In September 2016, the Claremont Review of Books published Michael Anton’s essay, “The Flight 93 Election,” which became one of the most controversial and discussed essays of that most extraordinary election year. This month, Encounter Books published After the Flight 93 Election: The Vote that Saved America and What We Still Have to Lose. The book is a reconsideration of that argument and a look at where we go from here.
American Greatness is happy to publish, with kind permission of Encounter, an excerpt of this important book.
This volume contains two previously published essays, preceded by one new one. The central piece—“The Flight 93 Election”—is, so to speak, the reason we’re here. It was written in two days in August 2016 and published online by the Claremont Review of Books on September 5, 2016—Labor Day. At first, it received little notice, in line with my expectations. It was (somewhat infamously) published pseudonymously. I assumed—and still believe—that half the reason anyone reads anything is because of who wrote it. Conceal an author’s identity, lose half your potential readers. Second, those few who recognized my pseudonym (“Publius Decius Mus”) would have been readers of a by-then defunct blog, the Journal of American Greatness, to which I contributed under the nom de net “Decius.” Such readers, I further assumed, would consider (as I did) the new piece to be little more than a rehash of my old JAG posts.
Two days went by without a peep. Then on September 7, Rush Limbaugh read “The Flight 93 Election” in its entirety on the air. The CRB’s website instantly crashed—as did that of American Greatness (a successor of sorts to JAG), which published the piece concurrently with the CRB.
My intent in writing “The Flight 93 Election” was to impress upon those who consider themselves principled conservatives the urgency of the moment and the stakes of the 2016 election, not just for conservatism but for the country. I cannot say to what extent I succeeded, except to note that numerous people have contacted me in the intervening two years to tell me that the piece changed their vote or steeled their resolve. Many others have told me that it “woke them up” to the dangers that militant leftism poses to our country and our civilization. To all those who have thanked me for writing it and wished me well, I here return your thanks.
Of course, “The Flight 93 Election” was (and still is) attacked far more than praised. The substance of those attacks crystallized immediately as the piece gained fame, and I responded to them in a follow-up, entitled “Restatement on Flight 93,” published on the CRB website on September 13, 2016 (and here republished as the final part of this volume). While the criticism keeps coming, very little is beyond the scope of that initial response. Most of it echoes charges already made during the hectic first few days of the original essay’s viral notoriety.
Most, but not all. Over time, a deeper criticism (friendly and otherwise) has emerged. “The Flight 93 Election” is accused of being bereft of any positive vision—a vivid jeremiad, perhaps, but all nightmare, no dream.
In fact, “The Flight 93 Election” was inspired and informed by exactly such a positive vision—or, more precisely, by an account of America, how and why it is good, whence that goodness derives, and why it deserves to be conserved. I feared that this account—and a fortiori the underlying principles and institutions of which it gives account—were at grave risk from the relentless malevolence of their enemies and the fecklessness and errors of their supposed defenders. That fear has abated but little.
Defending America and the West is thought to be the province of “conservatism.” Yet the behavior of conservatism’s leading spokesmen in 2016 and beyond has cast significant doubt on whether it or they are capable of fulfilling that mission. Certainly, one must wonder what understanding of conservatism would make its adherents so willing to hand our country over to conservatism’s, and to America’s (at least as we have known her), avowed enemies.
In my view, the urgent task in September 2016 was to demonstrate the folly of that position and shine a spotlight on what we needed to prevent. Going forward, we will also need a clearer statement of what we are for—and a better awareness of the specific ways it is threatened. In this spirit of positivity, I here offer a “Pre-Statement on Flight 93.” This new essay is placed first for what Aristotle might call its “ontological priority.” Though written last (in August 2018, substantially revised in October), it comes first in the logical order of the argument.
Its first two-thirds say nothing I have not believed for at least two decades. But the last third reflects a growing alarm at the Left’s intensifying radicalization. I wrote the first draft after President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court but before the Democrats and the Left launched their disgraceful calumnies against him, aiming not merely to sink his nomination but to destroy his good name. I always expect the Left to behave badly—very badly—but their treatment of this fine man shocked even me. “The Flight 93 Election” was and continues to be widely ridiculed for its alleged apocalypticism. The following passage struck many as particularly overwrought:
A Hillary presidency will be pedal-to-the-metal on the entire progressive-Left agenda, plus items few of us have yet imagined in our darkest moments. Nor is even that the worst. It will be coupled with a level of vindictive persecution against resistance and dissent hitherto seen in the supposedly liberal West only in the most “advanced” Scandinavian countries and the most leftist corners of Germany and England. We see this already in the censorship practiced by the Davoisie’s social media enablers; in the shameless propaganda tidal wave of the mainstream media; and in the personal destruction campaigns—operated through the former and aided by the latter—of the social justice warriors. We see it in Obama’s flagrant use of the IRS to torment political opponents, the gaslighting denial by the media, and the collective shrug by everyone else.
It’s absurd to assume that any of this would stop or slow—would do anything other than massively intensify— in a Hillary administration. It’s even more ridiculous to expect that hitherto useless conservative opposition would suddenly become effective. 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, helped along by some on the right who really do seem to merit—and even relish—the label. There is nothing the modern conservative fears more than being called “racist,” so alt-right pocket Nazis are manna from heaven for the Left. But also wholly unnecessary: sauce for the goose. The Left was calling us Nazis long before any pro-Trumpers tweeted Holocaust denial memes. And how does one deal with a Nazi—that is, with an enemy one is convinced intends your destruction? You don’t compromise with him or leave him alone. You crush him.
Given what the Left has done—and pledges to continue to do—to Justice Kavanaugh, and indeed to anyone who stands in the way of their lust for unchecked power, can anyone seriously argue that this assessment was wrong? To answer a different question that I’m still occasionally asked: no, I don’t regret a word.
These are dangerous times. The Left has made them so and insists on increasing the danger. Leftists hold virtually every commanding height in our society—financial, intellectual, educational, cultural, administrative—and yet they affect the posture of an oppressed and besieged “resistance.”
Nonsense. The real resistance is led by President Trump. It is resistance to the Left’s all-consuming drive for absolute power, its hostility to all American and Western norms—constitutional, moral, prudential—and its boundless destructive enmity. If I have been persuaded by any criticism of “The Flight 93 Election,” it is that I was ungenerous to Trump. The president stands clearly and firmly against these virulent attacks on America and firmly for the protection of life and liberty, and the promotion of the good life for the American people. Those are the core responsibilities of any American president. May President Trump continue to fulfill them until the end of his constitutionally won second term.
What the Kavanaugh affair has made clearer to me than ever is that the Left will not stop until all opposition is totally destroyed. The harm they do to people, institutions, mores, and traditions is, in their view, not regrettable though unavoidable collateral damage; it is rather an essential element of the project. It’s a bit rich to be accused by nihilists of lacking a positive vision. But such is life in 2018. To stand up for truth, morality, the good, the West, America, constitutionalism, and decency is to summon the furies.
America cannot long go on like this. Something’s gotta give, and something will. What that “something” will be depends in no small part on the actions of men and women of good character, good judgment, and goodwill. Among the most heartening things I’ve seen in my lifetime was the way the president, the Republican establishment, and most of the conservative movement stood together in the face of what a few took to calling “the Flight 93 Confirmation.” In that instance, justice was done. Many more tests are coming. Victory will require not just spirit and spine but the right arguments that explicate the right principles.
For all that lies ahead, let us fortify ourselves with a keener awareness of what we still have left to lose. Which is exactly what inspired me to write “The Flight 93 Election” in the first place.