In The New York Times, American Affairs editor Julius Krein made a splash by denouncing Donald Trump, a candidate and President he’d supported for years. Some are pointing to this turnabout as a positive development—the few intellectuals who supported him are abandoning him! This is wrong: Krein’s denunciation of Trump is as dishonest as his previous advocacy for him. Let’s look at Krein first, then his companions at his former blog “The Journal of American Greatness,” then American Affairs.
First off, Krein says rather dryly that he had been “somewhat sympathetic to Mr. Trump.” But look at writing and see if it comes across as “somewhat sympathetic.” He wrote, “If listening to Bizet made Nietzsche want to be a composer, listening to Trump makes one want to buy real estate. He imbues business with glory” or “Beneath the bluster, [Trump] offers an image of Machiavellian virtù long absent from American Politics.” At times it veered toward pseudo-sexual longing, as when he wrote that Donald Trump “is eros and thumos incarnate.” … Right, “somewhat sympathetic.” Take note of this obsession with antiquity, by the way, it’ll be back.
Next in the Times, Krein notes “During the presidential primaries, the blog I helped organize, called the Journal of American Greatness, was one of the leading voices supporting certain themes of Trump’s campaign. (Michael Anton, now a National Security Council adviser, was our most prolific writer.)” He lists themes they supported that he presumably thinks Times readers will sympathize with: preventing “unfettered markets,” “totally open borders for capital,” and “[transference of] power from national governments to transnational technocracies.”
And it’s true, that was some of what they wrote on. But the “supporting of certain themes” went beyond that. Here’s Anton in March of 2016:
The other, related source of Trump’s appeal is his willingness—eagerness—gleefulness!—to mock the ridiculous lies we’ve been incessantly force-fed for the past 15 years (at least) and tell the truth. “Diversity” is not “our strength”; it’s a source of weakness, tension and disunion. America is not a “nation of immigrants”; we are originally a nation of settlers, who later chose to admit immigrants, and later still not to, and who may justly open or close our doors solely at our own discretion, without deference to forced pieties. Immigration today is not “good for the economy”; it undercuts American wages, costs Americans jobs, and reduces Americans’ standard of living. Islam is not a “religion of peace”; it’s a militant faith that exalts conversion by the sword and inspires thousands to acts of terror—and millions more to support and sympathize with terror.
This is the same bigotry Krein is now pretending to disavow. In fact, one of the few times Anton directly criticized Donald Trump was for, of all the possible things, his unwillingness to regulate where trans people use the bathroom. That post also has the best example of Anton’s (and Krein’s) knack for writing strangely unnerving sentences: “to all those who still dream of an America in which their daughters can go to the ladies’ room without fear of encountering penii, we have to ask: What has the Republican Party or the conservative intelligentsia done to stop this?” This is what Krein blandly calls “supporting certain themes of Trump’s campaign.”
(Just as an aside: Anton chose as his pseudonym “Publius Decius Mus,” a Roman who died himself in battle after ritually sacrificing himself to the deities of the underworld. Anton was a managing director at Blackrock and wrote a book on what Machiavelli tells us about men’s fashion.)
Finally, Krein, presumably because of the tragedy in Charlottesville, writes that “one of the most serious charges against Mr. Trump was that he panders to racists. Many of his supporters, myself included, managed to convince ourselves that his more outrageous comments — such as the Judge Gonzalo Curiel controversy or his initial hesitance to disavow David Duke’s endorsement — were merely Bidenesque gaffes committed during the heat of a campaign.” Is this true? Well, Michael Anton did say of the Curiel statements “To be clear, we don’t like what Trump said and find the implications troubling. We are not defending that position specifically.” Of course, he then spent 800 words defending that position specifically:
When Sonia Sotomayor said that being a “wise Latina” influences her decisions for the better, that—we were told—was not merely nothing to worry about but a sign of her judicial temperament and fitness for the High Court. When Trump says being a Latino will influence this judge’s hearing of his case, he’s Hitler.
So no, it is absolutely not true that Krein and his co-bloggers merely viewed Trump’s racist statements as gaffes. Instead, they likely found him occasionally so vulgar that he couldn’t be masked even by faux-intellectual Roman pseudonyms and references to Machiavelli or The Canon.
If you do want Canon references, look at the lead article in American Affairs’ first issue, before Krein turned on Trump. In it, Joshua Mitchell, Georgetown political theorist, attempts to explain how Donald Trump came about, and where the Republican party should go from here. It’s a real tour of the classics: de Tocqueville, Leviathan, Edmund Burke, The Peace of Westphalia, Thomas Aquinas, Leo Strauss, and on and on and on. It’s as if a glorious philosopher-king had won the White House. To read an essay purporting to explain Donald Trump, a reality TV show host that grabs women by the pussy, knows words and has the best words, informs us that nuclear holocaust would be like no other, and is seemingly the most vulgar human being alive, and then read line after line like this:
“I will come to Trump’s victorious version of covenantal nationalism in a moment.”
“Regarding Strauss’s third antinomy—philosophy vs. Revelation—we can safely say that he thought through this matter philosophically”
is like being spit on by the writer. An essay claiming with a straight face that Donald Trump understands the lessons of John Winthrop when he cited the New Testament aboard the Arabella is a farce and believes its readers to be dolts. We live in the same world you do, Joshua, we’ve read a newspaper in the last two years; this is a man who stumbles around the White House in a bathrobe complaining about Don Lemon, not Marcus Aurelius defeating the Parthians and writing Meditations.
In fact, one of the few pleasures of reading American Affairs is the irony, so deep it almost seems like a punishment from God, that these writers who all fancy themselves Learned Thinkers and Students of History—Mitchell at one point calls conservatives “associated fully with the Great Books and great ideas”—have to defend an oafish philistine whose only interaction with these people would’ve been hiring flunkies in high school to stuff them into lockers.
So the obvious question is why, after all of this, does Krein feel the need to write this New York Times op-ed, claiming “I didn’t know!” He wrote it because even though Trump became President, the Big Lie that Krein and his associates promulgated for years failed. Nobody, not even his supporters, thinks any longer that Trump is Julius Caesar or that Krein or Anton are Cicero or Seneca. So Krein jettisons Trump hoping to get back into the good graces of the establishment, pretending that he somehow never picked up on Trump’s racism or misogyny or incompetence or vulgarity or anything else after two years of supporting him. It’s another Big Lie, and not one any reader should fall for.