I arrived on the Claremont campus in search of the Straussians, but for the first hour all I could find were feminists.
It was just before noon, and I was at the Motley, a student-run coffee shop and study space devoted, said a sign above the entrance, to “diverse feminist critiques.” One wall had been turned into a giant blackboard, on which students scribbled math equations. The others were decorated with posters of feminist icons, slogans promoting intersectionality, and advertisements for a forthcoming “Funk the Patriarchy” party. Another flier announced “We’re Launching Economic Warfare!” next to a drawing of the president’s face peeking out from behind a circular “No Trump” sign.
Did the Motley regulars know that, less than 400 yards away, the academic vanguard of the Trump administration had been provided with office space and tenure?
Charles R. Kesler, whose class on The Federalist Papers I would be attending that afternoon, is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, and presiding chieftain of an obscure (until recently) tribe of political philosophers known as the “West Coast Straussians” — named for the émigré philosopher Leo Strauss. Kesler is also the editor of The Claremont Review of Books, the conservative magazine that The New York Times says is “being hailed as the bible of highbrow Trumpism.” “Like Richard Nixon in ’68,” Kesler wrote in May 2016, in one of his many prescient columns, “Trump felt that this election might test whether the center could hold, whether a silent majority could be mobilized on behalf of the country itself. The issue was not so much a showdown over liberal or conservative policies, but the simpler, more elementary question of whether a majority still wanted America to be great again.”