Viewpoints

Is 2016 the ‘Flight 93’ election?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks Thursday in Pittsburgh.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks Thursday in Pittsburgh. The Associated Press

Every presidential election is the “most important of our lifetime.” But a pseudonymous essayist argues that 2016 is the “Flight 93 election” – a life or death contest for the republic that may end disastrously no matter what we do.

On the face of it, the claim sounds nuts. It deserves serious consideration, rather than dismissal.

Using the pen name of a Roman consul who willingly sacrificed his life in a battle that ultimately saved the republic, “Publius Decius Mus” begins with an arresting metaphor: “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.”

As I say, it sounds nuts at first. But Decius proceeds to make the case that this election presents a rare (if longshot) opportunity to repair a broken constitutional system.

The essay, originally posted at the Claremont Review of Books and archived at American Greatness, quickly went viral. Rush Limbaugh read the piece on his nationally syndicated radio talk show, causing Claremont’s and the American Greatness servers to crash for a short time.

But just as some readers recognized something serious underlying Decius’ explosive rhetoric, many conservatives lost their minds and showed a profound lack of reading comprehension.

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf, who is more libertarian than conservative, described the essay as “a barely disguised rejection of conservatism itself, stoking panic in hopes that conservatives embrace what is essentially right-leaning authoritarianism.”

Not so. In the essay, Decius argues that conservatives have too willingly accepted their role as maintaining a progressive status quo. Decades of cultural and political drift have distorted and corrupted the nation’s original constitutional design beyond recognition.

A few liberals took Decius seriously, even if they missed his point. Damon Linker, a columnist at The Week, called Decius a “reactionary,” which he defined as “someone who identifies a past golden age, posits a moment of historical rupture that led to steep decline, and looks for some agent to serve as a redemptive force to enact a new rupture that will restore history to its rightful course.”

Decius isn’t a reactionary. But he believes these are corrupt times and that America is on the down slope of the cycle. “I don’t think the situation is yet irredeemable,” he responded in American Greatness. “But it soon may be.”

Even if everything that he hopes for happens, Decius isn’t foolish enough to think a new Golden Age will dawn. “But things will get better, and that’s good enough,” he wrote.

For many anti-Trump Republicans, the argument is hard to accept. They’re willing to believe Hillary Clinton is, as the libertarian humorist P.J. O’Rourke put it so memorably, “wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.” What difference would four or eight years of Clinton make?

A political scientist friend of mine says Trump would be “an unmitigated disaster for the country.” I respectfully disagree. He might prove to be a disaster, but he would be mitigated by Congress, the courts and public opinion.

What voters don’t understand about this election is that Trump is not a savior. He’s not a Hitler, either. (Do you really think a real estate developer from Queens is a genocidal maniac? Really?)

He might turn out to be a third-rate Caesar. “I am your voice ... I alone can fix it,” Trump says. Of course that isn’t true. The best he could do is alter the trajectory of the country by a degree or two. The question is whether it’s a degree or two upward or downward. With Clinton, you know what the answer will be.

Decius has sounded an alarm. Read the essay and decide for yourself whether the alarm is worth heeding – or if it’s just alarming.

Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness, a new journal of conservative opinion. He can be contacted at b.boychuk.3@gmail.com.

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