Back in 2016, a conservative speechwriter named Michael Anton wrote a famous essay:
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. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.
As Rich Lowry just pointed out, this ended up right where any sane person would have expected, with Trump crashing the plane.
Kevin Drum was moved to re-read Anton's essay and consider what it said. Anton, it seems, really believed that America was going to hell, so close to complete collapse that the election of Hillary Clinton really might finish off the republic. I think this a very interesting exercise, because I often find that people panic about our political future based on strange or flimsy fears.
Here is Drum's list of the things that, Anton said, showed America was on the verge of collapse:
- Massive, expensive, intrusive, out-of-control government
- Politically correct McCarthyism
- Ever-higher taxes
- Ever-deteriorating services and infrastructure
- Inability to win wars against tribal, sub-Third-World foes
- A disastrously awful educational system that churns out kids who don’t know anything and, at the primary and secondary levels, can’t (or won’t) discipline disruptive punks, And, at the higher levels, saddles students with six figure debts for the privilege.
- The sacredness of mass immigration is the mystic chord that unites America’s ruling and intellectual classes.
But much of this is downright silly. Taxes in the US have been declining since 1960. Illegitimacy went up a lot from 1970 to around 2000 but has since gone down and is certainly not getting worse. Crime is down by half since the late 1980s. Our infrastructure may not have kept up with our population growth but it has not gotten worse.
Our schools have not gotten worse, and violence is schools is actually down a lot, paralleling the decline in violent crime. We do struggle to teach poor kids, but what does the president have to do with that?
Immigration has indeed changed America quite a bit since 1965, but all the evidence suggests this has made our economy more vibrant. The social ills people like Anton complain about are concentrated, not among immigrants, but among long-resident whites and blacks in pockets of rural and urban poverty. All the cities that are reducing poverty are full of immigrants.
Pulling out of wars in Afghanistan and Syria is one of the things I always agreed with Trump about, but his record in this regard is not so great. Despite his promise, there are still American soldiers in Afghanistan.
The rise of left-wing speech policing is something I have written about, and that moderates like Obama speaks about regularly, but I just can't see how college students chasing the occasional speaker off campus is going to destroy the nation.
Plus, the relationship of any of this to which party holds the White House is weak. Crime peaked under Reagan, illegitimacy under George W. Bush. The growth of government has been pretty steady, and anyway as I keep saying the most annoying bureaucracies in America are now run by corporations.
Politics is about feelings. Many people feel, in their bones or wherever, that the country is going to hell, and the other party is to blame. But the evidence that the country is going to hell is, I think, weak, and the problems I worry about don't track very well with party control.
Looking around right now, it seems to me that the biggest source of violence and chaos in America is the fear that we are sliding into violence and chaos. It's the people rushing the cockpit that are doing the real damage.