Michael Anton is a former Trump official who became briefly notorious when it was revealed in early 2017 that, just before the 2016 election, he had been the author of the infamous “Flight 93 Election” essay, which argued that a Hillary victory would end America. Or something like that.
Anton is hard to pin down. On paper, he looks like a typical normie conservative. He works for the mainstream conservative Hillsdale College and has long been affiliated with the Straussian and Lincoln-worshipping Claremont Institute. He worked for open borders and invade-the-world shills Rudy Giuliani, George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice. He’s published in the arch-neocon Weekly Standard. He apparently spent years working for multi-national corporations and writing speeches for globalist CEOs.
On the other hand, Anton did write the “Flight 93 Election,” at (he says) some risk to his career. (He might be paranoid about that, but he might not be.) He also wrote op-eds calling for an immigration moratorium and an end to birthright citizenship—in the Washington Post, no less. Perhaps most significantly, he gained the attention of “our side” when he reviewed Bronze Age Mindset, a review that “Bronze Age Pervert” (BAP) himself acknowledged as the only serious engagement of the book by anyone on the conventional right. Anton also strongly defended President Trump in the impeachment hoax.
So if Anton can’t necessarily be counted as one of us, he doesn’t exactly fit the profile of one of them either.
Now apparently he’s coming out with a book. We know this because the Claremont Review of Books has published an excerpt called “The Case for Trump”. We don’t yet know what the full book says, but the ominous title—The Stakes: America at the Point of No Return—more than suggests a return to “Flight 93” apocalypticism.
The excerpt, though, carries little of the doom and gloom of “Flight 93”. Anton endeavors to make a positive case for Trump while acknowledging the administration’s disappointments: no complete wall, weak response to the riots, bad personnel decisions, especially in foreign policy, etc.
Mostly, the excerpt is about what the Republican Party needs to do going forward. Anton makes the familiar case that the Party needs to become more nationalist-populist-centrist on economics while remaining socially conservative but getting serious about fighting the left’s aggressive cultural vandalism. That is, don’t just talk the talk for votes and donations but actually stand up to leftist attacks and “transformation” and defend Republican, Red State and middle-class voters’ faith and way of life.
“You don’t say”, you might smirk—especially as a regular reader of the Sun. Yet there’s something positive about normies moving in our direction. It’s proof that we’re having at least some influence. Yes, it can be frustrating to get there first and then have some sinecured Johnny-come-lately stroll along, make the same argument, and be treated as if he came up with it on its own. At least in the published excerpt, Anton takes no notice of anyone on the unconventional right and neither quotes nor thanks any of us. Maybe he really does think he came up with these ideas on his own. Or maybe he knows better and ungenerously refuses to say. The latter would be especially irritating. Perhaps the full book will reveal more.
On the other hand, one measure of the success of an idea is when people neither remember nor care where or from whom it came but simply take for granted its truth. On that score, whether Anton is blissfully ignorant that he’s late to the party or fully aware that he’s an ideological plagiarist matters less than the fact that our ideas are winning. When a normie conservative author teaching at a normie conservative college writes a book espousing economic nationalism and serious social conservatism, and gets it published by a normie conservative publisher, that’s evidence that we’re winning.
So one cheer for Anton, at least.
Yet he’s already under attack from the “new right”. Greg Johnson at Counter Currents published a brief notice seemingly praising the excerpt before inaccurately trashing it in his conclusion. I don’t know whether Johnson’s misread of Anton is merely sloppy or willful. But either way, just based on the except that we both read, Johnson gets Anton wrong. Here’s the key passage (from Johnson):
“What is really interesting about Anton’s essay is his frank acknowledgment that America has lost all semblance of national unity and is little more than an economic zone. But instead of seeking to rebuild national unity, he suggests that Republicans simply try to hold on to power by offering greater economic opportunity. Anton is aware that tribal politics is dominant among non-whites, but he recommends that Republicans try to hold on to their white base with economic populism while competing with Democrats to pander to non-white tribalism.
In short, the same old Republican losing strategy that has allowed America to decline into a failed state.”
This is actually partly accurate. Anton does frankly acknowledge that “America has lost all semblance of national unity”, though I don’t see him saying that country is “little more than an economic zone.” You could argue, however, that’s implied by his argument.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Anton does not, contra Johnson, forswear any attempt to rebuild national unity. He rather says that “cultural unity” is, for now, out of reach and so the attempt to rebuild unity—which Anton says is essential—should begin, for now, with economics. Culture can wait.
It’s worth noting that, from what I have read of Johnson, he believes national unity to have been permanently lost and forever unattainable in the present USA with its present population. So it’s a bit jarring to read Johnson attack Anton for not calling for something which Johnson himself believes is impossible. It would have made more sense, and been more honest, had Johnson lacerated Anton for being so foolish and out of touch as to call for an American unity that wise folks such as Johnson know is impossible to revive.
Johnson’s next sentence is even more inaccurate. Anton’s excerpt absolutely does not “recommend that Republicans … compet[e] with Democrats to pander to non-white tribalism.” Anton in fact recommends almost the precise opposite: hold on to the white base while not pandering to non-white tribalism but instead by seeking to appeal to non-white working-class voters with … economic populism! Anton explicitly rejects, for instance, the so-called “autopsy strategy,” so named for the RNC’s “autopsy” document following the Party’s 2012 loss, which called for changing Republican positions in ways that demoralize the Republican base while (supposedly) appealing to minorities. Here’s what Anton actually says on this score:
“Politically, Republicans would have to walk a very fine line: maximize their white support especially in the Rust Belt and among those on the lower half of the income/education ladder—while actively campaigning for blue-collar, working- and lower middle-class black and Hispanic votes, especially among men, without jeopardizing their base.”
In other words, without “pander[ing] to non-white tribalism.”
Is that possible? A close read of the excerpt doesn’t reveal whether Anton thinks it is or isn’t. He never says he does and he never says he doesn’t. His whole argument is framed conditionally: If the Republicans can build a majority coalition by uniting (nearly) the entire white working and middle classes with a large enough portion of the nonwhite middle and working classes, then it will be possible to defeat the rising leftist collation in successive elections, restore balance to our winner-take-all economy, and start to rebuild American unity.
That “if” is a hole in Anton’s argument large enough to drive a truck through. Greg Johnson, by his own account a trained philosophy professor and close reader of texts, missed or overlooked this—either carelessly or deliberately. Was the gap Anton left in his own argument similarly careless or deliberate? And if the latter, what might his intent have been?
The title of the full book—The Stakes—may provide the answer. The alternative to winning is losing. The result of losing will be more of the same—but without Trump. Kamala Harris, Big Tech, Woke Capital, BLM and Antifa stamping on the American face—forever.
Either that, or a temporary loss, which leads to the crackup of the country, which opens up new possibilities. The excerpt is entirely silent on those possibilities. Perhaps the book says more.