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Abusing Churchill

NEW YORK – A bronze bust of Winston Churchill, displayed in the White House since the 1960s, has been the object of a continuing right-wing canard in Washington. The story goes that when President Barack Obama moved in, he returned the bust to the British Embassy, supposedly signifying his hatred of Britain. In fact, Obama did no such thing. The bust still stands in the White House Residence, where it always did, except for a short time under President George W. Bush when it was being repaired.

But Obama might have done well to remove the bust. The cult of Churchill has not been an altogether beneficial one for the United States. Too many US presidents fancy themselves Churchill’s true heirs. Bush had a copy of Churchill’s bust, lent to him by Tony Blair, in the Oval Office. He liked to portray himself as a “war president,” a “decider,” and a “great leader,” like Churchill. He had a taste for battle dress. And he got his country into a very foolish war.

Donald Trump’s British crony, Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party, suggested that Trump should put the bronze bust back in the Oval Office. Trump thought this was a splendid idea.

Trump is the least appropriate figure to cast himself in Churchill’s mold. Insofar as he has a coherent position on anything, he is hostile to most of the things that Churchill stood for. His “America first” posture, standing aloof from Western allies, is exactly the kind of attitude against which Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt struggled in order to successfully resist Hitler’s Third Reich.