You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Julius Krein is the perfect intellectual villain of the Trump era.


Krein arrived on the national political scene earlier this year when he founded American Affairs, a quarterly journal designed to give bigots intellectual cover for supporting Trump. The young Harvard grad was an irresistible figure, depicted as the rare millennial enfant terrible who, with a precocious smirk, was willing to kick against the pricks. He embarked on a lengthy media blitz, promoting the virtues of Trumpian politics on television, radio, and in print.

But that’s all over now. After Trump defended neo-Nazis in the wake of deadly clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, Krein calculated that the time for penance had finally come. He wrote a sober reversal of his position in The New York Times on Thursday, saying that the president has “betrayed the foundations of our common citizenship” and that his actions are “jeopardizing any prospect of enacting an agenda that might restore the promise of American life.”

Fair enough. But then Krein launches into a labored justification for why he ever supported Trump in the first place:

He forthrightly addressed the foreign policy failures of both parties, such as the debacles in Iraq and Libya, and rejected the utopian rhetoric of “democracy promotion.”

Trump wasn’t the only candidate to do this, but he was the only candidate to incredulously ask Joe Scarborough three times about nuclear weapons: if we’ve got ‘em, why can’t we use ‘em?

He talked about the issue of widening income inequality—almost unheard of for a Republican candidate—and didn’t pretend that simply cutting taxes or shrinking government would solve the problem.

At no point did Trump, a billionaire with a persistent reputation for shortchanging less powerful business partners, ever offer a single detail about how he planned to tackle inequality. And even a cursory knowledge of Trump the real estate magnate would have put this hope to rest.

He criticized corporations for offshoring jobs...

While openly doing it himself.

He blasted the Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz campaigns for insincerely mouthing focus-grouped platitudes...

While he mocked a disabled reporter, race-baited, and bragged about committing sexual assault.

His statements on immigration were often needlessly inflammatory, but he correctly diagnosed that our current system makes little sense for most Americans, as well as many immigrants, and seems designed to benefit the wealthy at the expense of working people.

Did he correctly diagnose it? I suppose so, if you consider referring to Mexican immigrants as rapists an astute diagnosis.

And then there is this doozy:

Those of us who supported Mr. Trump were never so naïve as to expect that he would transform himself into a model of presidential decorum upon taking office. But our calculation was that a few cringe-inducing tweets were an acceptable trade-off for a successful governing agenda.

To say Krein treats Trump with kid gloves here would be akin to the Titanic survivor saying afterwards, “It was a rather serious evening.” Even in his denunciation of Trump, Krein whitewashes and justifies Trump’s actions.