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The Anti-Flight 93 Election

The best case for Donald Trump is actually a pretty good case for Joe Biden.
September 15, 2020
The Anti-Flight 93 Election
US President Donald Trump gestures during a Keep America Great Rally at Kellogg Arena December 18, 2019, in Battle Creek, Michigan. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

I’ve recently noticed a miniature wave of former Never Trumpers (or at least those who claim they were Never Trump) recanting and saying they have to vote for Donald Trump now because the left is such a catastrophic threat, either because of the riots or because of “cancel culture” or for some combination of these reasons.

Sure, they will acknowledge, Trump has many character flaws and encourages the worst strains of the right. But we face an emergency in which we need Trump, with all his faults, as a short-term stopgap to protect us against an apocalyptic threat that would put a final end to the American system.

All this in response to the prospect of that horrible bogeyman … Joe Biden?

This is, I have to admit, the best argument out there for voting for Trump, so we should expect to hear a lot more of it as November approaches. Yet precisely because it is the best argument, I find it unconvincing. Why? Because the more they convince me that the far left is a horribly dangerous threat that is taking over the Democratic Party and threatens to destroy the republic—and I really don’t need any convincing on this—the more they remind me that if I ever want to stand up to what’s wrong in the Republican Party, I had better do it now, when the alternative is the relatively inoffensive Joe Biden.

Let’s start with a reminder of why it is necessary to stand up against Trump.

One of the arguments made by those who are trying to lure back Never Trumpers is that we should look past Trump’s repellent personal character and focus on his policies. But it’s hard to find too much comfort there. Quick question: What is the latest projection for the 2020 deficit? Answer: $2.8 trillion. With a “T.” You could claim that this was caused by the pandemic, but the deficit has gone up sharply every year of Trump’s presidency and was already nearly a trillion dollars in 2019, before there was any emergency to justify it. Or we could turn to foreign policy, where Trump has been agitating for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan by way of empowering the Taliban and sending its imprisoned fighters back into the field. It’s the worst kind of result I would have expected from a third Obama term.

Yes, you can make a policy case for Trump, but it depends heavily on people focusing on the issues Trump wants to talk about—he banned racist “anti-racism” training for federal workers!—while getting them to forget about many of the issues, like federal spending and a hawkish foreign policy, that they claimed to care very deeply about five years ago.

But the real problem with Trump is neither about style nor about policy. It is the disastrous ideological impact he is having on conservatism and the Republican Party. There is a reason a whole swathe of the right no longer cares about many of the issues they considered central to their worldview in 2015. Trump’s rise to power unleashed and emboldened a “nationalist,” collectivist, Big Government wing of the right. Ten years after the rise of the Tea Party movement—which was, among other things, a rapprochement between the conservative and libertarian wings of the right—”libertarian” has become a dirty word among conservatives, and they don’t mean it as a narrow critique of the libertarian movement or the Libertarian Party. By “libertarianism,” they mean the advocacy of freedom, including free markets.

I don’t like Biden, and I really don’t like the fact that once again, these are our only stupid choices. But a Trump win will create an even more hostile ideological environment for advocates of liberty.

If it is necessary for advocates of liberty to stand up to this illiberal strain of conservatism that has been unleashed by Trumpism, that confrontation will only get harder—much, much harder—if we wait another four years.

What happens if we make a deal with the Trumpian devil to fight back against the illiberalism of the far left, and wait another four years to confront illiberalism on the right?

If Trump loses re-election, there is an opportunity for some soul-searching on the right, and for those of us who opposed him to say, “We told you so.” I’m not holding out very high hopes for how this will work out, but it will happen to some degree. If Trump wins re-election, by contrast, that would confirm the dominance of Trumpism among conservatives and complete the wholesale ejection of his critics from the right. The Republican Party will become even more fully his party than it is now.

Meanwhile, what happens to the Democratic Party if Biden loses? It would be the radicals and “Bernie bros” who would get to say, “We told you so,” and that would increase the chances of the radical left winning the 2024 nomination for their candidate. Bernie will be way too old by then—but Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be eligible to run.

So wait four more years, and what do we get? A much more entrenched illiberal Trumpism in the Republican Party, and the likely prospect of a far more radically leftist candidate from the Democratic Party.

In trying to head off one supposed catastrophe, we would cause a much greater catastrophe.

The best argument for Trump is a rehash of the Flight 93 argument: This is an existential threat, and we must charge the cockpit or die. This wasn’t terribly convincing the first time around, but imagine how much less convincing this is in reference to a candidate who ran as the most moderate option offered to his party and was selected for that reason.

Joe Biden is, and always has been, a foolish man, and he is no particular friend of liberty. But he is the Man in the Middle. His whole career has been about him figuring out what the middle ground is for a “moderate Democrat” and staking that out. So are you concerned about the riots and looting? Good. Joe Biden has condemned them and called for rioters to be prosecuted. Are you concerned about “cancel culture”? So are a bunch of center-left types who mostly support Biden.

So it is particularly implausible to describe a victory for Biden in this election as the final end of liberty. In that respect, this is the opposite of a Flight 93 election, one in which the expected costs of a Republican defeat are the least alarming.

If you can be spooked into believing that the final American apocalypse comes in the form of Joe Biden, then let’s face it: you are simply never going to vote for the guy who doesn’t have an “R” by his name, no matter what the circumstances.

But these arguments are largely academic. It doesn’t really matter how I vote in Virginia, because Trump isn’t going to win here, and the same is true for a lot of the people reading this. I don’t know if there has ever been an election choice between two such known quantities, so the overwhelming likelihood is that the American people have already made their choice, and the evidence indicates that they are going to get rid of Trump.

If you think any Democrat being elected to the presidency is a catastrophe, then don’t vent your anger at me. I’m not causing that outcome. Direct your anger at Trump for flubbing the very basics of politics and utterly failing to do anything to expand his “base” from the last election.

Like I said, Joe Biden is not a good choice in this election and I don’t expect him to be good for the cause of liberty. So where does that leave us?

If the short-term battle between Republicans and Democrats is already decided, then the long-term ideological battle for freedom is the only one we’ve got—and we’re fooling ourselves if we don’t recognize that this is a battle against both leftism and right-wing nationalism. There’s no reason to think that going all-in for Trump as he goes down to defeat is going to help in that battle.

Robert Tracinski

Robert Tracinski is editor of Symposium, a journal of liberalism, and writes additional commentary at The Tracinski Letter.