Now Anton is back in the private sector, having learned, like Ann Coulter before him, that vilifying fellow Americans by casting them as enemies and likening them to history’s most loathsome figures attracts a large audience to arguments that most would ignore without such gimmicks. His new essay, “Vichycons and Mass Shootings,” rivals Antifa Twitter for 2019’s most frivolous Nazi analogy, likening conservatives who criticized Trump after the mass shooting in El Paso to French collaborationists who worked with Hitler.
Partisans of Republican presidents have a long history, always embarrassing in hindsight, of likening fellow conservatives who criticize the man in power to traitors. Still, one flaw in Anton’s essay is recognizably Trumpist.
Its opening paragraph names the target of its vitriol: “the ruling class and its Conservatism, Inc. auxiliary enforcement wing.” It goes on to complain about “these Vichycons—collaborators with the enemy ruling class.” Anton refers to them as “our overlords.” He characterizes their intent as follows: “to demonize their enemies, delegitimize any opposition, and tighten and extend their rule.” As discussed, using “the ruling class” and “overlords” as shorthand for Trump’s critics is Orwellian nonsense, especially given Trump’s underwater popularity. But this isn’t just about Trump.
The critique extends to people like Anton.
He attended UC Davis and got a graduate degree at the Claremont Colleges, where he studied Niccolò Machiavelli. He was a speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani, for Condoleezza Rice in the Bush administration, and for Rupert Murdoch. He later worked as a director at Citigroup, and then as a managing director for BlackRock. To recap: A ruling-class elite left his senior post for a still-sitting president and then labeled its critics as “the ruling class” while writing in open defense of Earth’s most powerful man?
Powerful positions in civic life will always exist. Some will always have more influence than others. What’s pernicious is when people and organizations in the ruling class whine as if they are marginalized outsiders while casting their political opponents as a malign cabal of bad-actor elites.
As Yuval Levin once observed, describing both the left and right ruling class:
The advantage the rebel enjoys is that he’s not constrained by obligations, but the disadvantage he normally suffers is that he has no real power. Many of today’s faux rebels, however, actually do have power, they just pretend they don’t to avoid being constrained by responsibility even as they deploy that power. This distorts their power, and corrupts the social space in which it should be exercised.
Those who adopt that posture often risk forgetting the responsibility to exhibit the virtues elites model in healthy societies––intellectual honesty, charity, restraint, constructiveness, and treating others as one wants to be treated. How does Anton want to be treated? He doesn’t want to be called names, for one. In 2017, when The Intercept published critical articles about him, he responded in an email to that publication that it later excerpted: “The fact is that my journey toward Trumpism was in many ways a journey (on my part) leftward, toward the center,” he wrote. “I have jettisoned a lot of conservative orthodoxy precisely because I think it was not working for the bottom half, or even the bottom two thirds. It’s ironic or odd or something that in moving to the left, I get called a fascist and such. It shows how screwed up our discourse is. People just want to smear and destroy me.”