“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.”
Seven years ago, Michael Anton included this passage in his seminal article “The Flight 93 Election.” The title references United Airlines Flight 93, the fourth hijacked plane on September 11th, 2001, whose passengers revolted against the terrorists and, in an effort to take back control, crashed the plane into a Pennsylvania field. No one on board survived the impact.
Anton’s thesis was simple: Trump was far from perfect, but he at least represented the possibility of reversing the cultural suicide to which we had consigned ourselves. Put simply, we needed to storm the cockpit because the alternative was far worse—and far more pathetic.
Similar circumstances now face the American political right. Except this time, the status quo is defined not by cultural suicide, but political suicide—a suicide sustained by incessant Republican self-policing. In response to Trump’s indictment, the GOP must abandon its scruples regarding “politicization” and, instead, storm the cockpit of institutional politics.
Nearly two presidential terms after Anton published his article, Trump has been indicted on thirty-seven federal charges. Thirty-one of those charges are for allegedly withholding classified documents from federal authorities.
Throughout last summer, Republicans responded by taking to social media and cable news to condemn the Department of Justice. They contended that Trump’s indictments are a “politicized attack” and a “weaponization of government.” After all, every president since President Reagan has also mishandled classified documents, Republican and Democrat alike. Yet, in the lead up to the 2024 Republican nomination, only President Trump has been charged with a crime.
Other Republicans argued that Trump is innocent. Indeed, the Presidential Records Act appears to give the president discretion in declaring classified documents to be “personal items”—a power that President Clinton used to retain recordings of seventy-nine secret interviews about his presidency and the Monica Lewinsky affair.
What the party has yet to realize, though, is that none of this matters. The myopic focus on the unfairness or disingenuity of the Trump indictments reveals a remarkable deficiency in the GOP’s understanding of power.
Most Republicans still operate as though they live in an ostensibly united nation—one with the fraternal bonds that would make an appeal to integrity worthwhile. Thus, pundits sound the alarm on politicization, as if doing so will alter Trump’s fortunes in the slightest or inspire long-term political change. What they do not understand, however, is that the America of their childhoods does not exist anymore. The conditions of partisan unity during the Cold War are long-gone; the two parties now share far more hostility than they do respect.
Republican complaints of the indictment being “unfair,” therefore, are as futile as a nation appealing to the Geneva Conventions against its invader. Such appeals only work when the transgressor thinks that you are worthy of fairness, when it sees you as a friend and partner in the juridical scheme we call international law. As they exist now, the Democrat and Republican parties are anything but friends. And, in an era of politicized trials and radical but popular movements like prison abolitionism, they are anything but partners in the domestic juridical system.
The difference between the two, though, is that progressives openly acknowledge this antagonism while conservatives do not. What does the average progressive truly see in his conservative peer? He sees the old adage: “Evil has no rights.” Shouting down conservative judges, promoting bias against white students, and targeting figureheads like Trump via institutional power is not, therefore, “unjust” per se, for justice is suum quicue—to give to him what is his due—and evil is due retribution. In fact, to not seek retribution would amount to appeasement and therefore be gravely immoral.
What does the average conservative see in his progressive peer? He sees mistakes, missteps, and misunderstandings. But he is unable, or unwilling, to see evil, thus preventing him from wielding the institutional power necessary to advance the Good. When progressives weaponize the judiciary to further their goals and conservatives insist on sticking to fair play, it does not matter who is “right”—that question will be ultimately decided by the side that wins; and the side that wins will be the side that wants victory more, the one that fights tooth and nail and uses every ounce of power at its disposal.
History is a testament to this fact. After eighty years of critiquing the abstract tenets of leftism in academic journals and political magazines, the mainstream American Right has been oblivious to the jarring reality that those tenets won and that its tenets lost. The mere possibility that the Left’s landslide success is due to a deficiency in the latter has scarcely crossed its mind. The naivete of many conservatives lies in their apparent preference to lose “fairly” (whatever that means) over winning in a way that could contain even a meager resemblance to leftist tactics.
Ultimately, with its disposition toward empty theorization and aversion to necessary political action, American conservatism has practically recast victory itself as a progressive project—the political counterpart of you can’t fire me…I quit!
Make no mistake: If Trump does not win the 2024 election, he will almost certainly be convicted. Then, given the logical progression of the Left’s political realism, even more prominent members of the Right will be indicted and convicted as well. Finally, if you continue to express the slightest discomfort with moral decay or rapid secularization or the destruction of the American family, then they will eventually come after you too.
So, we are now at a crossroads. Conservatives once again have a choice to make. Will we continue to fantasize about fairness in politics while hobbling around on the stilts we (inaccurately) call a “moral high ground”? Or, will we acknowledge the call to virtuous political action and fight evil as true justice demands?
Remember: it was the latter strategy that enabled Republicans to block Merrick Garland’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and to confirm Neil Gorsuch in the next term, thereby rescuing the Court from a growing proclivity toward legal fictions. It was also this strategy that empowered conservatives to protect American culture from atheistic and materialistic communism for nearly half a century. Political realism isn’t “Machiavellian” (again, whatever that means)—it’s as ancient as civilization, as indispensable as virtue, and as American as apple pie.
President Trump’s indictment is more than a mere legal proclamation. It is a moment of reckoning, a call to reflection, and an opportunity to retake American culture by restoring American conservatism. To those who make the charge, history shall remember you as heroes.