Something Mr. Trump said reminded me of a piece Winston Churchill wrote in 1947: The Dream. But he might not entirely relish the reminder. (And this is not, believe me, any attempt to compare Trump to Churchill.)
The Dream is a stylish short story about Churchill’s imaginary conversation with the ghost of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, who died in 1895. In a touching, rather sad conversation, the 73-year-old Winston relates to the 45-year-old Randolph all that has happened since 1895, without disclosing the roles he himself had played.
They discuss elections. Lord Randolph asks, “What is the franchise?”
“Universal,” his son replies. “Even the women have votes.”
“Good gracious!” Randolph exclaims. Winston replies: “They are a strong prop to the Tories [Conservatives]. It did not turn out as badly as I thought.”
“You don’t allow them in the House of Commons?” his father asks.
“Oh, yes. Some of them have even been Ministers. There are not many of them. They have found their level.”
Lady Thatcher, 1993
Fast-forward to 1993 when I presented a copy of The Dream to Margaret Thatcher, recently retired after serving as prime minister from 1979 to 1990.
She sent her thanks, admitting it had kept her up most of the night: “I read it in the early hours of this morning and am totally fascinated by the imagination of the story and how much it reveals of Winston the man and the son.”
Later I learned that when she got to the part about women in Parliament, she laughed uproariously, as she had a right to do, and dined out on Churchill’s line several times.
It is a sad commentary on our decline into rote-think and manufactured-offense that such a remark by a politician today would go viral across the Twitterverse—a sin, in modern convention, of genocidal magnitude. Of course, nobody would say anything like that today. Or would they?
Mr. Trump, 2016
Fast-forward again to presidential aspirant Donald Trump discussing his presumptive opponent: “I think the only card she has is the women’s card. She has nothing else going.” If she were a man, he added, “I don’t think she’d get 5% of the vote.”
Good grief. It is 2016 not 1947. You just don’t say such things anymore. People’s nerves are rubbed much rawer today than even in Lady Thatcher’s time.
His words were oddly incoherent. Did he mean, for example, “We don’t want a woman president”? Or did he mean, “Just not this woman”? After all, there is plenty of time, especially for voters under sixty, to elect a woman president.
Nobody knows what Mr. Trump really meant except Mr. Trump. But the times call for greater precision. He might have said, for example:
“I think the only card she has is the women’s card. She’s counting on something we all accept: a woman holding the office. Fair enough. But you also have to consider a person’s record and qualifications. And disregarding gender, those wouldn’t get 5% of the vote.”
As Churchill explained to the ghost of his father: “…politicians [are] more mealy-mouthed than in your day. And public meetings are much less fun. You can’t say the things you used to.” And that was in 1947!