The reaction to Michael Anton’s elevation to the National Security Council confirms that he is a man of penetrating insight. Anton, of course, was for some time better known as “Publius Decius Mus,” writing at the Journal of American Greatness, the Claremont Review of Books, and, of course, American Greatness. In his famous piece, “The Flight 93 Election,” he wrote that “for two generations at least, the Left has been calling everyone to their right Nazis. This trend has accelerated exponentially in the last few years.” Were he to then be appointed to a significant national office in the Trump Administration, yet not be labeled a Nazi, it might have proven him less the intellectual historian than his works as Decius led people to believe.
Yet if Anton himself is unflustered by this bout of name-calling, I must admit my own attitude is less sanguine. The inappropriate use of terms like “authoritarian” and “racially tinged” has an obvious, chilling effect on free speech. And as a rabbi with a more-than-casual familiarity with anti-semitism, I find the use of Judenhass as a political weapon to be not merely morally contemptible, but dangerous.
Let me be clear: I don’t know Michael Anton. I have no idea whether he in fact harbors any of the repugnant attitudes attributed to him in recent columns and op-eds. But the writers of these pieces presume to judge him based upon his written works, and I have read the same texts. So what I can say is that it appears no more likely that he is an authoritarian, racist or closet anti-semite than any of 243 million other American adults.
We must analyze, then, the basis upon which New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait called Anton “America’s Leading Authoritarian Intellectual,” and then repeatedly accused him of racism. The accusation of authoritarianism against Anton is entirely vacuous, and in fact hypocritical. In his essay, Anton expressed his concern that four years under Hillary Clinton would lead to “vindictive persecution against resistance and dissent”—in other words, authoritarianism. His concern was a recurrence of IRS persecution of conservative charities, and continued financial penalties leveled against private business-owners whose personal moral beliefs required that they decline to assist in celebrating “alternative marriages” and the like.
Chait, who previously claimed that “preventing gay people from marrying each other serves no coherent purpose” (never mind that the majority of Americans until very recently felt otherwise), mocked those sincere bakers and florists as “a handful of oddball characters,” implying that their civil and religious rights were of no concern. So which of these two writers is pro-authoritarianism, and which is pro-limited government?
Yet authoritarianism is hardly the only ugly trait which Chait projects onto Anton. He pounces upon the following sentence from “The Flight 93 Election”: “The ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle.”
This claim is civil, cogent, and quite possibly true. Most of the world’s poor, undeveloped countries languish under authoritarian governments which actively suppress individual freedoms and teach ideologies radically opposed to Western notions of human rights and civil liberties.
What is certain about Anton’s argument is that it is entirely race-blind. Moldova, Cuba, and Argentina are but three examples of developing countries with struggling (or non-existent) democratic rule and dubious personal freedoms, that are also majority-caucasian. So it is difficult to determine on what basis Chait makes such a repugnant statement as “to Anton, the rising share of the nonwhite population is a foreign invasion”—if not to project his own sensitivity to color and race upon others.
Before you accuse me of overreacting, note that Chait does this twice. He goes on to assert that “[r]ace is integral to Anton’s sense of his own persecution.” His “evidence” is the very point of Anton’s I quoted earlier: that the Left has been using false charges of “Nazi” or “fascist” against the Right since World War II. “The Left was calling us Nazis long before any pro-Trumpers tweeted Holocaust denial memes,” writes Anton. According to Chait, this means that Anton considers “enthusiasm for Trump among avowed white supremacists as more reason to support Trump.” In reality, Anton calls out right-wing racists who “really do seem to merit—and even relish—the [Nazi] label” and says that “alt-right pocket Nazis are manna from heaven for the Left.”
Ludicrous Assertions, Left and Right
Neither is this sort of outrage limited to Chait. Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, tweeted a comparison of Anton to Carl Schmitt, a German political theorist and head of the Union of Nazi Jurists. Not only did Schmitt participate in the burning of Jewish books, but he even called for a purge of any works “influenced by Jewish ideas” and the marking of works produced by Jewish scientists. That even a conservative (and Jew) like Kristol would even contemplate such an odious comparison merely further supports Anton’s contention that the very nature of American democracy is threatened by the current environment.
Not to be outdone, Jessica Schulberg at the Huffington Post ludicrously asserted that Anton “defended the World War II-era America First Committee,” and thus encourages anti-Semitism. On the contrary, Anton said that although he believes the characterization of the America First Committee is unfair, “this is not the place to explain or defend 1940-41’s (unfairly maligned) America First Committee.” He is correct, because that “anti-interventionist” (read: isolationist) organization and its views are irrelevant to Donald Trump’s response to “globalist” policies that placed open trade and open borders ahead of American jobs, economic interests, and security. Schulberg disgracefully attempts to tie Anton to the very organization he clearly dissociates from Trump policies, and further contends that the accusations of anti-Semitism against that organization were proven fact.
If Schulberg is looking for a “news site known for promoting… anti-Semitic views,” instead of taking aim at Breitbart, where she will not find this to be true, she might search closer to home. Just four years ago, the HuffPo’s Douglas Anthony Cooper penned a four-part series in which he blasted the anti-semitic comments appearing in that journal, and asserted that “If you consider Israel to have committed anything that looks remotely like genocide, you are embracing an ignorance that is inseparable from the most vulgar forms of prejudice.” He correctly tied the accusation of genocide to hateful (and murderous) anti-semitic blood libels.
How sad a difference a few short years make. Just a few months ago, the Huffington Post published a piece that barely sidestepped use of the word “genocide” while playing upon a series of other anti-semitic tropes with ancient and deadly roots, casting Jews as “Jewish supremacists” who steal everything (including even their own historic homeland) from others. While an exhaustive examination of the hateful half-truths, distortions and outright lies would take pages, one example clearly reveals the article’s true intent: Hamze portrays the “blockade” of Gaza as unnecessary, capricious, and cruel. In fact, Israel keeps abundant food and supplies flowing—even while the Hamas terrorist organization routinely misuses concrete to build tunnels and attempts to import with which to barbarically murder Israeli Jews. As long as Gaza remains under the iron grip of Hamas, “ending the blockade” would give Gazans the same food, the same medical supplies, and better access to murder weapons.
A journal that publishes propaganda intended to put innocent Jewish lives at risk is in no position to call anyone else anti-semitic. Yet this is characteristic of the whole enterprise, exactly as Anton wrote originally. The Left is entirely blind to the authoritarians and anti-semites in their midst, yet so quick to slander others instead of engaging in a rational debate over ideas. And what is the attempt to silence the opposition, if not an authoritarian trait?