How a Menswear Troll Became a Trump Administration Insider
National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton's 40,000+ posts on menswear message board Styleforum tell us a lot about the people who work for the president.
Last February, the Weekly Standard outed National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton as Publius Decius Mus, the pseudonymous author who had been building an “intellectual” case for Donald Trump’s presidency on sites like the Claremont Review of Books and the Journal of American Greatness. In that article, a throwaway detail about Anton's “2006 book called The Suit, a word-for-word parody of [Niccolò] Machiavelli’s The Prince, also written under a pseudonym,” gave away even more. In fact, a 2006 Dandyism.net post had already spelled it all out, identifying Michael Anton as “‘manton’ on the various [men's style] forums” and the “author of the recently released book The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men’s Style.”
As “Manton,” Anton has authored more than 40,000 posts at the menswear message board Styleforum since 2002. When the Weekly Standard piece dropped, Anton’s multiple personalities soon coagulated on Styleforum's members-only Current Events, Power and Money section in the thread, “Remember Manton, aka Nicholas Antongiavanni?” where users concluded that his outing became a matter of “when,” not “if.” Shortly thereafter, The Intercept wrote about how Anton’s Styleforum posts reveal his maniacal obsession with fine wine and nuclear apocalypse. But Manton is so much more than that: as one of the board’s earliest, most prolific, and foundational voices, he lavished vehement opinions on everything from standards for men’s business clothing to the difference between fresco and hopsack suitings.
And contrary to the blinkered pro-Trump populism that Decius promotes, Anton’s earlier posts show a much broader perspective; he even mocked the style and ideas of the man who would become his boss. Since Anton joined the administration in February 2017, he’s scaled back his activity (though he still logs on once in a while to vent about the MTA or ask for work-trip restaurant recommendations). But he’s left a long enough paper trail to help explain how a man who once held up Trump as the paragon of bad politics and worse style could become one of his consiglieres.
An enduring part of Anton’s Styleforum legacy is the 26-page thread he started in 2007, “Conservative Business Dress,” a code Anton nicknamed “CBD.” In the thread, he sought to lay out a simple, solid wardrobe for corporate types: charcoal grey suits, white broadcloth shirts, etc. But message boards being message boards, Godwin’s Law kicked into effect less than a week in, and users began highlighting the CBD aspects of SS uniforms. What started as terse chiding on Anton’s part—“Above all, CBD should not have any traces of the uniforms of a CRIMINAL, GENOCIDAL REGIME! To think that I actually have to explain this”—yielded to outrage: “Can I please ask you f*cking Nazi apologists to STOP HIJACKING MY THREAD!” How things have changed for Anton in those 11 years! Now, in his role setting the narrative on national security concerns, he has to deal with the Nazi sympathizer-in-chief hijacking his thread on a near-daily basis.
What’s particularly fascinating in Anton’s Styleforum history is the animus he once held for said hijacker. Back in August 2012, Anton started a thread, “How to Wear a White Shirt,” which noted that “Trump's signature is to wear some horrible bright satin tie in a color that clashes terribly with a white shirt.” But the betrayals of his earlier beliefs are more than aesthetic. In 2011, he began “Trump is #2 in GOP Field,” which would become the Current Events section’s main Trump thread. The text of the first post: “And #1 among Tea Party voters,” followed by three rage faces. When Trump tied Mike Huckabee atop one 2012 primary poll: six rage faces. When Trump finally decided against running in May 2011, Anton wrote, “gr;tpos”—good riddance; true piece of shit.
Anton, who also served as NSC spokesman in the Bush administration, used to identify as the kind of Republican who, even jokingly, yearned for “the pure days of the liberals Goldwater and Reagan, the last good Republicans” in his 2012 thread, “Why I can no longer be a Republican.” But something changed between then and 2016, when Anton—as Decius—began arguing at The Unz Review for a “Sensible, Coherent Trumpism.” (That essay was later republished at The Journal of American Greatness.) Following his work in the Bush administration, he did stints as Rupert Murdoch’s speechwriter, at Citigroup, and at the investment firm BlackRock, where he worked until he joined the administration in February of last year. As he held these posts among the conservative elite, he drifted rightward, his regard for mainstream politics melting away until he decided that “a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto,” as he declared in the most famous of his pro-Trump treatises, 2016’s “The Flight 93 Election,” published at The Claremont Review of Books. “With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances,” he wrote.
A man of Anton’s studied refinement must feel daily humiliation when faced with Trump’s poor taste.
Of course, a person can change his mind—the Trump administration is full of people who have betrayed earlier, saner beliefs in exchange for power or access—but Anton’s passion for fashion adds a layer of irony to his political turn. In The Suit, Anton’s menswear-themed Machiavelli parody, he dedicates a chapter to the diminished clout of well-dressed men: “Why the Dandies of America Have Lost Their Influence.” His platonic ideal of an influential dandy is one who seeks to stand out not with “bold patterns and bright colors” (practically the Trump tie uniform) but with “perfect fit, rakish silhouette, quality materials, and impeccable workmanship”—the Trumpian antithesis. On top of the president’s general incompetence, a man of Anton’s studied refinement must feel daily humiliation when faced with Trump’s poor taste (“cheap things made to look expensive or expensive things made to look cheap,” in the words of Doreen St. Felix): his scotch-taped, overlong ties, and what celebrated London tailor Dominic Sebag-Montefiore diagnosed as “pudding-y shoulders and creases in the front of the trousers, which seem to be slipping down.” (When he pops up in the media, Anton looks well-dressed, if not particularly happy, in neatly tailored suits of classical proportions.)
To make sense of this dissonance, it’s helpful to remember that the world of menswear proper, rather than men’s fashion, is Anton’s obsession: many of the rules have frozen in time; silhouettes rarely change; and new clothing is most celebrated when it adheres to these “classic” standards. You can vigorously debate menswear without conceding to changing popular tastes, or considering the ideologies that shaped the standards in the first place. In the hundreds of replies can be exchanged about the credits and demerits of the Windsor knot, no one has to mention the Duke of Windsor’s Nazi sympathies. When someone in the “Conservative Business Dress” thread made a lightly veiled reference to the Bush White House being a so-called “CRIMINAL, GENOCIDAL REGIME,” Anton suggested that they should head to the “correct sub-forum for calling George Bush a Nazi” over at the politics-focused part of the site.
In 2010, Anton began to chafe at Styleforum’s political discourse—“[it's] not the disagreements that get me so much as the astoundingly graceless, meanspirited [sic] and trashy behavior,” he wrote—which culminated in a quest to have himself banned from Current Events. In his 2012 “Suicide by Mod” thread announcing his planned departure from the sub-forum, he gleefully noted that “you don't have manton [sic] to kick around any more.” Instead, he separated business and pleasure, moving his polemics elsewhere—and to a larger stage.
With Anton’s Styleforum past in mind, it’s hard not to wonder if he questions his place in the Trump administration. Just a year into Trump’s presidency, the middle-class interests he promoted on as Decius appear ill-served—with the kind of sartorial faux pas that would have driven the old Manton up a wall. Trump made his own daughter a “special advisor to the president” as his underlings hawked her clothing line. His cabinet members watch his speeches in Stubbs & Wootton slippers —hardly CBD-approved footwear. He installed an inept propagandist who dresses like a Balenciaga clone with none of the magic. And if you take Michael Wolff’s word for it, all Anton can muster in protest is “a deft eye roll.”
The dandy counsel who better understood the heart of the Trump project from the beginning was Roger Stone, possibly the only man since Reagan to sincerely wear a morning suit to a presidential inauguration. He knew that Trump’s appeal wasn’t as an intellectual movement in need of a trellis, but a gut-level lurch towards base instincts, towards the motivating power of various -isms and phobias. In that light, Anton’s rightward slide becomes easier to root. In 2014, two years after his self-imposed Current Events exile, he witnessed a disagreement over the advantages of Neopolitan bespoke tailoring over tailored ready-to-wear. In the debate-about-the-debate that broke out, a user at the center of the disagreement complained that others were accusing him of “tar babying.” When some users chimed in to note the phrase’s racial connotations, Anton went apoplectic. In a series of missives, he wrote: “I am tired of officious little busybodies wagging their fingers in our faces and telling us what we can and cannot say”; “I am tired of the Social Justice Warriors who troll the Internet looking for things to get offended over”; and “Discourse in this country has become a joke and you people (‘you people’—that's racist!!!!) are the reason.” Combined with his Decius diatribes about “the academic-intellectual lie that America’s inherently racist and evil nature can be expiated only through ever greater ‘diversity,’” it becomes clear that the grievance so key to Trumpism was inside people like Anton all along: people whose misplaced feelings of injustice kept them ready to argue, regardless of what they were arguing about.
In the “Remember Manton,” thread, one user wrote that “while I appreciated Manton's insights on suiting and sartorial matters, I couldn't help but see him he as an edgelord whenever he'd veer off course on one of his rants.” The 2016 election was all about that kind of internet anger. Broad swaths of the country may very well have been goaded by Russian troll farmers into lending their support to a man who goes against every ideal America pretends to uphold, their inflamed passions eroding their restraint. But restraint is all it was. The end result couldn’t have been made without the raw material.