Michael Anton was called one of the "deep thinkers," or "intellectuals for Trump" by The New Yorker. His famous treatise, "The Flight 93 Election," condemning the old way of not doing conservative policies, written under the pen name Publius Decius Mus, is now mandatory reading for those attempting to keep score on the features and benefits of Trumpism.
His central premise was simple: vote for Hillary, and conservatism dies forever; vote for Trump, you get what you get.
You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees.
Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.
If nothing else, this statement is a conundrum. It is both objectively true and at the same time impossible to prove. Since Hillary is not president (thank God), we can't know how bad it would be.
But the main objection I have to this line of thinking is the presumption that if conservatives really believed in the things that define most strains of conservatism, we would be okay with the situation we are now in.
If conservatives are right about the importance of virtue, morality, religious faith, stability, character and so on in the individual; if they are right about sexual morality or what came to be termed “family values”; if they are right about the importance of education to inculcate good character and to teach the fundamentals that have defined knowledge in the West for millennia; if they are right about societal norms and public order; if they are right about the centrality of initiative, enterprise, industry, and thrift to a sound economy and a healthy society; if they are right about the soul-sapping effects of paternalistic Big Government and its cannibalization of civil society and religious institutions; if they are right about the necessity of a strong defense and prudent statesmanship in the international sphere—if they are right about the importance of all this to national health and even survival, then they must believe—mustn’t they?—that we are headed off a cliff.
Let's review the last 15 months.
We have sacrificed virtue, morality, religious faith, stability, character and so on in the individual, in the person of Donald Trump. We have made no strides in promoting sexual morality or "family values." Our federal government continues to grow, and fund Planned Parenthood, the enemy of "family" in every sense. In fact, Republicans handed over the $30 million that Planned Parenthood is about to spend against them in 2018.
We have sacrificed the centrality of initiative, enterprise, industry and thrift to a sound economy and a healthy society. We've replaced it with protective tariffs on inefficient industries, attacks on enterprises the president doesn't like, more national debt and a fractured society.
We've gone all-in with the soul-sapping effects of paternalistic Big Government and its cannibalization of civil society and religious institutions. Granted, Trump's administration has made some strides in rolling back the administrative state, and the federal government's direct attacks on religious liberty. But we haven't made much of a dent in liberal society's power to force their beliefs down our throats. At the state level, and in business, educational institutions, and the media, we've seen them flex their muscles.
About the only place I can say we've had a better outcome is in international relations. People are just too scared of what Trump might say or do to deal with him, and therefore he's getting his way in many areas. That's not a bad thing, but it's not sustainable either.
To say that a Hillary presidency would have been "pedal to the metal" on progressive values is true, but if the same electorate that put Trump in office wasn't rounded up in concentration camps, then I'd say those same people would be leading the resistance.
And that's the problem. We didn't need a savior to take the controls in 2016. We needed to recognize that conservatives had become the resistance and acted accordingly. Instead, we treated 2016 like the Flight 93 election, and handed over the "resistance" label to the very people still in control of the jet. They're the pilots claiming to be the hijackers, and we're sitting in the cabin with Bob the Autopilot flying the plane. Everyone with a parachute is jumping out, and the outcome Anton predicted ("you may die anyway") is seemingly unavoidable.
Of course, none of that is really true. The Flight 93 election should not have been about power, or ends justifying means. It was always about means, because conservatism is about means. Doing things right doesn't always lead to the perfect ends, but it does lead to the best we can do.
We are finding out the hard way that we could do better, and worse, that we were hoodwinked. We acted to save conservatism, but really all we did was hand it over to different hijackers. Since doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is said to be the definition of insanity, let's not do this again.
After 2018, we need to do better.