Writer Michael Anton Makes The Case For Why Trump Should Be Reelected
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A writer who tried to make an intellectual case for Donald Trump is reflecting on the past four years. In 2016, Michael Anton wrote a much-noticed essay called "The Flight 93 Election." It portrayed Trump's campaign as a desperate bid to save America from oligarchs, illegal immigration and moral decay. The reference to Flight 93 was an analogy.
MICHAEL ANTON: The people who took over the fourth plane hijacked on 9/11, knowing that if they sat still, they would die and be used as a weapon but that if they tried to do something, there was no guarantee of success, but there was a guarantee of failure if they did not.
INSKEEP: Michael Anton became a White House staffer for a time. Now he's written a book called The Stakes. He calls for four more years of Trump, even though he finds the past four to be disappointing.
ANTON: It's changed less than I would have hoped. And I don't say that in order to blame the president. Every power center in the country has, over basically the course of my lifetime, been concentrated in leftist, liberal, Democratic blue, managerial oligarchic - however you want to put it - hands. The universities, the media, the corporations, the banks, the tech firms, the foundations - sort of you name it - any pillar of institutional power in this country, above all, including the administrative state - these are all outside of political control. So the country hasn't changed that much in the last four years because it's so difficult to change the country.
INSKEEP: I want to figure this out a little more because I am recalling that before Trump declared for the presidency, we had, let's say, a robust debate in this country. We had a very divided country with a lot of different points of view and billions of dollars being spent on each of the various points of view. Why was it that you saw this monolithic force taking over the country?
ANTON: That's what I saw. I mean, you and I are never - you and I and your listeners are never, ever going to see this the same way. You guys see, you know, a handful of coal miners in Pennsylvania with Trump signs on their lawn, and you get apoplectic that, oh, my God, these deplorable people, these racist, fascist Nazis in the heartland of America are threatening our democracy, whereas...
INSKEEP: With respect, sir, I grew up in Indiana. I went to school in Kentucky. Don't tell me what I see. Don't tell me what I think. I am eager to hear what you think, sir.
ANTON: OK, well, I can tell you what I hear from every channel in the major media when I listen, which I don't really anymore, when I pick up the newspaper. The culture. See. This is what - I'm a blue person. So I'm from California. I guess maybe by background, you're a red person, but I am now a completely - a red person by outlook. And one of the advantages I have as a red person is I know entirely what blue people think because they control every organ of the media and broadcast it in my face 24/7 at very high decibels. There was not a robust debate in both sides.
INSKEEP: You ever watch Fox News?
ANTON: The media was overwhelmingly on the side of Hillary Clinton, blasting propaganda in everyone's faces 24/7 that Trump was an evil demon who had to lose for the soul of...
INSKEEP: Let's acknowledge that there was a lot of that kind of coverage. Did you ever watch Fox News?
ANTON: I have watched Fox News in the past. That's the one network against all the others. And everybody thinks, well, that's...
INSKEEP: You ever read Breitbart?
ANTON: Not, everybody, but the people on the other side - Breitbart is tiny. It has nothing like...
INSKEEP: Do you ever turn on a local station with Sinclair broadcasting?
ANTON: You can't compare the reach of any of these organs to the combined reach of all the TV networks, all the cable news minus Fox, all the print. So one of us is crazy. I know you think it's me. I think it's probably not me, but I can tell you I don't see the world that way at all. And I can't - I absolutely can't...
INSKEEP: OK, why is it important for you to keep telling me what I think? I'm just interested in what you think.
ANTON: I'm telling you what I think what I see and what I hear is a completely monolithic culture.
INSKEEP: Do you think that President Trump could have changed more of the issues that you're concerned about had he approached his job differently?
ANTON: I think the main thing he could have done better and differently was staffing. I think he ran against the Republican establishment and beat them. And then in a sort of spirit of magnanimity, after he took office, he reached over to the Republican establishment that he had just beaten and said, OK, let's work together, fellas. And they decided, great, we can just go back to the same game.
INSKEEP: I'm thinking about the president's style, aside from the substance, the style of launching his campaign by making this remark about Mexicans being rapists, the way that he promoted immigration policy.
ANTON: See. Right there...
INSKEEP: Let me just finish. Let me...
ANTON: He said some of them.
INSKEEP: Some of them. OK.
ANTON: Nobody ever quotes him accurately, even. There's a tape. There's a transcript. Anybody can read what he's actually said about immigration. He's - you know, he's a big-talking, brash-talking guy. He says a lot of outrageous things. If you want to make him look outrageous, it's perfectly fine and capable of doing so by just quoting what he actually said.
INSKEEP: Absolutely, as when he said that he wanted a total and complete ban of Muslims from entering the United States, when he told American lawmakers who happen not to be white to go back where they came from, even though they'd been born in the United States, when he defended Confederate statues. I don't want to argue the merits of those, but I'm interested if you think that that kind of approach has gotten in the president's way and caused him to achieve less than he might have otherwise.
ANTON: His brashness inspires and fires up his base. And it's hard to imagine Trump as popular with his base and as winning the - basically winning the election or maintaining public support. You know, we can sit here and litigate individual instances of his brashness maybe going too far or actually hurting more than it's helped. I don't think that that's a particularly productive use of my time.
INSKEEP: Is brashness really the word for hundreds of remarks like that?
ANTON: He is brash. He's a WWF-style figure in politics. That is what he is. That is what motivated so many millions of people to cleave to him very early in a primary season filled with 16 other Republican candidates, many of them with resumes longer than your arm who should have been front-runners. But I don't see another person on the horizon who can connect with Trump's base the way Trump can, which means it may turn out in hindsight - I'm hoping this is not the case - that Trump is a one-off phenomenon, can't be replicated because there is nobody else who can bring that big personality, fuse it to the issue set that motivated his voter base and rally a coalition based on that.
And if that's not true, then the country is going to go back to, in my estimation, politics as usual, which means a completely feckless, useless, ineffectual Republican Party and total Democratic dominance. And then we will get blue-state politics from coast to coast as long as the blue oligarchs can keep that going.
INSKEEP: Mr. Anton, thanks very much.
ANTON: OK. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.