With Xi Jinping journeying to President Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, it is worthwhile to question whether the world is witnessing the slow unfolding of one of those repetitive sequences of history. Is the Trump-Xi meeting a manifestation of the passing of the torch of leadership between two great powers, one ascending while the other works to make itself “great again”? What can history tell us about the cyclical nature of rising and falling powers and where the United States lies in its arc of life?
In December, 1941 Winston Churchill made a secret trip to Washington, DC to spend the holidays with Franklin Roosevelt. Coming so close after Japan’s attack upon Pearl Harbor and the United States’ formal entrance into World War II, the visit provided an opportunity for the two leaders to plan wartime strategy between the two Great Powers; one youthful and exuberant, the other perceptibly in decline. Churchill had already exhausted his monetary reserves purchasing equipment from the Americans during the previous two years and the effects of the Lend-Lease agreement were finally being felt, so it was not the beginning of the end for Great Britain, but it was, in Churchillian terms, the “end of the beginning” of Britain’s decline.
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