Trump Election Manifesto About Avoiding A Plane Crash No Longer Holds Up

Exactly a year ago, a writer calling himself “Publius Decius Mus” published an essay called “The Flight 93 Election” on the website of the Claremont Review of Books, an outlet of high-minded conservative thought. The title of the essay was a reference to United Airlines 93, which on September 11, 2001, crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers fought over control of the plane with the Al-Qaeda members who’d hijacked it.

“2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die,” Public Decius Mus wrote. “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.”

“Death” was the election of Hillary Clinton. It was eight more years of the grim neo-liberal reality ushered in by President Barack Obama: “Illegitimacy. Crime. Massive, expensive, intrusive, out-of-control government. Politically correct McCarthyism. Ever-higher taxes and ever-deteriorating services and infrastructure. Inability to win wars against tribal, sub-Third-World foes.”

Public Decius Mus declared that only the election of Donald Trump, a thrice-married salesman, could save the United States and, indeed, all of Western civilization.

For many in the mainstream right, “The Flight 93 Election” was the soundest argument to vote for Trump, far more compelling than anything that came out of Trump’s mouth during his campaign. NPR described it as “a defining ideological argument for Trumpism." Rush Limbaugh was a huge fan: “I’m telling you, folks, it is really good. It’s one of these pieces that you’ll read it and wish you had written it. In my case, I read it, and I was silently jumping for joy because it contains so much of what I said.”

Two months after its publication, conservatives charged the cockpit, and unlike the valiant passengers of UA 93, managed to wrest control of the flight deck as the craft banked sharply over Pennsylvania (the whole thing is, as others have noted, an offensively morbid and pathologically grandiose analogy, but it is what we have to work with).

Publius Decius Mus was eventually revealed to be Michael Anton, a national security hawk who’d once been a speechwriter for New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Someone noticed the good work he did for the Claremont Review, and he is now in charge of communications at the National Security Council. He must sleep well at night, knowing that he saved the West from, as he so subtly put it, “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty.” 

As for the nation’s more immediate prospects, these belong to a pilot who’d rather be tweeting than manning the flight controls, even as patches of heavy turbulence loom ahead. Trump inherited a nation facing crises but not in crisis. He has made each of these worse, either by showing no leadership or leading in the wrong direction. One day, he is threatening to send federal troops into Chicago. The next, he is scolding South Korea and China because that will somehow help deal with a nuclear weapons-armed Pyongyang. Vladimir Putin is a fine fellow, and the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville were really nice guys once you got to know them. Journalists are the true enemy of the people. Mitch McConnell isn’t helping, and neither is Nancy Pelosi. You’ll want to buckle your seat belt. 

At least Trump has stocked his cockpit with a trio of capable pilots: Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster and James Mattis, the secretary of defense. They seem to share no intellectual or temperamental affinities with Trump, who once said venereal disease was his “personal Vietnam.” Rather, they’re in the cockpit because they have a responsibility to those Americans who are on this flight, whether they bought a ticket or not.

Then again, he won’t listen to the sound counsel of these sober men. His dislike of McMaster is well known and is routinely stalked by extremist outlets, led by Breitbart News, where he is alternatively depicted as a lover of Islam and a puppet of the international Jewish conspiracy. (If the intellectual leader of your “movement” is Pepe the Frog, this makes perfect sense.) Kelly is already exasperated by Trump, according to a recent report in The New York Times that has the president longing for the days when he could bandy about right-wing conspiracy theories with Steve Bannon, his recently departed chief political strategist.

Mattis, too, is plainly exasperated by the braggadocio of Trump’s Twitter feed, which helps in neither East Asia nor the Middle East. The ban on transgender service members (also announced in a 140-character message) is rooted in no sound policy, unless prejudice can be counted as such. A secretly recorded video that surfaced late last month had Mattis counseling troops to “hold the line until our country gets back to understanding.” In other words, this a bad spell of turbulence, yet it will pass.

The decorated Marine may have been excessively optimistic. This is the presidency of a junior pilot-in-training, unwilling to learn which button does what. The alarm is ringing, but he isn’t listening. American democracy has plenty of built-in redundancy, just like a modern jetliner. What it cannot do, however, is control stubborn ineptitude.

It’s hard to know whether any of this is a minor stall or the beginning of a deadly descent. On the one hand, Trump is not the authoritarian many feared in the days after last November’s election. On the other, you wonder just how much stress the body politic can take. Democracy, like aviation, doesn’t take well to the violation of established laws.

Right-leaning Americans got on an airplane they knew was unsafe. They boarded because of the Second Amendment, Roe v. Wade and their hatred for the Clintons. Only as the cabin doors closed did they have some second thoughts. There were some strange noises coming from the engine. And is that smoke that I smell? 

It turns out that repelling Hillary Clinton did not prove to be the salvation Anton had hoped for. That’s because his savior seems to know as much about running the federal government as he does about operating an airline. We can only hope that the United States fares better than the Trump Shuttle, that ill-fated foray into civilian aviation

Four months into the Trump presidency, Bret Stephens, the conservative columnist at The New York Timesassessed Anton’s essay as such: “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.”

But it is too late now. We’re all aboard this flight.