Calm Down
Calm Down
Episode 1: The Flight 93 Convention (with Harry Dreyfuss)
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Episode 1: The Flight 93 Convention (with Harry Dreyfuss)

Say hello to something new from the Dreyfuss family.
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In 2016, an influential essay was published in the right-wing Claremont Review called The Flight 93 Election. The premise was simple:

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.

The argument was that the left had been slowly but surely scoring victory after victory in both culture and politics and that President Hillary Clinton would be the final denouement of that process, which would lead to the permanent and irrevocable destruction of all the things that conservatives hold dear.

In 2020, Jon Chait said that the essay “defined the Trump era.” For better or worse, he was right.

The specific stuff he was upset about is all stuff that is really familiar at this point: left-wing cultural change, a more activist government, and increased immigration.

The idea that an election—any election—is a must-win for the future of the country is deeply toxic in a pluralist democracy. But unfortunately that attitude has only become more common and widespread since 2016. Trump continues to make it his explicit pitch, and so do Democrats.

A few days ago, after the Supreme Court’s ruling in the presidential immunity case, Julia Yoffe tweeted, “[in 2016, fascism and authoritarian experts] were dismissed asy hysterical. Back then, we were told the “institutions” will save us. And now you see what we meant back then—and that it’s too late now.”

Of course, so far, the institutions have saved us. They might not be forever, but the guardrails were held in 2020. Trump isn’t president right now. It makes complete sense to worry about the destruction of norms, which democrats increasingly refer to as “democratic backsliding,” but the thing about the tweet that most jumped out at me is the last bit: that it’s too late now.

There are always more elections in the United States. It’s not like if we don’t break the witch’s curse by midnight, we’ll be a pumpkin for all eternity.

It’s never too late in America. The country is always changing, and so are its leaders.

No single election, no ten elections, are for all the marbles.

The 2024 election is also not “make or break.” If Trump wins, it will be bad. But America will still be America. People who oppose Trump’s policies will begin opposing them from a less fortunate position and start working on the midterms and 2028.

Everyone recognizes the absurdity of this when they see the other party doing it.

Joe Biden hasn’t fundamentally changed the character of this country, despite what his most hsyterical conservative opponents say.

Every election is increasingly treated like the Flight 93 election, and it’s deeply harmful.

So let’s take that off the table. It is nevertheless a useful metaphor to think about in more narrow terms.

The Flight 93 Convention.

A ticket with Joe Biden at the top is an overwhelming underdog in November. It’s not true that he can’t win. Of course, he can. Trump won with incredibly bad odds in 2016.

But the odds are really bad.

In terms of Democrats holding the White House, the decision of whom to nominate is sort of similiar to the Flight 93 metaphot. Nominate someone else and you may lose, but stick with him and you’ll almost certainly lose.

I thought of this while talking with my brother Harry Dreyfuss on a new podcast we’re doing together, the first episode of which we’re publishing today.

At the moment, it’s technically called the Calm Down Podcast, but that might change.

The idea behind the podcast is a simple two-brothers chat about the world. I am who I am. A blogger and journalist with lots of thoughts about politics and media criticism. Harry is a therapist with knowledge of psychology and big notions of the human condition.

Each week, we’re going to talk about the stuff in the news that I write about. In this first episode, that means Biden and the post debate reaction.

The other half of the podcast is the new home for the Calm Down advice column. I haven’t done them as much recently, but they’re a fun feature I do occasionally. Harry is the perfect person to do this with because not only does he have a lot of expertise to bring to it, but also because the main difference between Harry and myself is how we approach people’s feelings.

I don’t have a great bedside manner. I am a deeply loyal friend and I care about the people I care about deep in my bones. I also care about the world, but I have a hard time empathizing with strangers on an individual level. Harry does not have this problem. You’ll see that in this epsiode when we turn to talking about a lot of people seeking advice. He gets a little uncomfortable with how brusk and mean I can be.

It’s good for me to be pulled in his direction because, at the end of the day, people are real, and if you just think of them all as dots, something is lost. But it’s also good for Harry to be pulled in my direction. You can’t get too caught up in every individual story. There are too many.

This is an evolving thing. The first episode is very long. We’ve cut it down a lot, but for the most part, I left it in so that we can get feedback on what parts you like.

If you love this, then I have good news. I cut out a 45-minute segment that was actually pretty interesting, but I just made it too long. (It’s right where the ad break is.) I am going to release that segment for premium subscribers tomorrow!

A shout out to my friend Brad Knollenberg who I met through the Fifth Column community of listeners for producing this episode.

I hope you enjoy it, and let us know what you think!

We’ll record every Sunday and, as we work out the kinks, hopefully come up with a regular publishing schedule on Monday.

Love,

Ben

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Reading list (things we mention in the podcast)

The Flight 93 Election, by Michael Anton, (2016)

Ask Amy: College student worries about neighbors’ potential racism (Wapo)

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Calm Down
Calm Down
The antidote to internet poisoning. Hosted by Ben Dreyfuss, Calm Down is a podcast about our internet politics nightmare...and how to fix it.