President Donald Trump’s responses to the violence in Charlottesville have garnered the typical reactions from all the usual suspects in the conservative sphere of influence.
Luminaries such as David French, Erick Erickson, and Ben Shapiro took the field against Trump, trying to prove the Leftist narrative that he sympathizes with white supremacists. One example of the kind of “logic” contained in these pieces should suffice.
In his National Review column, French called for the firing not of Terry McAuliffe, the rabid partisan governor of Virginia, nor of Michael Signer, the feckless Charlottesville mayor who failed to keep order while radicals clashed in the streets. Instead, French argued that Steve Bannon, President Trump’s chief strategist, should be sacrificed to the liberal gods of tolerance and diversity.
Well, French got his wish. Depending on who you believe, Bannon was either fired or resigned from his position in the White House. Elite conservatives, never missing a moment to make complete fools of themselves, have taken to Twitter to register their glee over the news.
John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary, offered his usual principled and moderate take:
Bannon did what he came to do: He made Trump side with Nazis. His job is done.
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) August 18, 2017
Podhoretz’s calumny is typical among this lot. They regularly talk a good game about principles and virtue, but their words and actions constantly devolve to the lowest common denominator. Why would Bannon, whom Podhoretz equates with Nazis, call white supremacists and their fellow travelers a “fringe element” of “clowns” and “losers” who society must “crush” if Podhoretz had even the smallest point? Podhoretz, no doubt, will still hear dog whistles to Richard Spencer in this clear condemnation. Perhaps the decibels were not amped up enough for him in that interview?
Some people are simply beyond help at this point. For the base of Trump supporters, Bannon is the avatar of the Trump agenda, which is based on securing the people’s interests rather than upholding the interests of the members of the Beltway Uniparty faction. That the conservative elites, whose foolishness knows no bounds, are applauding his exit speaks volumes.
‘Flight 93’ Revisited
But nothing surpasses the giddy breathlessness of conservatives sharing Caleb Howe’s sad and shameless “The Flight 103 Presidency” on Twitter like school girls reporting a celebrity sighting. In some cases, it appears, their phones are literally glued to their hands. Howe aspires to be clever by taking a page from Michael Anton’s famous “Flight 93” essay, an essay Howe calls “disastrous” and “preposterous,” and instead comparing the Trump administration to Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 due to a terrorist bomb.
For Howe, and many other conservatives who really can’t get seem to get Anton out their heads, “if the plane crashes, the entire airline is going down with it.” “If the bomb doesn’t go off,” Howe says, “the plane won’t crash, there won’t be a trial, and the company may survive.” Trump is both a “plane” and a “bomb” onboard the plane. In Anton’s original formulation, the plane was the United States. It is unclear in the piece, but the “airline” seems to be the Republican Party. For Howe, the good of the country recedes from view altogether. The good of a political party is everything, it seems.
Stumbling through a haze of pompous self-righteousness, Howe somewhere around the middle of the piece finally gets to his nuanced and carefully thought out thesis: Trump has thrown his lot in with white supremacists.
“Trump, in his outlandish plane crash of a presser on Tuesday,” Howe writes, “said that some among the Nazis and white supremacists who marched for racism and destruction in Charlottesville were ‘fine people.’” “So you simply cannot blithely claim ‘that’s not what he said.’ It is what he said.”
Well, I hate to break it to Howe, but . . . that’s not what he said. A careful review of the transcript of Trump’s most recent press conference indicates that the “very fine people on both sides” are the peaceful citizens who are on either side of the question of what to do about the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville. He made a clear distinction between these larger groups and the smaller “very bad” groups marching and fighting last Saturday—white supremacists and the Antifa. That Howe and others like him don’t hear it says more about their wishes than Trump’s thoughts.
On the question of what do about Confederate statues, Trump sides with the majority of the American people who do not want them removed. A recent Marist poll found that huge majorities of Republicans and Democrats other than those who are “very liberal” support keeping the statues up. Perhaps even more surprisingly, blacks support the statues staying up (44 percent) rather than taking them down (40 percent). Trump also warned of a slippery-slope, which recent events have proven altogether valid:
Well, are we going to take down [Jefferson’s] statue? Because he was a major slave owner. Now, are we going to take down his statue? So, you know what? It’s fine. You’re changing history. You’re changing culture and you had people, and I’m not talking about the neo-nazis and the white nationalists because they should be condemned, totally.
With calls since to abandon the Jefferson Memorial and tear down Mount Rushmore and the Washington Monument, Trump’s exact diagnosis has been proven to be 100 percent correct. The critics continually fall on their faces and confirm everything Trump has said about them. Yet they keep talking and telling us Trump is the stupid one.
The real question that has come to the fore is why conservatives feel the need to help the press in their quest to confirm the most lurid DNC talking points about Trump. That’s a question I think we all deserve to have answered. The answer to another relevant question is as clear as day, however: the death spiral of elite conservatism continues apace.
The Pro-Trump Crack-Up
But the reaction that was, perhaps, the most surprising was the condemnation of President Trump by an individual who once helped to advance the intellectual case for electing Trump to the presidency. Julius Krein, the editor of American Affairs and one of the formerly anonymous bloggers behind the old Journal of American Greatness, penned an op-ed in the New York Times headlined, “I Voted For Trump. And I Sorely Regret It.”
Krein has done much good work making a rich and deep intellectual argument against the neoliberal consensus that has captured both parties and dominated our political thinking more broadly for decades. I disagree with his analysis that prodded him now to reject Trump, however, and I think it’s far too early to arrive at such sweeping judgments. For instance, how is Trump, and not Congress, ultimately to blame for the lack of movement on infrastructure, tax reform, healthcare reform? Would Krein rather have Trump do it all himself?
But that would merely confirm the overheated thesis that Trump is an authoritarian who doesn’t care a whit for the separation of powers or for constitutional constraints on executive power. But this pro-forma recitation of Krein’s disappointments seems somewhat disingenuous.
The locus of Krein’s critique concerns his interpretation of Trump’s initial response to Charlottesville: “His refusal this weekend to specifically and immediately denounce the groups responsible for this intolerable violence was both morally disgusting and monumentally stupid.” In his earliest remarks, Trump condemned “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry the violence and lawlessness” on “both sides.” If that is what Krein calls an “indefensible equivocation,” I would hate to see his description of calumny. Krein argues that Trump “betrayed the foundations of our common citizenship” and “inflame[d] the most vicious forces of division within our country.” Compare this to what Trump actually said:
Above all else, we must remember this truth, no matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are all Americans first. We love our country. We love our God. We love our flag. We’re proud of our country. We’re proud of who we are. So, we want to get the situation straightened out in Charlottesville, and we want to study it. And we want to see what we’re doing wrong as a country where things like this can happen. My administration is restoring the sacred bonds of loyalty between this nation and its citizens, but our citizens must also restore the bonds of trust and loyalty between one another. We must love each other, respect each other and cherish our history and our future together. So important. We have to respect each other. Ideally we have to love each other.
As Scott Adams has noted, Americans are watching “two movies on the same screen.” But perhaps that isn’t quite right. Maybe instead, we are watching the same movie in two different theaters, where an individual can, for whatever reason, leave one theater and go to the other one. This would help explain Krein’s switch concerning Trump. But, like Hotel California, once you go into the that theater, you can never leave. Try it and you’ll be doxxed as a racist by the “respectable” people who have memorized their lines and know their place in American politics.
And that appears to be exactly what’s behind Krein’s sudden epiphany. The egregious part of Krein’s apologia is his using the organ that typifies mainstream media’s condescension of Americans and their interests. It allows NeverTrump mouthpieces such as The Weekly Standard to gloat how the “premier pro-Trump intellectual” has abandoned him. Krein has done serious damage to his base, some of whom would not have voted for Trump last year if not for his work. His departure is a shame and the way he went about it is disgraceful. But it is helpful in another respect because, at this time, all hands are needed on deck and there is no place for hands that quake in the face of the onslaught.
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