WE WILL RETURN!” Does Donald Trump Think He’s Douglas MacArthur?

To Donald Trump, the ignominious death of Republicans’ plan to rid the country of healthcare was evidently not so much a defeat as the “Once upon a time” in an epochal tale of heroism — his own, of course.

Such is the inference left by an odd tweet pecked into cyberspace during a stubby tantrum after TrumpCare died in its crib. After announcing that Democrats were to blame for the failure of proposed legislation they were not invited to help craft (and bashing a few disloyal Republicans), Trump exclaimed, “We will return!”

This promise to return is a tad mystifying. Return means to go back to or come back to. After TrumpCare foundered, where did Trump go? And who is we? (I acknowledge the folly in trying to discern meaning in anything Donald “I have the best words” Trump says or writes, but we mustn’t let him off the hook when he misbehaves like this.)

My guess is that, amidst the misfiring neurons in the decaying grey mass under Trump’s Ronald McDonald hairdo, a feverish search was underway for some historical reference involving the conversion of defeat into victory. Somewhere along the way, Trump’s consciousness brushed against a memory of a grainy old documentary in which General Douglas MacArthur was lauded for keeping a defiant promise: “I shall return.” (Trump, of course, mangled the quote by replacing I shall with the more banal and confusing We will, but the intended reference seems clear enough.)

The allusion to MacArthur’s quote, however, is badly misplaced. The reason MacArthur said “I shall return” was that he had actually — literally — left. That quote comes from a speech MacArthur made during World War II shortly after having evacuated Corregidor Island because his post was surrounded by hostile Japanese forces.

That the heroism in that case inhered in returning does not mean that heroism always inheres in returning. It only inheres in returning if the events necessitating and precipitating the heroic act of returning involved leaving. But Trump’s mind doesn’t do nuance, so Trump doesn’t reason above or below the surface. A hero once promised to return after a defeat, Trump thought; ergo, so shall I.

Trump does have a flare for the dramatic, and one must concede that “We will return!” has more of a ring to it than “We will eventually cram some watered down Obamacare tweak through this recalcitrant Congress.” But it is also inapposite and overblown. Republican’s internecine fight over healthcare policy is no World War II, and Donald Trump is no Douglas MacArthur.