By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

From a right-wing think tank, a chilling pseudo-intellectual case for Trumpism

Photo (cc) 2021 by Blink O’fanaye

I don’t think any of us believe that Trumpism is going away. To the extent that we take any comfort from the current chaotic state of the Republican Party, it’s that it seems mainly to be defined by the QAnon craziness of Marjorie Taylor Greene, the alleged perversion of Matt Gaetz and the cartoonish cynicism of Josh Hawley. Yes, we need to keep an eye on them. But they’re so out there on the fringes that the amount of damage they could do would appear to be limited.

Which is why an essay published recently by Glenn Ellmers of the Claremont Institute should chill you to the bone. Running at more than 3,200 words, Ellmers’ screed is nothing less than an assertion of authoritarianism and white supremacy, dressed up in intellectual garb. I don’t mean to suggest that he advances a coherent argument — he keeps telling the reader that he’s going to explain what he means, and he never actually gets around to it. But Ellmers can write, and he’s got a worldview that he wants to impose on all of us. “Pure, undiluted fascism,” tweeted my GBH News colleague Adam Reilly.

Ellmers begins by asserting that more than half of his fellow countrymen are “not Americans in any meaningful sense of the term.” And what does he mean by that? Well, he wants you to know that his definition of not-Americans goes well beyond those he bluntly labels as “illegal immigrants” and “aliens.” He writes:

I’m really referring to the many native-born people—some of whose families have been here since the Mayflower—who may technically be citizens of the United States but are no longer (if they ever were) Americans. They do not believe in, live by, or even like the principles, traditions, and ideals that until recently defined America as a nation and as a people. It is not obvious what we should call these citizen-aliens, these non-American Americans; but they are something else.

So who are the real Americans? Why, Trump voters, of course. That is, “the 75 million people who voted in the last election against the senile figurehead of a party that stands for mob violence, ruthless censorship, and racial grievances, not to mention bureaucratic despotism.”

There’s the hate, right out in the open. I really don’t need to quote any more except to say that Ellmers goes on at great length, in pseudo-intellectual language, to tell us that action must be taken. What kind of action he doesn’t say. But I would assume that his only regret about the insurrection of Jan. 6 is that it failed.

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What’s especially chilling about this is that there’s none of the unseriousness that often defines hardcore Trumpism — no pedophilia rings masterminded by Hillary Clinton and George Soros, no claims that the election was stolen. Just a pure will to power, which is a defining characteristic of fascism.

If you don’t want to read the whole thing, I recommend this analysis by Zack Beauchamp of Vox. Under the headline “The conservative movement is rejecting America,” Beauchamp writes:

Ellmers’s essay should be taken seriously because it makes the anti-democratic subtext of this kind of conservative discourse into clearly legible text. And it is a clear articulation of what the movement has been telling us through its actions, like Georgia’s new voting law: It sees democracy not as a principle to respect, but as a barrier to be overcome in pursuit of permanent power.

The Claremont Institute, based in California, is what might be called a right-wing think tank that at some point in recent years abandoned ultraconservatism for something much more dangerous. In 2016 it published a pseudonymous essay called “The Flight 93 Election,” arguing that — just like the passengers who brought down a planeload of terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001 — voters had to vote for Donald Trump lest they allow Hillary Clinton to destroy the country. As Conor Friedersdorf explained it in The Atlantic at the time:

The most radical, least conservative people in American politics right now are the so-called conservatives who are imprudently counseling the abandon of core values and norms to avoid a point-of-no-return that is a figment of their imagination, often with rhetorical excesses that threaten the peaceful transition of power at the core of America’s success insofar as the excesses are taken seriously.

I couldn’t find a whole lot about Ellmers other than his bio at the Claremont Institute, which describes him as a visiting research scholar at Hillsdale College, another bastion of the far right, as well as a minor politico of sorts. Of local note: According to the bio, he holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Boston University.

More than anything I’ve seen since Jan. 6, though, Ellmers’ essay defines and explains the ongoing threat we face from Trumpism.

President Joe Biden speaks often about his desire to unite the country, and poll numbers suggest that he’s having some success. Until and unless the fever breaks, though, it’s clear that a large minority of Americans — 25%, 30%, 40% — are going to regard themselves as the only true patriots and the rest of us as the Other.

It’s a horrifying dilemma, and there’s no clear path forward.

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  1. aaronread1

    Did you call BU to confirm he actually has a degree in IR from them? That’s a VERY rigorous program; the crazies usually get driven out by the workload. And these bastards will lie about anything.


    • Dan Kennedy

      Good point, and I just added some weasel language.

  2. Steve Ross

    I deal with a lot of Republican staffers — they all like broadband and I edit a broadband magazine. They all talk about the Tea Party tradition (the name is now going out of style among Republicans, BTW) and why I as a Bostonian, should GET IT.

    Explaining that the Tea Party was a clever protest against a targeted tax takes too much time. Easier to explain that colonists put their tax dollars into education (the hemisphere’s first public school, followed a year later by subsidizing a pastor named John Harvard who wanted to start a college). Like most English towns they established a grazing commons… and on and on. Public resources for public good.

    Boston started out as a refuge for religious zealots. By the Revolution it was a refuge for those persecuted in Europe for their religious practices.

    Those arguments tend to get staffers to pause, at least. We got a national highway system (and its goods and bads) with federal highway trust fund, masquerading as a defense program. Most federal research is civilian but funded through the Pentagon as well (progressives take note). I have no problem with calling the new infrastructure initiative The National Defense Infrastructure Act of 2021… and calling today’s Trumpers Nazis. I would not have done that a year ago, even when sorely tempted. But they have tipped their hands.

  3. Michael Goldman


  4. This is just some nobody’s basic and vague and flimsy call to arms, years after the first mentions of the cold civil war heating up. It probably coulda been written by Grover or SMiller (or Bannon or Newt).

    I am sure the guy has the degree he says he has. But he has no substance to his bio. DoE speechwriting, Cal assembly? Seriously? And now sinecures at Claremont and Hillsdale, guffaw. It is all comical, prog tyranny, original America, corrupt norms needing to be destroyed, real / authentic men and women, — a speech for an Eastwood or JWayne B movie. But the ‘argument’ goes nowhere, as Dan points out. Gets a C from me.

    Sorry, upon rereading, maybe it’s an extremely opaque call to national service. – ?
    But there is no actual, actionable point otherwise, and he seems to realize it, flailing to the end.

  5. BJTully III

    I’m not seeing anything that could be considered intellectual in this screed.
    But it’s very William Rusher.

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