I observed recently that there is not much in the way of a broader trend of Trumpism within the Republican Party, at least not one that has been reflected so far in down-ballot elections. Part of the reason is because there is no real philosophy of Trumpism, and there are few intellectual defenses of Trump. I can speculate as to a few reasons why.
But the closest thing to such an intellectual defense has popped up in a pseudonymous post at the Claremont Review which makes the case for treating this as “The Flight 93 Election.”
2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. 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.
Notice that this still isn’t really a case for Trump so much as a case against Hillary Clinton, our harbinger of “certain death,” with Trump offered as the lesser of two evils or at least as the devil we don’t know. But notice the main reason we’re supposed to accept him as that alternative. To get to it, you have to wade through a lot of insufferable bluster about how everybody else on the right is a useless coward—this, from a guy who doesn’t even have the guts to use his own damn name. But here, finally, is the reason: “only in a corrupt republic, in corrupt times, could a Trump rise.”
A message that boils down to “vote for Trump because you’re so rotten and degraded that he’s the best you deserve” is not exactly inspiring, and it is not likely to appeal to anyone not already converted. But a certain degree of nihilism was already baked into the premise of the article. The passengers on Flight 93 may have had a better chance by storming the cockpit than by remaining in their seats—but the plane still crashed.
What is lacking in this article, and in the entire case for Trump, from top to bottom, is exactly how Trump is an answer to any of this corruption. The article is full of broad ideological complaints, some of which I agree with and some of which I definitely don’t. But it gives no real reason to believe that Trump, who has no coherent philosophy of government or of life, is going to change our direction. Except one: he will keep out “Third World foreigners.” This is the shallowest possible diagnosis of our cultural problems, and the least effectual cure, but among a certain faction it has become a monomania. It’s a true Know-Nothing revival that is willing to throw away the entire agenda of liberty if it can just keep out the foreign hordes.
I think there is a much better analogy for the Trump candidacy: this is the MH370 election. Like the still-unaccounted-for Malaysian airplane, this is a mystery flight, and we don’t know where it’s going or how or whether we’re going to get back. Trump is an ideological black box whose actual policies in office are likely to be a surprise even to himself. He represents four years of veering off course into the unknown.
And here’s the creepy, ominous thing about MH370. We still don’t really know what happened, but some of the early indications were that the flight continued off course for many miles and possibly many hours, without anyone apparently noticing or making corrections. This led to some speculation that it continued for many miles as a “zombie flight,” with its passengers and crew either dead or incapacitated.
In my mind, that’s the real danger posed by Trump: not that he takes us off course, but that he incapacitates the crew. It’s the argument I’ve fleshed out before. Trump isn’t merely an imperfect candidate. He’s someone who disables the ideological guidance system of the only major pro-liberty party.
To the extent that his presidency means we spend another four years expecting intellectuals on the right to swallow their ideological scruples, and to the extent Trump’s success breeds hangers-on and imitators who embrace his Putin-style nationalism, we could end up flying the ship of state with a crew who are paralyzed.
I’m just an observer in this election. Despite what Donald Trump’s campaign is saying, I don’t expect the state of Virginia to be in play, so I don’t expect my vote to matter. But it strikes me that if we’re going to stay off course for another four years, we might as well have a crew who are alert to the danger, aware of some actual solutions, and spending the whole time putting out fires and frantically waving their arms in an attempt to wake up the passengers. That means that we’re going to need people who have not agreed to put on blinders in the name of reflexive partisan loyalty to Trump.
Maybe we are too far gone for that, and the flight is as doomed as they say. Personally, I think prognostications of total doom are exaggerated, which is part of the reason I’m not so eager to risk crashing the plane. But if things are really that bad, I suggest that the solution lies, as it usually does, outside the realm of politics. If we’re so rotten we got Trump as our political savior, then our most urgent necessity is to work on becoming less rotten.
Which, come to think of it, is good advice in any case. Moral reform movements have succeeded in the past, quite often and quite spectacularly, and this year is conclusive proof that we’re in need of some moral reform. After November, maybe people will even be interested in hearing about that.