Politics & Policy

Cheer Up, Conservatives: We’re Not Stuck on Flight 93

Clinton at a campaign stop in Charlotte, N.C., September 8, 2016. (Reuters photo: Brian Snyder)
Even if Hillary wins, it doesn’t mean the Right is doomed.

I’m a sucker for drama, so I suppose I should have loved the introduction to a now-viral piece, “The Flight 93 Election,” published on September 5 at the Claremont Review of Books.

“2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die,” it reads. “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.”

Boy howdy, that’s depressing. The author, who goes by the pen name of Publius Decius Mus (there’s that drama again!) goes on to detail how conservatism and virtue in general will die a grisly death — sort of like Leonardo DiCaprio getting mauled by that giant bear in The Revenant, but with poor battered Leo’s mortal coil ultimately losing the fight — if a charmless and corrupt old leftist lady who is reportedly baffled by fax machines is elected to be the president of the United States.

The election of 2016 is a test — in my view, the final test — of whether there is any virtu left in what used to be the core of the American nation. If they cannot rouse themselves simply to vote for the first candidate in a generation to advance their interests, and to vote against the one who openly boasts that she will do the opposite (a million more Syrians, anyone?), then they are doomed. They may not deserve the fate that will befall them, but they will suffer it regardless.

Sheesh. There are many flaws in this paragraph, including the questionable assumption that Donald Trump will not betray conservatives the minute he takes office and places his much-discussed paws on terrifying things like the nuclear codes. But there’s a deeper problem here, found in a sentiment that has increasingly made the rounds as we inch towards November 8: A Hillary presidency, we are told, would quickly and competently steamroll any remaining sparks of life out of the conservative movement. Prepare for a future as a sad and listless pavement pancake, friends! Throw away those wistfully ironic “Reagan/Bush ’84” shirts: We are all doomed.

Look, I know conservatives have been through a lot. In certain quarters, the universe appears to be going mad, and not in a fun “early Chris Farley” kind of way. Barack Obama cheerily golfs as the world burns. Lena Dunham is still, for some baffling reason, regularly appearing on our TVs. Our major presidential candidates are joke candidates, and not the “funny ha ha” type of joke, but more like the classic “200-volt electric hand buzzer” gag or the old “force you to drink six bottles of tequila and then abandon you in the wilderness with just your socks on” type of fraternity prank.  

But is conservatism really that fragile? Will it be crushed into submission with one fateful presidential election? It’s certainly a dramatic vision, but it doesn’t seem to line up with history. Ideas have power. The arc of time is long. Successful movements have seen setbacks before. Sometimes these turbulent setbacks — buckle your seatbelts, cynical passengers — even help said movements learn, adjust, adapt, focus, and grow.

On a more practical, nuts-and-bolts level: Is Hillary Clinton really that competent? Is she a charismatic superstar, an elderly yet mystical Pied Piper, a political Beyoncé in a pantsuit ready to woo the masses with her compelling vision of the future? If you’re chuckling here, I don’t blame you, because one fact is clear in this goofy, madcap world: Almost no one enthusiastically likes Hillary Clinton, and if she pushes hard enough, she might even manage to spark a conservative cultural backlash.

The more dramatic conservative doomsayers also fail to game out a few likely post–November 8 possibilities. A GOP congress, for instance, could check a President Clinton. Meanwhile, the next president, no matter who it is, will inherit a daunting laundry list of brewing disasters courtesy of Barack Obama. If Clinton does manage to get elected, with her luck, Wall Street will collapse a few days later, hostile aliens will invade, or “Hamilton” will suddenly get pulled off Broadway, and she’ll be the nation’s fall guy — ahem, fall woman — for the next four years.

But in the end, this isn’t really about Hillary Clinton. It’s about conservatism, and the fact that it’s resilient enough to survive a single election. Properly understood, conservatism shouldn’t even be hitched to a presidential candidate — and boy, if this year’s “This Can’t Be Real, Can It?” election doesn’t teach us that, nothing will. Conservative principles are best demonstrated locally, close to home. The principle of subsidiarity won’t disappear, no matter who wins in 2016.

So, I’ll grant you this, friends: The next few months won’t be pretty. They’ll probably be excruciating! But when it comes to hysterical cries that conservatives are on an ideological flight that’s doomed to crash, it might be time to cool our proverbial jets.

Heather Wilhelm is a columnist for National Review. Her work has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, RealClearPolitics, the Washington Examiner, Commentary magazine, the Dallas Morning News, the Miami Herald, and the Kansas City Star


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