How Michael Anton’s ‘Flight 93 Election’ essay helped define the Trump era

By | December 12, 2020

Jonathan Chait writes:

In September 2016, Michael Anton wrote an essay for the right-wing Claremont Institute, “The Flight 93 Election,” making the case for Donald Trump’s election as a necessary gamble to stave off the destruction of conservatism. Anton then did a stint in Trump’s National Security Council, and last night was rewarded by the president with a posting to the National Board for Education Sciences. It was a fitting coda for Trump to single out the figure who most perfectly captured the spirit that right-wing intellectuals brought to the era.

Anton’s case was notable, first, for its novelty. Before Trump won, “Never Trumpers” constituted the dominant strain of right-wing intellectual sentiment. Here was a prestigious organ of the intellectual right making a positive case for a nominee that the movement had dismissed as a clown and a surefire loser. Anton memorably seized the imagination of his audience by likening the choice to that faced by the passengers of Flight 93, who wrested control of the plane from Al Qaeda hijackers on 9/11. Allowing Hillary Clinton to win would mean certain death for conservatism, whereas electing Trump was risky — “you may die anyway” — but clearly preferable to certain death.

Anton’s argument was filled with dramatic rhetorical flourishes like this, and what little of it that was not non-falsifiable was demonstrably false. (According to Anton, “liberals took over criminal justice in the mid-’60s,” Democrats “treat open borders as the ‘absolute value,’” and Barack Obama engaged in “flagrant use of the IRS to torment political opponents.”)

Despite (or perhaps because of) these flaws, Anton articulated the bedrock principle that has driven the right the last four years: The Democratic Party is so terrifying and all-powerful that literally any measures, however unwise, are justifiable to block them from winning an election. That is the power of Anton’s chosen analogy, which urges his audience to overlook all of Trump’s complete unfitness to handle the job (“You — or the leader of your party — may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane,” he concedes) on the grounds that the alternative means imminent national death. [Continue reading…]

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