Have you ever noticed that twins have a pecking order? Even identical twins born minutes apart show a subtle seniority complex. Usually the first-born twin leads the second-born.
Makes you wonder how these Peterson twins will relate to each other, doesn’t it?
Because of the time change at the end of daylight saving time, the second-born twin is officially older than the first. That’ll be interesting to watch. And if you find yourself pondering the oddness of those twins’ birth order, you can easily find yourself pondering America’s little sister relationship to the UK.
Those of us born in the 20th or 21st centuries have an America First mentality. As Americans, we should. But I’m talking about the whole world. People around the world see America as the first among nations. We assume that most trends begin in the USA and transmit to the world because of our enormous influence on world politics and culture.
But when you think about, America is always following the lead our brothers and sisters in England. And, because of that, Donald Trump’s election is really the follow-up to Brexit.
Despite our birth order, I suspect Trump’s election will dominate Brexit as the turning point in history. Like twins born on opposite sides of the time-change divide, people will have to do the math to figure out which came first. To make that math easier, let’s just say little sister America always follows the UK’s lead.
Natural Law and Rights of Man
Everyone knows that the United States was the first nation launched under the banner of natural law. The first three paragraphs of our Declaration of Independence remain the greatest explanation of the rights of man ever written. Don’t you get chills just reading the words “When in the course of human events . . . ” or “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”
But natural law, inherent rights, and social contract theory originated in England, not in the American colonies. And many of their principles were already embedded in English common law before we rebelled and severed the ties that bound us to our ancestral siblings in the British Isles.
Even our revolt against the crown had British precedent. As my friend Michael Patrick Leahy wrote in his awesome book, Covenant of Liberty:
The first Tea Party movement was launched from a Tower of London prison cell in January 1647. It was there that John Lilburne, a former officer in the Parliamentary Army who had been imprisoned for publicly insulting the integrity of a member of the House of Lords, set to paper concepts of the natural rights of the individual, constitutionalism, and the sovereignty of the people that would resonate through the centuries.
Lilburne’s notes became The Cause of Regal Tyranny Discovered. That pamphlet became popular, underground reading in taverns and public houses. The ideas launched a movement called ‘The Levellers.’
And the Anglo tradition of the people asserting their rights against a stupid and mean oligarchy was born.
Though we see the American Revolution as a first, it was really the second-born twin. As was the US Constitution.
Most people consider the US Constitution the most important document ever written. The Constitution changed the world, launching revolutions in France and Spain. Even the UK eventually evolved into a constitutional democracy.
But the UK had already established something like constitutional government many years before. As described perfectly by Winston Churchill in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples:
On a Monday morning in June, between Staines and Windsor, the barons and Churchmen began to collect on the great meadow of Runnymede. An uneasy hush fell on them from time to time. Many had failed to keep their tryst; and the bold few who had come knew that the King would never forgive this humiliation. He would hunt them down when he could, and the laymen at least were staking their lives in the cause they served. They had arranged a little throne for the King and a tent. The handful of resolute men had drawn up, it seems, a short document on parchment. Their retainers and the groups and squadrons of horsemen in the sullen steel kept at some distance and well in the background. For was not armed rebellion against the Crown the supreme feudal crime? Then events followed rapidly. A small cavalcade appeared from the direction of Windsor. Gradually men made out the faces of the King, the Papal Legate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and several bishops. They dismounted without ceremony. Someone, probably the Archbishop, stated briefly the terms that were suggested. The King declared at once that he agreed. He said the details should be arranged immediately in his chancery. the original “Articles of the Barons” on which Magna Carta is based exist to-day in the British Museum. They were sealed in a quiet, short scene, which has become one of the most famous in our history, on June 15, 1215. Afterwards the King returned to Windsor. Four days later, probably, the Charter itself was probably engrossed. In future ages it was to be used as the foundation of principles and systems of government of which neither King John nor his nobles dreamed.
So the UK, the nation from which our nation was born and rebelled, led us to Constitutional government. What, then did the yanks lead?
The Great Wars
I shouldn’t have to write this, but so few young people know 20th century history. In the US, we know that our benevolent involvement in World Wars I and II made all the difference. But people educated just a few decades ago know that the UK bore the brunt of those wars long before the US jumped in.
The Great War
World War I began in the Balkans and quickly spread throughout Europe and its colonies. By secret treaty, Germany had given Austria-Hungary a blank check to wage war assured of German assistance. Meanwhile, the Germans had prepared an aggressive two-front strategy. At the start of the war, Germany attacked France through neutral Belgium. The UK and France fought together in the first Battle of Marne September 6-9, 1914. The US arrived three years later.
So, if WWI wasn’t an America First war, surely World War II was. It’s what every American thinks of when we think of war.
World War II
If you want to believe that the US is first to everything, I have more bad news. World War II was two years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. By then, the Brits had been under a deluge of German bombs for a year. Winston Churchill predicted the mayhem his island would endure when he spoke to the House of Commons after Paris fell:
What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the whole world may move forward into brod, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protacted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say “This was their finest hour.”
Okay, the Brits went first until World War II. But the great Cold War was an American original, right?
Thatcher Before Reagan
You probably know that Winston Churchill actually coined the phrase “Iron Curtain.” And you know that the Iron Curtain referred to the Soviet Empire that dominated Eastern Europe after World War II. And you probably remember that Soviet domination of Asia and South/Central America spread throughout the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s.
But then the US elected Ronald Reagan and everything went to hell in a handbasket for the Ruskies. Right?
Reagan’s great revolution was foreshadowed by, you guessed it, the United Kingdom.
The world in 1979 was teetering on the edge of the abyss. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan. President Jimmy Carter, hoping to win favor with “oppressed” people, let the Shah of Iran fall. Radical Islamic fundamentalists took over Tehran. Carter told Americans we have to learn to live with less, that America would never be great again. And many Americans believed Mr. Carter.
But one woman in England dismissed Carter’s gloomy predictions. Margaret Thatcher, an engineer-turned-politician, became the leader of the Tory party in the UK in 1975. The Tories were in the minority at the time. But on May 3, 1979, the Tories took over Parliament and Mrs. Thatcher became England’s first female Prime Minister. Known as the Iron Lady, Thatcher’s bold, conservative strides served as an example for the United States.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected President. Reagan had been mocked and ridiculed as a racist, a sexist, a warmonger, and an idiot. Reagan was compared to Hitler and Mussolini. Even the established leaders of the Republican Party refused to support the renegade cowboy movie actor.
But Reagan was an enigma to the press, to the party, and to the intelligentsia. He accumulated great wealth as an actor and investor, but his homespun optimism resonated mainly with downscale, working class Americans. Lifelong Democrats crossed party lines to vote for the Gipper, and Reagan beat the dour Jimmy Carter in an electoral and popular landslide. Reagan’s coattails ushered in a Republican Senate, giving Reagan a needed foothold in the legislature. And his popularity with working Americans led Democrats in the US House to give his agenda a chance. For the next eight years, Reagan and Thatcher worked like a team to implement conservative government reforms in the UK and US while turning back the tide of communism around the world.
And that brings us to President-elect Trump.
Brexit Before Trump
We’ll hear a lot about the Trump revolution that no one saw coming. But Brexit foreshadowed Trump the same way Thatcher foreshadowed Reagan and Magna Carta foreshadowed the Constitution.
America is like England’s twin. We were born after the United Kingdom but a quirk of history often places our achievements before theirs. Like the Peterson twins, we must remember our birth order if we’re to remember our heritage and see our future. We must remember our fine Christian history, as Churchill reminded Parliament in 1939. “Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire.”
When you look at the advance of radical Islam, it’s easy to see parallels between 1939 and 2016. The most popular boys’ name in the UK last year was Mohamed. Brexit was, in part, a desire for England to remain English, if not Christian. And Trump’s election in the United States signals our desire to remain American. Upon those elections depended the survival of Christian civilization, British and American life, and the continuity of our institutions.
The American Empire, an empire of ideas as opposed to nations, remains humanity’s finest hour. Trump’s election breathes new life into that empire of ideas. May it last for centuries to come.
But we should take time to remember and thank our brothers and sisters on that island for the courage, countenance, and creativity that leads us into the sunny uplands of our future.
God save the Queen.
God save the Donald.
Also published on Medium.