Thursday, September 20, 2018
Opinion

Bret Stephens: 'The Flight 93 Election' crashes again

In case you've had the pleasure of forgetting, "The Flight 93 Election" was the title of a portentous essay, published in September under a Roman pseudonym in the Claremont Review of Books, that declared the stakes for the United States in 2016 thus: "Charge the cockpit or you die."

In the lurid imagination of the author — it turned out to be Michael Anton, who now holds a senior job in the White House — the American republic was Flight 93, a plane deliberately set on a course for destruction by liberals and their accomplices in the Republican establishment and the globalist "Davoisie." As for Donald Trump, Anton implied that he was the political equivalent of Todd Beamer, the heroic passenger who cried "let's roll" in a desperate bid for salvation.

"You may die anyway," Anton warned. "You — or the leader of your party — may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees. Except one: If you don't try, death is certain."

And here we are, not four months into the collapsing Trump presidency, living Anton's dreams.

In recent days, radio host Michael Savage has acknowledged "the administration is in trouble." John Podhoretz in the New York Post and later the Wall Street Journal's editorial page compared Trump to Jimmy Carter — the most damning of all conservative indictments.

Then there's Ann Coulter. In an interview with the Daily Caller, the author of In Trump We Trust said of the presidency that "it has been such a disaster so far," and that it was possible that "the Trump-haters were right." She even dropped the f-bomb — "fascist" — to describe Trump's hiring of his relatives to senior White House posts.

"If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America," Lyndon Johnson is reputed to have said (perhaps it's apocryphal) after the CBS anchorman said in 1968 that the Vietnam War was unwinnable.

Just so for Trump: If he's lost Coulter, he's lost angry America. That's not his entire base, but — let's face it — it's a critical fraction of it.

Now the hope of the president's dismayed supporters is that this moment of near-political bankruptcy will lead to a reinvention and a turnaround. Perhaps Trump can delegate his executive authorities in the same way as he used to license his name, pretending to be president just as he once pretended to be a real estate tycoon.

That would suit Trump's sole talent for playing a successful character on TV. But the reality of the presidency is that it tends to reflect and magnify the inner truth of the officeholder. The job requires — and exposes — that most conservative of concepts: character. And if we've learned anything about Trump, it's that his character isn't just bad. It's irrepressible.

Hence the past 10 days of our national life. Firing Jim Comey. Threatening Comey. Lying about the reasons for firing Comey. Admitting to the reasons for firing Comey. Blabbing secrets to Sergey Lavrov. Denying that secrets were blabbed. Then blabbing about blabbing to Lavrov.

No staff shake-up would have prevented any of this from happening. It would have descended on a hapless White House staff like a superheated pyroclastic flow from a presidential Pinatubo. And it will continue to descend, week after grim week, until Trump leaves or is forced from office.

That is the Trump reality. A man with a deformed personality and a defective intellect runs a dysfunctional administration — a fact finally visible even to its most ardent admirers. Who could have seen that one coming? Who knew that character might be destiny?

To reread "The Flight 93 Election" today is to understand what has gone wrong not only with the Trump presidency, but also with so much of the conservative movement writ large. In a word, it's become unhinged.

To imply, as Anton did, that Barack Obama, for all his shortcomings, was Ziad Jarrah, Flight 93's lead hijacker, is vile. To suppose that we'd all be dead if Hillary Clinton, for all her flaws, had been elected is hallucinatory. To argue that the United States, for all its problems, was the equivalent of a doomed aircraft is absurd. To suggest that Donald Trump, a man who has sacrificed nothing in his life for anyone or anything, is the worthy moral heir to the Flight 93 passengers is a travesty.

It is the mark of every millenarian fanatic to assume that the world stands on the verge of a precipice, and that only radical or violent action can save it. That's the premise of Anton's essay. It's also the kind of thinking that has inspired extremists from time immemorial, including the people who grabbed the planes on 9/11.

Maybe 2016 was the Flight 93 election, or something like it. Maybe the pilots are dead. Maybe the passengers failed to storm the cockpit. Maybe the hijackers reached their target by landing on the White House after all.

© 2017 New York Times

Comments
Editorial: Immigrants help to make America great

Editorial: Immigrants help to make America great

The heated debate on immigration could benefit from some more facts, which the U.S. Census has helpfully provided. And the facts show that rather than building walls, the United States would do far better to keep opening doors to legal immigrants. Th...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: FDA acts to keep e-cigarettes from kids

Editorial: FDA acts to keep e-cigarettes from kids

The federal Food and Drug Administration is bringing important scrutiny to the increasing use of e-cigarettes, requiring companies that make and sell them to show they are keeping their products away from minors. Vaping is the new front in the nation...
Published: 09/18/18

Tuesday’s letters: Honor Flight restored my faith in America

Dogs are the best | Letter, Sept. 15Honor Flight restored my faith in AmericaJust as I was about to give up on our country due to divisiveness and and the divisions among its people and politicians, my pride was restored. As a member of the recen...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

The Senate and the nation needs to hear more about the sexual assault allegation against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Setting aside Kavanaugh's judicial record, his political past and the hyper-partisan divide over his nomination, a no...
Published: 09/17/18
Editorial: Tampa council has another chance to show it takes Stovall House changes seriously

Editorial: Tampa council has another chance to show it takes Stovall House changes seriously

The Tampa City Council has yet to hear a compelling reason to allow a private social club in a residential neighborhood off Bayshore Boulevard, and a final meeting on the matter scheduled for Thursday offers the council a chance to show the diligence...
Published: 09/14/18
Editorial: Focus on Hurricane Florence, not defending poor response in Puerto Rico

Editorial: Focus on Hurricane Florence, not defending poor response in Puerto Rico

Hurricane Florence began lashing down on the Carolinas Thursday and was expected to make landfall early Friday, washing over dunes, downing trees and power lines and putting some 10 million people in the path of a potentially catastrophic storm. Flor...
Published: 09/13/18
Editorial: Scott sends positive signal on Supreme Court appointments

Editorial: Scott sends positive signal on Supreme Court appointments

Gov. Rick Scott has headed down a dangerous path by announcing he has started the process to fill three upcoming vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court as he heads out the door. But to his credit, the governor indicated his "expectation’’ is that he ...
Published: 09/12/18
Updated: 09/14/18
Editorial: Stalled U.S.-Cuba relations hurting Florida business

Editorial: Stalled U.S.-Cuba relations hurting Florida business

After an encouraging start, the breakdown in America’s reset with Cuba is a loss for both sides and for the state of democracy across the region. Havana and Washington are both to blame, but the Trump administration’s hard line with Cuba is out of sy...
Published: 09/12/18
Lessons from Moonves’ ouster

Lessons from Moonves’ ouster

If the swift departure of CBS Chairman Les Moonves has a bright side, it’s that a major television network took accusations of sexual harassment against its chief executive seriously enough to hold him accountable and obtain his resignation even at t...
Published: 09/11/18
Updated: 09/14/18
Editorial: Banks should not shut down campaign accounts for marijuana ties

Editorial: Banks should not shut down campaign accounts for marijuana ties

Two banks have taken the retaliatory step of closing down the campaign account of a statewide candidate because she received contributions from the medical marijuana industry. Nikki Fried, the Democratic nominee for agriculture commissioner, has been...
Published: 09/10/18
Updated: 09/14/18