As the forces of Donald Trump break ranks and scatter in the wake of Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th president of the United States, all seems lost.
The president’s strong record of accomplishment—including the roaring economy, until it met its COVID-19 doom; middle-class tax relief; and stabilizing the Middle East—is about to be overturned in an orgy of vengeful Democratic executive orders. Meanwhile, conservatives find themselves falsely tarred with “sedition” and unceremoniously booted off social-media platforms, while Trump and his family may be under investigation for years to come.
What looked early last year like a near-certain victory in November has turned into a rout, with the loss of the White House, the Senate, and the failure to recapture the House. But while Trump and his supporters are right to be disheartened by his defeat, perhaps they can take a lesson from history: in many a last stand, the losing side in the battle wins the war.
In Western history alone, we have seen this time and again. The Greeks at Thermopylae, led by the 300 Spartans, were crushed in 480 B.C. by the vastly numerically superior Achaemenid Persians under Xerxes, who had moved across the Hellespont with an eye to conquering Athens and the rest of the peninsula. And, in fact, after flanking Leonidas and his men, the Persians did sack Athens. But the Greeks rallied, first at sea at Salamis and then on land at Plataea, ending the invasion.
A century and a half later, Alexander the Great swept east from Macedonia and destroyed the Persian Empire.
Similarly, the cream of the Roman Republic’s armed forces—upwards of 50,000 legionaries, centurions, generals, and consuls—were annihilated by Hannibal at the battle of Cannae in 216 B.C. Doubly enveloped by the Carthaginian’s smaller, polyglot army, the Romans were literally crushed to death. And yet among the survivors was Publius Cornelius Scipio, scion of one of the noblest military families in Rome, who finally ran Hannibal to ground at the battle of Zama, in modern-day Tunisia, 14 years later. By 146 B.C., Carthage had been razed.
Closer to home, the “Texians” at the Alamo died to the last man in 1836, but their sacrifice won first independence and, later statehood, for Texas. Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman absorbed a horrific beating on the first day at Shiloh, having been taken completely by surprise by the Confederates on the morning of April 6, 1862; had the Union forces broken, it’s likely nobody ever would have heard of Grant or Sherman again, their having been either killed or cashiered.
When Grant was asked that evening if the Federals were going to retreat, Grant replied, “No! I propose to attack at daylight, and whip them.” And whip them he did, taking command of the Tennessee River, heading south to besiege Vicksburg, ultimately taking command of all the Union armies, and ending the war at Appomattox Court House three years later, almost to the day.
What can Trump and his army learn from these examples? The Spartans taught the world that if a battlefield loss was inevitable, a noble defeat was to be preferred to carping and cowardice.
“Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie,” reads the famous epitaph by the poet Simonides of Ceos.
At Shiloh, Grant—knowing that reinforcements were on the way—understood that the maintenance of discipline and order had been the key to survival, and would be the ticket to victory on the morrow.
This, and not anger, is what we need now. Yes, the provocations have been outrageous and relentless, the triumphalism insulting and annoying. Four years ago, Trump’s inauguration was met with widespread, violent protests and a media vow to see him impeached. Today, the capital is an armed camp—not in fear of leftist violence but of Trump supporters. “Just look at what happened on Jan. 6,” runs the current media narrative: a right-wing “violent insurrection” and “siege.” These people are capable of anything!
It’s all nonsense, of course, but nonsense that has already hardened into the media’s meta-narrative. So how do we turn it around?
We need to start with a realistic assessment of both the situation and our chances. Although the country is roughly split 50-50, the Democrats and the left have the upper hand at the moment; Trump’s approval rating throughout his presidency was always underwater.
His bitter refusal to accept his loss to Joe Biden went on past the point of possibility, while the phantasmagorical promises of a deus ex machina in the form of a Kraken, and the irresponsible mutterings of QAnon-crazed supporters (there is no QAnon), hoping for the military to intervene, did the country a great disservice, as did the disturbance at the Capitol.
Chaos never attends a successful last stand or even an organized retreat.
Yes, the statistical evidence of the votes in the swing states that all swung massively to Biden in the wee small hours on Nov. 4 is extremely persuasive, but the time to have stopped electoral fraud—which everybody knew was coming—was before the vote, not after.
The GOP should be gearing up right now to reform the election system, eliminate early and late voting, forbid mail-in ballots, and agitate for a return to one man, one vote, one time, on one day. Nothing else can prevent a repetition of the elections of 2018 and 2020.
If Trump harbors any notions about returning in 2024, he should take these lessons to heart. There is precedent for a comeback: Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, was elected in 1884, lost the 1888 election to the GOP’s Benjamin Harrison, then defeated Harrison in a rematch in 1892.
And if his legions, who justly take pride in his accomplishments and his legacy, intend to return to his standard, so should they—and doubly so. The GOP can now either flee the field of fight or hang on, weather the storm, regroup and, like Grant, counter-attack.
As Lord Byron wrote in “The Island,” his 1823 poem about the Mutiny on the Bounty, “’tis the cause makes all / degrades or hallows courage in its fall.” Time to see what the GOP is really made of.
Michael Walsh is the editor of The-Pipeline.org and the author of “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace” and “The Fiery Angel,” both published by Encounter Books. His latest book, “Last Stands,” a cultural study of military history from the Greeks to the Korean War, was recently published.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.