Friday, May 19, 2017

Barn Burning

Take a gander. Any gander! Via TodayIFoundOut.

From the deputy Washington editor of the Times, via Roy. A "barn burner" in the parlance of American journalism, I'm told, is a tremendously exciting event such as a closely fought sports competition, "in allusion to the story of an old Dutchman who relieved himself of rats by burning his barns which they infested" (per John Russell Bartlett's 1848 Dictionary of Americanisms), meaning perhaps that it was a form of popular evening entertainment in the Hudson Valley to go watch old Klaas burn his barn down?

What barn-burning thrills we're supposed to be getting from Stephens's column, "The 'Flight 93 Election' Crashes Again", is unclear to me. Maybe the sport is the hammer throw competition among Brooks, Douthat, and the new guy to see who can toss Trump farthest outside the Republican pale. Brooks was good on Tuesday calling him a child, and the Monsignor going with unfit and "egregious" and calling for Article 25. I'm wondering if the plan now, focusing on Trump's incompetence instead of his presumptive liberalism, is to demand the Article 25 solution as the only way of avoiding impeachment and the consequent exposure of not just Trumpian but Republican dirt (starting with the unspeakable Pence and Ryan).

Stephens points out that even the most Trumpian of the conservatives seem to be having doubts about their man:

In recent days, the radio host Michael Savage has acknowledged “the administration is in trouble.” John Podhoretz in the New York Post and later The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page each compared Trump to Jimmy Carter — the most damning of all conservative indictments.
Then there’s Ann Coulter. In an interview with The Daily Caller, the author of “In Trump We Trust” said of the presidency that “it has been such a disaster so far,” and that it was possible that “the Trump-haters were right.” She even dropped the f-bomb — “fascist” — to describe Trump’s hiring of his relatives to senior White House posts. “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America,” Lyndon Johnson is reputed to have said (perhaps it’s apocryphal) after the CBS anchorman said in 1968 that the Vietnam War was unwinnable.
Funny to think of Coulter as the movement's Cronkite.

The Flight 93 reference is, of course, to a Trumpist essay that appeared last September in the Claremont Review under the nym "Publius Decius Mus":
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.
To ordinary conservative ears, this sounds histrionic.
Trust me, you should be able to get that effect with virtually any kind of ears.

Decius turned out to be Michael Anton, a former speechwriter for Rudolph Giuliani and for George W. Bush's National Security Council and communications executive for firms like Citigroup and Blackrock, and now Deputy Assistant to the President for Strategic Communications, so, as you'd expect from anybody with a résumé like that, he really hates conservative élites, whom he refers to in the essay as "the Washington Generals", evidently because we liberal éĺites are the Harlem Globetrotters, which is how we brought socialism to America while the hapless conservatives waved their arms, gaping. He likes Trump, and I guess the prospect of all that winning that we're going to get tired of.

"In the lurid imagination of the author," Stephens writes,
the American republic was Flight 93, a plane deliberately set on a course for destruction by liberals and their accomplices in the Republican establishment and the globalist “Davoisie.” As for Donald Trump, Anton implied that he was the political equivalent of Todd Beamer, the heroic passenger who cried “Let’s Roll” in a desperate bid for salvation.
There was always something remarkably stupid in the Flight 93 analogy that I meant to write about at the time but didn't get around to. The heroism of the 9/11 passengers was going to have an unambiguously good consequence, that they were going to stop the hijackers' terrorist designs (on the White House, as it turned out) at the cost of their lives. But the Trump campaign, assuming (correctly, as we can now see) that they didn't have any idea how to fly or land the plane, wasn't going to accomplish anything but crashing, at the cost of everybody's lives, because the aircraft of the analogy was the entire nation. We had to destroy ourselves in order to save ourselves in Anton's analogy, like a recursive version of the Vietnamese hamlet. We'd be murdered if we didn't kill ourselves!

Stephens doesn't quite get it, but he has an intuition of what's wrong, where the analogy breaks down:
Maybe 2016 was the Flight 93 election, or something like it. Maybe the pilots are dead. Maybe the passengers failed to storm the cockpit. Maybe the hijackers reached their target by landing on the White House after all.
No, the White House is in the cockpit! The hijackers were imaginary! But enough of the passengers believed in them that they were able to rush the cockpit, while the rest of us looked on stupefied, tie the pilots up, and take over the controls, or fail to take them over, and we're losing altitude.

Or, to go home with the analogy we came in with, we're burning the barn down from the inside.

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