For at least the next couple of months a typical day will feature more Americans dying from COVID-19 than died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
It therefore seems morbidly fitting for Jon Chait to remind us of Michael Anton’s infamous Flight 93 essay. Anton, who is what passes for a conservative intellectual these days, argued back in 2016 that while electing someone like Trump president featured enormous risks, the alternative was so horrifying that right-thinking Americans had no choice but to vote for him:
America’s decidedly non-Burkean conservatism is marked, perhaps even defined, by an existential terror that the next liberal step will bring down civilization. Whether that step is the New Deal, ending de jure apartheid, the Great Society, Obamacare, gay marriage, energy-efficient lightbulbs, or what have you, catastrophe forever looms. Anton’s most logical argument was to insist that if conservatives’ apocalyptic claims were true, they had to act upon them. Otherwise, “you’ve implicitly accepted that your supposed political philosophy doesn’t matter and that civilization will carry on just fine under leftist tenets.” (I would suggest that this evidence implies the onservative worldview is not true – but then again, I’m not a conservative, and Anton did not give that possibility much consideration.)
In a bizarre way, Trump’s very unfitness only served to underscore the imperative to support him. “Only in a corrupt republic, in corrupt times, could a Trump rise,” reasoned Anton, “It is therefore puzzling that those most horrified by Trump are the least willing to consider the possibility that the republic is dying.” If Trump may be terrible, it shows how terrible the country is, and therefore how necessary it is to support him.
What Anton’s “Flight 93 Election” piece left mainly unstated was any argument over how Trump would save the country in any permanent way, rather than merely delaying the inevitable. Four years later Anton was depicting the next Trump defeat as a prospect no less awful. Biden winning, he predicted, would either usher in “permanent one-party tyranny” or else “break the country.” Democrats, he warned before the election, were “openly talking about staging a coup.” The fact that it is Trump attempting something very much like a coup has not cause Anton to question his logic. It simply confirms it. Trump is merely doing to the Democrats what they would have done to him.
As singularly hysterical as it sounded four years ago, Anton’s reasoning has become the defining logic of this presidency in its waning days. Trump’s last project in office is to enlist as many Republicans as he can in his position that a Democratic election victory is inherently fraudulent, that no evidence is required to establish this and any means that could theoretically nullify it are acceptable. That they concluded this even of an election of a moderate Democrat hobbled by at best slender majorities simply shows their commitment to the principle. No Democratic presidency, not even old Joe Biden begging Joe Manchin or Mitch McConnell for crumbs, can be tolerated. It turns out every election is a Flight 93 election.
One thing that reading Rick Perlstein’s great four-book series on the rise of the modern Republican party drives home is that Trump and Trumpism are the natural, predictable, and perhaps even inevitable consequences of that process.
American movement conservatism, which since the mid-1960s has been gradually purifying the Republican party of any ideological deviation from its tenets, features certain core principles:
(1) Western civilization in general and America in particular is in severe and possibly terminal decline.
(2) This decline is a product of two types of contamination, ideological and genetic. The ideological component is made up of leftist thought, which is radically relativistic, rejecting all natural God-given social hierarchies, and is dedicated to replacing them with a kind of perverted egalitarian totalitarianism.
The genetic component is the contamination of white European blood by intermingling it with that of inferior races.
(3) The most important natural social hierarchies are these: Men should rule women, white people should rule non-whites, those with money should rule those without it, and Christianity should be the dominant form of belief in society.
This is what the radical right in America believes, and its tens of millions of adherents love Donald Trump because he openly supports all this. He’s a “fighter,” who isn’t ashamed to be “politically incorrect,” you see.
The big problem for the radical right is that, in a diverse, pluralistic modern society, patriarchy, white supremacy, plutocracy, and theocracy are all radically inconsistent with anything even vaguely resembling liberal democracy. We can see clearly now that the solution to this otherwise insuperable dilemma is to get rid of liberal democracy.
The question of the moment is actually the question Anton was asking way back in the fall of 2016: What is the radical right — which is now wholly institutionalized in the form of the Republican party — willing to actually do in the name of its purported beliefs?
The official position of the Trump administration is that the greatest political crime in the history of the nation — the outright theft of the presidency from its rightful occupant by a cabal of leftists who are always and everywhere hell-bent on destroying both America and western civilization (see supra) — is happening at this very moment.
This claim is now being supported explicitly by most Republican members of the House of Representatives, as well as a large majority of the Republican governments of the states carried by Trump in last month’s election.
Let me repeat this: it is now basically the official view of the Republican party that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from the man and the party who won it by an evil left wing conspiracy, that is conspiring successfully to destroy America and the American way of life.
What follows from this? Because, to the extent that this view is sincerely held, it practically requires those who hold it to launch a civil war against the evildoers, that if successful will result in either a final solution to the leftist question, or the formal breakup of the nation.
There is, in short, no living with these people. A liberal democracy can’t survive when one of its two major parties is a radical reactionary authoritarian ethno-nationalist party, that rejects the very idea of a pluralistic liberal democratic society as a matter of first principles. Either that party or that liberal democracy must be destroyed, and will be.