The Rescue of Flight 93

Henry Olsen is in the front rank of American political analysts. His involvement in practical politics plus the depth of his scholarship allow him to see and grapple with questions other conservatives overlook. His spiritedness and defiance of conventional thinking earned him a regular column at American Greatness, where his insights should be as appreciated as they are prescient.

To highlight one major Olsen insight: For years, he argued that Republicans needed to appeal more to working men and women, those who lack college degrees but are every bit as able—in many cases, perhaps, even more able—to understand their interests and govern themselves. For years, he rejected as politically tone-deaf the cookie-cutter, checklist conservatism that prioritized tax cuts and benefits to business. A recent C-SPAN conversation surveys his major views. His 2017 study of Ronald Reagan, “The Working Class Republican,” argued that Reagan was the first installment in the kind of transformed Republican Party America needs. Olsen’s Reagan is a far cry from the ideologue favored and parroted by many activists on the Right, whether social conservative, libertarian, or globalist.

Given these views, one might think that Olsen would welcome Trump as the Republican Party savior, but the facts are quite to the contrary. Olsen earlier this month expressed great skepticism for the “Flight 93” case for electing Trump: “We did not just have the Flight 93 Election. We are at the beginning of the Flight 93 Decade,” one as fraught as the violent 1850s before the Civil War.

Olsen is judicious (and imprecise) in assessing blame. “Neither side is wholly right about their wildest charges, but neither are both sides wholly wrong,” he writes. We can avoid a second Civil War if we can hope to find a bipartisan moderation—yet, he regrets, Democrats will not collude with Bill Kristol! (Kristol and former President Clinton adviser Bill Galston are already at work on an independent, “no-labels” approach that advances the value of results.)

Has Olsen painted himself into an apolitical corner? Is he a partisan of Stephen Douglas (not that Douglas lacked virtues), at a Lincolnian moment? In other words, is he looking for compromise where none can be made?

Misinterpreting the Declaration
The 1850s comparison is misplaced because Lincoln made the Declaration of Independence indispensable. He was willing to compromise on everything but that. Policy could be disputed, but the foundation of American politics is, and must remain, the
equal human dignity of all men, which is the foundation of self-government and the sovereignty of the people. Woodrow Wilson, by contrast, eagerly tried to discard it. But FDR was more clever and instead interpreted (or, rather, misinterpreted) the Declaration to co-opt it for his purposes of making Americans look to government to make them feel secure.

By trying to put contemporary politics in a broader context, Olsen ends up moderating not only Reagan but also Franklin Roosevelt. Americans’ fondness for FDR and their continued appreciation and acceptance of what Olsen calls “the public New Deal” is indisputable. It is visible even in such classics as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” The FDR coalition at movie’s end rescues George Bailey (whom the heavens honor as the descendant of Tom Sawyer), “the richest man in town.” And FDR also appears at the end of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” though it is hard to imagine today’s liberals feeling such affection and admiration for the American flag.

The real Roosevelt (as opposed to the idealized version of Reagan and the movies) whatever you think of his policies, had a partisan mean streak in him that makes Trump’s self-aggrandizing ways look humble by comparison. FDR in his First Inaugural address compared himself to Jesus Christ and anointed himself as commander in chief, with citizens as conscripts in his personal army. In his 1944 State of the Union address, Roosevelt characterized 1920s Republicans as fascists. But Olsen, like Reagan (and maybe Trump), wants to work with winners and shuns trying to make something out of the underappreciated Calvin Coolidge or the misunderstood Herbert Hoover.

Olsen embraces FDR for his practical compassion, which he claims is Reagan’s as well. That’s what shapes Olsen’s sensible view of Reagan’s political touch. In his review of Olsen’s book, Steven Hayward quotes Reagan from a speech in October 1988:

You see, the secret is that when the Left took over the Democratic Party, we took over the Republican Party. We made the Republican Party into the party of working people; the family; the neighborhood; the defense of freedom; and, yes, the American flag and the Pledge of Allegiance to “one nation under God.” So, you see, the party that so many of us grew up with still exists, except that today it’s called the Republican Party. 

The Current Crisis
Finally, Olsen is oddly at his weakest in the way he uses current controversies. In addition to the evidence of division from his Pew Poll observations, Pew offers evidence of agreement, as well: “
A majority (54%) of white Americans and four in ten (40%) Hispanics believe Trump is looking out for them at least somewhat well, but only 11% of black Americans agree.”

He derides the new tax law as “Romneyism unmodified”—as though this piece were the whole of Trump’s agenda. On the candidacy of Roy Moore (someone who did not meet my expectations when I heard him speak, decades ago) he appears stuck in conventional views when he maintains, “there was a time when his rhetoric alone would have pushed him out.” But why is Moore speaking at all? About the Reconstruction amendments that are now interpreted to protect abortion and gay rights, about falling monuments to Southern generals that earn significant public support across the board, about dizzying changes on fundamental moral issues?

The crisis that confronts us today differs from those facing FDR or Reagan. The political issues raised by the Left rest on the advancement and honoring of private passions that were previously left private and were never intended to be the subject of democratic politics. That radical shift accounts for political divisions becoming unbridgeable. To counter, Roy Moore (among others) advances private religious belief. Against such deep-seated private passions, Olsen’s call for moderation is unpersuasive.

The Trouble with Tolerance
Olsen repeats this confusion in his more 
recent appeal for tolerance. Would that more Americans agreed that the first three of the four American character virtues he calls upon us to reinvigorate are virtues worthy of emulation: self-reliance, risk-taking, and “community-mindedness.” The fourth virtue he calls us to support is a robust tolerance, which is more an intellectual virtue than a virtue of habit. “We must remember,” he writes, “that America was never, and today definitely is not, a people bound together by shared blood, common cultural customs, or even religious beliefs. Of course, we should hold things in common, most especially our devotion to our ideal of measured liberty, but there are many that we do not share. Tolerance of different viewpoints or views of the good is difficult: ‘everyone is orthodox unto themselves,’ said Locke.”

But Olsen begs key questions here: self-reliance, risk-taking, and “community-mindedness” all have a basis in Tocqueville’s “Anglo-American” culture, which contains the twin principles of Western Civilization: philosophy or reason, and revelation or Scripture. That means there are limits to what we should tolerate. Moreover, toleration follows naturally in a country that rejected a crabbed interpretation of Olsen’s other virtues. This has been to an astounding degree a live and let live country. Up to a point.

In his “Time for Choosing” speech, which Olsen quotes, Reagan responded to an earlier version of this challenge during the Cold War under the threat of nuclear destruction and soul-destroying Communism: “Winston Churchill said that ‘the destiny of man is not measured by material computation. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we are spirits—not animals.’”

At the heart of today’s crisis is the failure to see the connection between our spiritual side and our American side. In place of such a fundamental question, we have instead the dogma of sex, race, and ethnic identity politics. Mere toleration is insufficient for these partisans. It is true but insufficient to say that “American citizenship is ultimately based on shared ideals.” (And, as Olsen knows, they are shared because they are true, not true because they are shared.) Olsen is rooted in the Reagan California we both knew in the 1980s. Back then, waving a Mexican flag at Dodger Stadium when Fernando Valenzuela pitched a game exhibited pride, not provocation. We are no longer in Reagan’s America—betrayed, I would say, by his successors both Democrat and Republican.

By making the debate between Democrats and Republicans, Olsen has simplified the conflict, which really is between the establishments of both parties, on one side, and Trump. To revert to Madison’s language, watch out for the faction, the majority faction. Who will defend the people’s rights against uncontrolled majorities, in particular, those who pursued disastrous trade, immigration, and war policies, enforced by an ever more stifling political correctness that threatens to stamp out their sovereignty in the name of tolerance?

Exposing the majority factions at hand, along with the need to redefine what an American is, lay at the heart of critical periods in American politics, the 1790s, the 1850s, and it seems today: So we hear monocrat, mobocrat; tyrant, traitor; elitist, deplorable. FDR referred to the most stubborn of his opponents as Tories. Harry Truman asserted a conspiracy of Nazis, racists, and plutocrats hid behind the Republican Party’s banners. No Republican presidential candidate has come close to offering such denunciations of their Democrat rivals.

“One Allegiance That Unites Us All”
Trump is the first modern Republican to return partisan fire in kind—and then some. No wonder those accustomed to GOP pushovers are shocked. But isn’t Trump, besides his remarkable winning coalition, in the best position to satisfy Olsen’s demands for real toleration and consensus? After all, he is the least conservative Republican presidential candidate since Gerald Ford, with his ambitions to renew infrastructure and health care. With a cabinet as conservative as his, he can compromise from strength when pressed.

The amazing candidate Trump is not out of surprises. The GOP will be, from now on, the party also of the American worker,” the president told an audience of conservative activists earlier this year. “There is one allegiance that unites us all, and that is to America. America—it’s the allegiance to America.”

In this, Trump echoes Abraham Lincoln: “The strongest bond of human sympathy, outside of the family relation, should be one uniting all working people, of all nations, and tongues, and kindreds.”

As for those who have a visceral disdain for the 45th president: Can Americans be this frivolous in choosing their future?

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact

About Ken Masugi

Ken Masugi, Ph.D., is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute. He has been a speechwriter for two cabinet members, and a special assistant for Clarence Thomas when he was chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Masugi is co-author, editor, or co-editor of 10 books on American politics. He has taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he was Olin Distinguished Visiting Professor; James Madison College of Michigan State University; the Ashbrook Center of Ashland University; and Princeton University.

Support Free & Independent Journalism Your support helps protect our independence so that American Greatness can keep delivering top-quality, independent journalism that's free to everyone. Every contribution, however big or small, helps secure our future. If you can, please consider a recurring monthly donation.

Want news updates?

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.

13 responses to “The Rescue of Flight 93”

  1. Do black people understand that the democrat party has enslaved them and do they even care?

  2. Great article. Identity politics is not new. It used to be between people of different religions. It was driven by control of schools. It declined when the narcissism of small differences was overwhelmed by a threat of the destruction of both groups by external agents. The refusal to accept that Muslims are dangerous is integral to refusal to abandon the pursut of the narcissism of small differences.

    What is to be done? First, vouchers are needed for school choice. Second, home schooling needs support. Thirdly, student loans need to be made unavailable for humanities and most of social sciences, beyond the cost of an Internet course. Fourthly, as Professor Jordan B. Peterson has pointed out, the purchase by academic libraries of academic journals in those areas needs to be closed down. Why? Writing Marxist trash and publishing it to themselves is how they get promoted in academia.

  3. We are in the midst of an UnCivil war with many parallels to our first one. This was a “Flight 93” election and we’re still fighting for control for the cockpit. In the first Civil war it was the unibrow party consisting of the whigs and dems vs the party of Lincoln. Today the unibrow party consist of the GOPe and dems vs the party of Trump. Back then the unibrow party wanted to preserve slavery. Today they want to preserve globalism.
    The GOPe have been Delaying, Obstructing, and Sabotaging Trump’s America first agenda. They collude with the dems, the politicized and weaponized administrative state, the corrupt and incompetent intelligence agencies, and the media poodles to push their globalist agenda. an agenda that includes open borders, cheap labor, bad trade deals, and disastrous foreign policies. The politicians take orders from the global plutocracy rather than their constituents. In the 2018 elections we need to primary as many GOPe candidates as we can. We need to elect America first candidate to fill seats of retiring GOPe and challenge dems as well. Moore would have won Alabama if the backstabbing GOPe had supported him.
    Trump won the election despite the opposition of the GOPe who supported hillary. If the GOPe had supported our duly nominated candidate, Trump could have received 336 EC votes and have won the popular vote as well. Trump lost New Hampshire and Minnesota because of the backstabbing GOPe. The GOPe are the rump of the party who were repudiated in the primaries. Yet they still presume to order us about. They should go to their Independent party to do their scheming.

  4. The Trouble with Tolerance

    “Tolerance” is what landed us here, and anyone advocating for more of it, at this late hour, is completely out of touch and should be summarily dismissed.

    Tolerance is nothing more than a ratchet–every time you tolerate that which is intolerable, you signal that you’re willing to tolerate the next rung of intolerability because there is no natural stopping point; you’re literally stating that nothing is intolerable. This is something the left, in its various guises, has understood for more than 100-years, to devastating effect.

    • When ever I read someone talking about tolerance or moderation I always answer with Goldwater.

      “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of Liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of Justice is no virtue!”

  5. The political issues raised by the Left
    rest on the advancement and honoring of private passions that were
    previously left private and were never intended to be the subject of
    democratic politics. That radical shift accounts for political divisions
    becoming unbridgeable.- Against such deep-seated private passions,
    Olsen’s call for moderation is unpersuasive.

    You can scrap his entire analysis as far as I am concerned. Not only is it unpersuasive, it is naive.

    What we have lost is federalism. That’s where the “tolerance” went – vaporized by the totalitarian, guerilla politics of the left.

    Federal elections matter too much today, because they are a zero sum game and the results are permanent, or close enough for our purposes. Anyone want to guess how 5 progressive justices on the Supreme Court will vote on matters of importance to the left? Would anyone like to bet against the left throwing the borders open and swamping their political opponents with a sea of budding socialists from the third world? And so on..

    We don’t have disagreements we settle with elections anymore. With the constitutional leash slipped on our federal government and federalism effectively dead, every election becomes a dire matter. The left simply will not accept federalism’s “No!” as an answer, and pursue their hateful agenda at the judicial level, or wherever it is expedient for them to do so. You can’t compromise with such people because to do so is merely giving them half a loaf, knowing that they will find a federal judge or pass an unconstitutional law to deliver them the other half shortly.

    • Leftists like some federalism, but only the part that allows them to defy laws they don’t like. Think sanctuary cities.

  6. “…we have instead the dogma of sex, race, and ethnic identity politics. Mere toleration is insufficient for these partisans.”

    And that is the great danger to the fabric of our society. In the Colorado bakery case, note the compulsory counseling which was imposed on Jack Phillips and his employees. That “counseling” is nothing less than political re-education intended to compel a mea culpa. On which side falls the intolerance?

    Great coverage of the issues here:

  7. Read the last three paragraphs of this and tell me what the man said. Maybe I’m just not smart enough to read this article but it sounds like intellectual gibberish to me.

  8. Mr. Masugi, favorably, you quote the President, ““There is one allegiance that unites us all, and that is to America. America—it’s the allegiance to America.”” I will tell you without fear of contradiction that there is a conviction among the American people that Barack Obama did not feel an allegiance to America. Michael Ledeen recently characterized Obama as the first anti-American President. The more we learn about what went on in his Admin, the stronger our conviction that Mr. Ledeen is correct. Civility may inhibit being explicit, but History will not be so kind.