers.

  6. President Donald has been America’s skidmark and must be voted out for the sake of our freedom, our future and our childrens future.
    The pooseagrabbin loudmouth blowhard without a clue must go.

    • Yawn.

      Will you never tire of repeating the same content-free drivel?

      • Thanks for shining a light in the darkness Bob. The damage that the execrable Trump has done to our nation will be repaired and that process begins on Tuesday,

    • It is clear that either you do not have children or you do not care about them. There is no freedom with the progressive left. It is their way of thought and action or nothing. You cannot possibly think Biden can lead anyone anywhere, and as for Harris, well, she is too far left for over 2/3 of the country.

    • Trump threatens our freedom? What planet are you from?

      It’s the Democrats that want to restrict 1st Amendment rights, repeal the 2nd Amendment, restrict due process for the benefit of specific victim groups, pack the Supreme Court, eliminate the Electoral College, convert the Senate to proportional representation, open our borders and give illegal aliens voting rights.

      And there is a difference between freedom and liberty. With freedom alone, the is no responsibility. Liberty is freedom with responsibility. The constitution protects liberty not freedom.

    • Children? Biden & Kamala are Pro-Late Term Abortion. Kamala voted NO to the Born Alive Bill. That would serve to protect a child that was a botched abortion instead of allowing the Dr. to kill the baby or let it lie there & die. If you care about children this should be a one issue vote.

    • You, my friend, are not based in reality ….. you are 100 miles from reality.

  7. Wonder what Washington’s Crossing author himself is thinking about this particular 2020 application of contingency. I would be disappointed if he doesn’t read it the same way as this author. We have too many professors who love writing about 1776 but can’t connect the dots to 2020. It is a phenomenon hard to understand without you have read a book by the name of The Vision of the Anointed; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Thomas Sowell, and he told the truth, mainly.

  8. The national nightmare ends on Tuesday as the most lying, depraved and incompetent President in American history goes down in defeat.

    God Bless America!

  9. All those soldiers in the history of the US who fought and died for our liberties today would have died in vain (and their families who suffered for losing them) if the US becomes a totalitarian Socialist nation. That being the case, the Brits might as well have won the American Revolution; at the least the Monarchy would have eliminated this Communist filth, and tomorrow we would have rights under UK law (instead of no rights under woke law).

    • Not in vain; in a valent rearguard action that extended liberty by generations. Like the Fimbulwinter the death of liberty is preordained- but we can keep that destiny from arriving as long as we fight.

  10. Trump is wrong PA can’t save the American Dream. Under Trump manufacturing grew much faster in South Carolina. In fact Pa is losing manufacturing while South Carolina is gaining. Why. Pa has a tax system that doesn’t help business investment. Instead of PA will the steel workers unions Trump should use Southern States that have grown in manufacturing and other jobs much faster than PA like Alabama and South Carolina.

    • Manufacturing is dying in the U.S. due to the taxation structure of states and the labor costs here versus that of other countries. Even with shipping added, their costs beat U.S. based manufacturers! Unless we want to close our borders, which is not feasible in today’s world, America has lost this battle. Our economy is now based on high end jobs and the low end service industry. The later has been shattered by the shut downs and fear driven response to COVID-19. The failure to provide stimulus and the uselessness of government representatives who can’t even stop robo calls to our cell phones much real problems.

    • Vote for a Republican senator and Trump. If Kamala is to become president & most likely will pick Bernie Saunders or another left wing radical as her vice president. If Trump doesn’t win PA, it will be difficult for him to win the race. That is why someone stated PA can save the American Dream. He is the only one that can pull us back up like he did before. Every Democrat, Republican and Undecided needs to get out and vote for him. The leftists have taken over the mainstream media, have been censoring the news and Kamala & Biden no longer stand for the Democratic Party.

  11. American Revolution was born in the towns of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, in April of 1775. Crossing the line to open rebellion, citizens known as “Minute Men” attacked 700 British soldiers as they marched out of Boston.

    • We thought about this. His point—and I suppose we should have added a sentence or two to preempt comments such as yours—is that Philadelphia is where the Declaration of Independence was drafted and signed. But, yes, you have a fine point, too. Thanks for commenting.

  12. The Deep State has been waiting for the right moment to unleash the full force of its authoritarian inclinations on the country. It surprised me that it didn’t do this while Obama was president. Maybe they were overconfident or weren’t ready and needed something else that would provide them the right pretext to unleash it. Maybe the piling on of phony charges against the President was part of that, maybe the greater part. Going after people like Roger Stone (for nothing) might have been a precursor to the day when their righteous fury compels them to go after Trump in the same way. I don’t believe the President will lose the election, but if these people are as desperate as they appear to be they will do something outrageous. True patriots will have to rise up and defend the president and by defending him defend the Republic.

    • You’re not gonna rise up to defend anything, you’re going to sit there and type some things.

  13. Sure, but what about 2024? That’s the most important election. Until 2028 that is.

  14. This is the dumbest ting I’ve read. Dude isn’t even a good writer by conservative standards.

    • Hahahahahahaa! Hahaha! Hahahahahaha! “Ting”! Hahahahahahahha! Approved.

  15. It’s time America to decide. A professional Lifetime Politician or an incumbent disrupter of Deep State WDC ? The candidates could not be any more different. I do believe the Choice is clear and the Dems have exposed themselves for who they are not only during this election process but for the entire 4 years Trump has been President. Name one constructive program or initiative they have presented in 4 years ? Hating Trump is NOT a winning strategy….. They have been wrong on so many issues from building the wall, defunding the police, riots and looting inaction, healthcare, pandemic shutdown, sanctuary cities, pie in the sky Stimulus packages, Impeachment, threats, not confirming ACB, Green New Deal, even their selection of Joe Biden is a lie.

  16. Hahaha you fascist pieces of shit are in for a really rude awakening. Your racist, cowardly ideology is heading for a serious beat down. I hope you are afraid for the future. I hope you sit shaking in your cowardly conservative cores. We ARE coming for you.

    • Under most circumstances, I wouldn’t have approved this comment. Language and whatnot. But I’m actually happy to approve it. You know why, Mr. “We ARE coming for you” Libertyman? Because WE have your IP address. Not that we’re going to do anything with it. But still . . . nobody is “shaking.” Also, don’t be a dick. And thank me for approving your comment. You’re welcome.

  17. This has been an issue-free election. Zombie Biden has run against the virus and against the Devil Trump. Biden has no issues, no principles, no idea what year it is. Trump has pro-America themes to everything he does, and a long list of specific accomplishments, including the timely Middle East peace deals – that the MSM will not even mention.
    Do the people see through the MSM? That’s the only real question here. If we *did* discuss issues in an objective manner, Trump would win … well, maybe not California or New York, but certainly a bigger electoral victory than he had last time. And that just may happen.

    • “This has been an issue-free election. Zombie Biden has run against the virus and against the Devil Trump. Biden has no issues, no principles, no idea what year it is.”

  18. Things look grim for Trump supporters and those who believe in freedom. I just pray that somehow Trump manages another miracle and is re-elected. I live in California. I have seen over the years how the leftist crazies in the California democrat party have brought about a steep decline in the quality of life for average Americans. The 50 year long tidal wave of unwanted and unneeded unskilled foreign nationals has led to vast overcrowding in LA and other big metro areas. The schools have deteriorated into some of the worst performing in the nation. The hospitals and other public facilities are overwhelmed by the numbers of poor immigrants, mostly illegal aliens, who cannot pay their bills. Adjusted for the cost of living, the poverty rate in California is about 25%, the highest in the country.
    The new nonwhite majority in California vote for democrats, no matter their policies. They do so mostly because they receive little sweeteners like free school breakfasts and luncheos for their kids, discounts on their utility bills, other aids. And also, many of them want the open border policies of the leftists, so they can bring in their family members living abroad.
    In response to all this damage to quality of life, many native born Americans, Hispanics, Asians, whites and blacks, are leaving the state for places like Texas, Idaho, etc. But if Biden becomes president and does what he will be told to do by the leftist extremists, NO place will be safe from the wrong-headed policies of the left.

    • If Biden wins, it may be necessary for liberty-loving Patriots to do what George Washington and the Founder’s did; raise and field an army.

      • And then put the new army on boats and shove them off into the ocean blue..gone forever!

    • Don’t be down, brother. The Electoral College means President Trump wins reelection. He’s already won Iowa, a bellwether for the nation. If he wins Florida and PA, it’s game over. Even without PA, if he gets some combo of WI, MI, MN, OH, he probably still wins. And, if he does, the Republicans most likely retain control of the Senate, and most likely make inroads in the House, although it’s unlikely they retake the House.
      Divided government, but with a distinctly pro-freedom majority- I can live with that.

  19. I pray to the depth of my soul that, Donald Trump, a great man, who has done a miraculous amount for America will become the next President!

  20. How sad is it that so many of Mr. Kimball’s readers agree that there is a liberal “deep state” out there poised to bring about a totalitarian system of government in this country? I guess I would have to ask Mr. Kimball why? In the post-WWII period of American prosperity, we’ve had both Democrats and Republicans in the Oval Office. Why, under our current president, do so many Americans believe that the other side is unpatriotic and ready to deliver us to our adversaries? I’d suggest that we all read Anne Applebaum’s “Twilight of Democracy.” She is a well-respected historian with a conservative, center-right bent who just happens to know Mr. Kimball all too well. Mr. Trump’s rhetoric seeks to divide us; we all need to strive to unify and unite behind whoever wins in November. Express your views the responsible way, the American way—vote for your candidate of choice and accept the verdict of the American people, even if it differs from your own. E Pluribus Unum.

    • I’m not going to answer for Kimball, but I’m going to respond to your comment, which I think misunderstands Kimball’s piece. There is indisputably a “deep state”—the idea did not emerge from the American Right nor did it emerge after Donald Trump took office. It isn’t quite correct to call it “totalitarian,” but it is right to call it unaccountable. People in the permanent bureaucracy—another term for one part of the deep state—know that their livelihoods do not depend upon who occupies the Oval Office.

      Anne Applebaum is well-respected, but she is not “center-right.” She is, at best, center-left.

      Trump’s rhetoric, if you listen to it—really listen to it—is not divisive. Normal people know this.

      Thanks for reading.

  21. Moreover, Trump and Barr are going to have a sit down with Joe to let him him no all this Hunter stuff goes away when he simply concedes the election to Trump. You’ve got to have an ace in the hole.

  22. The difference between the Dems and the Trump Republicans can be encapsulated in a brief scene from a Laurel & Hardy feature from 1930, called Pardon Us. The boys are behind bars for trying to sell home-brewed beer to a policeman. It’s a tough jail, and for misbehaving the duo get punished with solitary confinement, the windowless cell of one situated adjacent to the other’s.
    After the cell doors are clanged shut, a despondent Ollie in pitch darkness exclaims when he gets out altogether, he’s going to go back to the farm. He then says that he “can see it now”, and goes thru what he fancifully imagines: rows and rows of sweet corn, buzzing honey bees in the clover, the smell of freshly mown hay.
    Stan, in his bleak, airless cell next door, then pipes up to ask Ollie if he can really see all that now. Ollie replies suddenly quite cheerily that he can so. To which Stan begins blubbering that he finds it funny that he “can’t see anything”.

    And that’s the choice between the Trump-Republican and the Dem. The Trump crowd have a vision and can see a way out. The (new) Dems cannot see a bright future, and cannot or even won’t imagine anything cheerful.
    With Trump at the helm, now we’re going places. Great places.

  23. I understand and agree with the author’s idea. But I certainly offended by the author’s wording on; “Chinese virus.” According to the World Health Organization, this disease is called “Coronavirus”. Thus, I think the author should be more aware of his wording in the article.

  24. “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”. God’s Hand is never more apparent than it is on the battlefield. Also, President Trump’s inspiring words to never ever give up resonate with most Americans. The Democrats and their allies have no idea what they’re facing with us, the no longer Silent Majority.

  25. This is the summary of it all. Well written.

  26. Thank you for this great essay Roger. Please pardon in advance that I park this comment to your colleague here but I couldn’t do so at ‘The New Criterion’ (subscriber) or at National Review; please pass on if inclined and thank you. – DQ

    An open letter to Jay Nordlinger:

    Jay, I just read your apologia over at The National Review as to why you left the Republican Party and consequent refusal to support Donald Trump for president (2nd term). You are a brilliant man, Jay, a good man and a good writer. I can’t level any higher compliments to a fellow writer.

    You list a number of verbal and public relations blunders Trump has committed over his first term. I won’t repeat them – you probably could have doubled the examples in each category. By way of contrast, you don’t bother to list the multitudinous verbal horrors and PR blunders of Trump’s opponent. That is odd.

    Your education and social connections prepared you for a lucrative career in Wall Street, law, Ivy League academia, or maybe to be a successful orchestra conductor or novelist. Instead, you gave your intellect and formidable gifts of perception, writing and loyalty to the Republican Party while an intrepid young man. You only demanded in return that the party reward your high regard throughout a lifetime of dedication. Well Jay, we’ve reached an impasse where only a cliché can enlighten us: Live by the party, die by the party. No, Trump probably does not measure up to our brilliant view of the founders. Who does? Yes, our founders wrote beautiful things and set up governing bodies that would keep us in peace and prosperity for centuries. But they were not devoid of the kind of fat-fingered, ham-fisted politicking that you deplore in President Trump and the current Republican Party. Exhibit A: Thomas Jefferson – he was with us lucidly into the 1820s — in his final journals justifying slavery on the flimsiest grounds of the latest “scientific” (how Jefferson loved science!) inquiries. In essence, Jefferson and his fellow brilliant founders gave the next generation the gift of the Civil War. Ah, but he was a brilliant, articulate man. The problem with brilliant people is that they think they are smart. The ground notes, the tones, that arise out of your column are at best, aesthetic distaste for Trump, at worst, self-pity.

    Confoundingly, you, of all writers, cannot feel or sense the tone of what Trump is saying and his voters are feeling; the harmonics, if you will. To continue with the musical analogies, you are much like those classical musicians who can play masterpieces yet have trouble keeping time; or those virtuosos who play so fast that the audience doesn’t notice that they do not execute trills very well. You grasp everything except the central theme: When Trump speaks he sounds like a free man.

    Trump is not really my kind of people, but so what? He probably hasn’t read Vergil and he might not know the difference between Thucydides or Herodotus. He probably could not pick Mahler out of a lineup but his voters grasp intuitively that he understands where we are at, intuitively. You are my kind of people, Jay, and it makes me sad that you have decided to let seriously crazy and destructive Democrats wash over our beautiful country.

    Sincerely, Dex Quire