By Andrew Majeske – On September 5, 2017, I received an email from The Claremont Institute sent to subscribers of the Claremont Review of Books. I subscribed to this publication in early 2017, after realizing its outsized influence on the US Presidential election. It was in this publication that Michael Anton, now the Deputy Assistant to the President for Strategic Communications on the National Security Council, published (under the pseudonym “Publius Decius Mus”) his “Flight 93 Election” essay, which set forth reasons why conservatives who might be dubious of Donald Trump should nonetheless vote for him. Many argue that Anton’s essay was a crucial element in Trumps election victory.
The Institute’s email touted the naming of the Claremont Institute’s Director, Charles Kesler, as one of the “Politico 50”, an annual list of the key thinkers, doers, and visionaries who are reshaping American politics and policy. That Kesler might make such a list this year is certainly not surprising. What is surprising is an item in Kesler’s newly edited biographical blurb included in the email:
“Compared with other right-leaning scholars, the Claremont thinkers are far warmer to the idea of a flag-waving Great Man (like Trump) restoring the nation to its rightful historical primacy.”
While some who worked to fabricate a rational basis for Donald Trump’s presidency have recently come to their senses, like Julius Krein (New York Times Op Ed: “I Voted for Trump. And I Sorely Regret It. 8/17/17”), Charles Kessler is a different matter—he is doubling down in the wake of Charlottesville (or possibly because of Charlottesville?); this intellectual arch-enabler of Donald Trump now has elevated President Trump to “Great Man” status.
Setting aside what sort of man Donald Trump has proven and is proving himself to be, we need to pay very close attention to what tradition Kesler is invoking with his “Great Man” imagery. This is not the “Great Man” of the Ayn Rand tradition—the “flag-waving” disqualifies him. Rather, the “Great Man” Kessler is invoking is Benito Mussolini, Italy’s fascistic dictator. Mussolini himself claimed to be the embodiment of Friedrich Nietzsche’s ubermensch, or “superman,” as this term is usually translated. It is deeply disturbing that the arch-apologist for a president with marked authoritarian tendencies has suddenly begun to embrace such a comparison.
Our troubled democracy needs to keep the image of Benito Mussolini firmly in mind as we assess the ongoing presidency of Donald Trump and as we approach the 2020 presidential election cycle. If we do not pay close attention to history, and to the historical figures and allusions being drawn upon (including ones like Steven Miller’s Stalinesque “cosmopolitan” bias comment to CNN’s Jim Acosta), the 2016 presidential election might just prove to be our last….
Andrew Majeske is an Associate Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.