Trump, Democracy, and Power

I’m working on a post about the political implications of Trump’s victory, but for now, let’s look at what Trump’s win tells us about democracy and government legitimacy.

I’ve seen some people on the left trying to reach out and understand the concerns of Trump voters. This is absolutely welcome, and in a future post I will talk about which of those concerns make sense, and which don’t. However, if you’re only considering other points of view because you lost an election, you may be thinking about politics and government all wrong. The goal of government policy shouldn’t be to cater to the whims and desires of the people who voted and supported the winning coalition, while crushing the unbelievers under a savage reign of public shaming and thought crime. Unfortunately, it feels like much of the social justice left adopted this mentality, and so we now might be forced under a right-wing government that has countered by taking this same governing strategy to heart. Policy should be about creating the best outcomes we can, which I think largely results from allowing individuals to make as many of their own decisions as possible with minimal government interference. That means allowing for a broad range of activities and types of commerce to occur, but it also means opposing expansion of government power.

Of course, the best way to do that right now is to point out that political victory doesn’t mean Trump supporters have any good ideas about improving the country, or even their own situations. The expansion of government action and government power Trump has promised are still terrible regardless of any democratic outcome.

I’m aware this is harsh, and it’s part of what Trump voters are complaining about when they say coastal elites are ignoring them, but I’m not (and have never) dismissed their concerns as racism and xenophobia; I tried to look at Trump’s policies themselves. The problem is that Trump never met me or anyone else on policy grounds. He has few ideas, and the ones he does have are pretty crappy. Against Trump acknowledged the left had done plenty of bad things, but Trump promised things at least as bad.

Moreover, the left (and maybe even the right) shouldn’t be saying “I live in a democracy, so apparently Trump’s ideas are legitimate because he won an election”. They should be saying “Maybe democracy is dangerous if it legitimizes tyranny, and maybe we should limit the power of the state to reduce the risks democracy poses”. In fact, they probably should have been saying this for the last eight years.

Being skeptical of democracy isn’t so bad. Democracies don’t always come to good solutions to problems. Supposing a majority of voters have elected one candidate over another, it’s several steps of logic to then say that a single rejection of one candidate in an election of dozens of issues then constitutes that the winning candidate’s stance on a particular issues is (A) popular and (B) effective. Add in that Trump did not actually win the popular vote, and, the fact that Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem states that there is no knowable community preference on any issue which had 3 or more possible stances to choose from.  And even if voters could all agree on a single popular issues, there’s no reason their favorite policy would actually work.

What I’m trying to say is that despite whatever concerns Trump voters have, what matters are the actions he takes. The problem is that the last two administrations have massively expanded the executive power of the president and increased regulatory involvement in many areas of the economy. The Department of Defense has compiled a massive database and is spying on American citizens and foreign nationals without warrants. That data is shared with federal law enforcement agencies again without oversight. The president has the power to strip you of your rights and hold you indefinitely if you are investigated in connection to terrorism. He even apparently has the ability to kill you without a trial. Trump has promised further abuses of power, including deportations of millions of people that cannot be done without racial profiling and gross abuses of due process. 

Maybe Trump won’t seize executive authority or scoff at the Constitution at all, and 90% of his campaign promises will turn out to be hyperbole. But I doubt it. Maybe he’ll try to accomplish things and be thwarted by checks from the other branches of government and the Constitution like Madison imagined. I maintain that what matters is policy, and if his policies are not that bad, I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong. But the fact that many are worried anyway indicates that we all understand to some extent or another that we have created an imperial presidency. It’s concerning that over 60 million people voted for a stated authoritarian who has advocated war crimes including killing of terrorists’ families; it’s also concerning that almost 61 million voted for someone who advocated a war in Libya without Congressional approval, who supported and continues to support warrantless spying on Americans, and condoned drone attacks that actually killed families of terrorists. The fact that 60 million votes is enough to make us fear for our rights means our troubles started a long time ago.

Yes, Trump’s presidency will likely be worse than anything we’ve ever seen, but as a state skeptic, it’s helpful when a politician just comes out and says how horrible they are rather than everyone pretending that the Obama and Bush imperial presidencies were normal and acceptable uses of executive authority. It makes the case against state power much more straightforward. Progressives need to realize is that Trump is worse only as a matter of degree; this blog post would have been written had Hillary won on Tuesday, it just wouldn’t have had a president-elect that cared so little about his reputation.

 


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Picture Credit: Replica Oval Office by George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, Licensed under CC-BY-2.0.

Against Hillary: Government Power and Criminal Justice

This is the fifth and final post in my series opposing Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. See the introduction in Part 1 here. Read my opposition to Trump here. Read why you should mathematically vote for a third party here.

Government Power and Criminal Justice

I could go on critiquing many more topics where progressives and libertarians disagree. I’m not sure that would help, so I’ll conclude with this broad section on government power. The fundamental problem we should all have with Hillary Clinton is that she trusts the government to fix every problem we face. But the government has no competition, is slow to change, is slow to respond, and wields a massive police state. Moreover, she also seems to believe government officials should always be trusted to act in the public interest. This seems to govern her position on her mishandling classified information, on her foreign interventions and wars, on healthcare, on government spending, on our right to know that our government is spying on us, and even on the right for people to publish books and movies critical of candidates near elections.

Let’s go back to some points I made in my Against Trump post. As noted by Conor Friedersdorf, the powers of the president apparently include ordering the execution of American citizens with drone strikes (something it seems Hillary Clinton implicitly approved of), detaining Americans suspected of terrorism indefinitely, and spying on millions of Americans with unconstitutional general warrants. Quoting me from the Trump piece:

The enormous amount of statutes on the books means it’s almost certain average people break laws every single day, and so these law enforcement agencies can always find probable cause to arrest you. Then they can stack up charges to force a plea deal, all at the discretion of prosecutors.  As it stands right now, there’s a strong case that the criminal justice system is biased, slow, and unfair, and that it deprives individuals of their rights. But now imagine Trump in charge of the DEA, FBI, intelligence services, and the military.

I later compare Trump to Nixon. My intention was to show that bad presidents have existed and they did terrible damage. Of course, Nixon and Trump in reality have little in common; Nixon was an unlikeable, calculating, politically successful military interventionist who also expanded the size and scope of the regulatory state and federal government while using his power to cover up his aggressive use of the state to fight his political rivals. In other words, he was literally Hillary Clinton in 2016. Imagine putting Richard Nixon in charge of the government today where he would have access to unprecendented surveillance, secret courts, and undeclared wars. This is what we face in a Clinton presidency.

One of the biggest issues in 2016 has been the way police interact with citizens, especially people of color. The trust Hillary Clinton has in the state is simply incompatible with the reality of police abuses. Libertarians, on the other hand, have been talking about police abuse for quite some time. Some of those ideas have been adopted by Clinton including an opposition to mandatory minimums, a prioritization of violent crime over drug crimes, and better police accountability. But Clinton’s positions are mixed at best: harsher sentences in the 90s that helped create the massive prison population we see today weren’t just introduced for drug possession, but also firearm possession. Clinton hasn’t discussed liberalization of firearm ownership, and in fact has called for the suspension of 2nd amendment rights for people placed on the unaccountable and discriminatory terrorist watch list. Her support for the Patriot Act and NSA spying doesn’t really imply a worldview that wants to reduce the police powers of the state. Indeed, her stances in all sorts of areas from undeclared wars to videogames reflect a fundamental belief in civilian deference to state power. Yet as countless examples have shown, including Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, and more, deferring to a powerful police state allows harm to come to innocents.

The more power the state has, the more likely there will be confrontations between actors of the state and citizens, and confrontations where there is a power imbalance leads to abuses. Even if we could end racism today, we would not be solving the problem; police that still abuse their power, just against people of all races equally are still immoral. Whether it’s the justice system broadly, government surveillance, regulatory powers, or foreign interventions Hillary Clinton does not offer a fundamental change from simply trusting in the state to fix the problem. Our military has been involved in trillion dollar middle eastern wars over the past 16 years. The justice system is so broken that prosecutors can force 95% of defendants to accept plea bargains. We are outraged at the power the police are wielding without oversight. Yet we are making the problem worse by putting a reincarnation of Richard Nixon into the White House, after she has already brazenly broken the law and gotten away with it. This is simply the wrong answer.


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Against Hillary: Fiscal Policy and Taxation

This is the fourth post in my series opposing Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. See the introduction in Part 1 here. Read my opposition to Trump here. Read why you should mathematically vote for a third party here.

Taxation

I won’t spend a huge amount of time on this section because there’s another fundamental ideological argument here, but I want to emphasize a few key points. One is that government taxation and spending is inherently distortionary in an economic sense. Therefore, we should be biased against government policies that transfer money unless we can definitively show the benefits are significantly larger than the costs. Relatedly, the tax code should be as simple and as non-distortionary as possible. Gary Johnson has a pretty good idea here on replacing the income tax with a similarly progressive consumption tax. Similar tax holes would likely be carved out over time, but throwing out the current system in favor of one that does not discourage income earning, but only spending, would have some clear benefits. This idea is popular among libertarians, progressives, and even Bill Gates. It is not a perfect plan, especially when taking into account transition costs, but the current tax code does not have much going for it: it’s complex and creates bad incentives everywhere. Needless to say, Donald Trump’s fiscal policy may not raise taxes, but excessive government borrowing can have big costs as well, and at some point in the future distortionary taxes will need to pay for all of Trump’s out of control spending ideas.

Spending

The second point is that if we assume luck is an inherent part of wealth, then using government as a form of social insurance is pretty reasonable, even from a libertarian standpoint. But most government spending is not focused on giving money to the poor. A huge chunk is spent on the elderly in the form of social security and medicare, even though many are solidly middle class. Taxes for the programs are also fairly regressive. Other major spending categories are overseas military operations, defense spending generally, veterans spending (which we will see more of if Hillary is elected), and interest on the national debt. Together these make up a lot more than 60% of the federal budget. And that’s not even going into the costs of the war on drugs, corporate subsidies, and so on, which are a bit harder to calculate, but are nonetheless real costs which are not remotely focused on helping the poor. The problem is that Hillary isn’t really talking about reforming these areas. If anything, she’s talked about expanding them and introducing new spending areas. Again, this isn’t even mentioning the unknown costs of her future foreign policy blunders.

Free college tuition is really the most egregious. We already live in a world where college graduates are forced to take jobs that they are overqualified for. The reason is partially because government already offers huge subsidies for college tuition; as a result, colleges have little price competition. They just increase the prices, and the state just keeps paying it. Increasing the amount of subsidies in order to fix a high price doesn’t work for tulips (seriously, read it), and it doesn’t work for college. Spending lots of money to educate someone on a subject that is not in demand, whether it’s a B.A. in psychology or skills in coding fortran, is very expensive to society. That cost should be born out by the person learning the skill with no market, not by society. Incentives would then push people to either learn skills that are in demand (so they can pay back the cost of education), or to forego college and begin earning immediately without huge upfront costs. Both of these would be better for society at large. Yes, we should help those with little wealth with government support, but those receiving help should ultimately decide what to do with additional funds that will best help them. The government should not interfere with the relative opportunity cost faced by prospective applicants to college. Reducing, not increasing college subsidies is the only way to control the rising cost of college and fix the overqualification and saturation of college degrees in the job marketplace.

Finally, paying for this with higher taxes on the wealthy is a bit wishful. Firstly, the arithmetic doesn’t quite add up; the New York Times estimates higher taxes would raise only $100 billion to $200 billion depending on how broad and steep the tax increases are. This isn’t enough to cover current annual payments on the national debt. It would likely cover public college tuition today, before additional cost growth and the large influx of students that free tuition would bring. There wouldn’t be much room for a new war in Syria or an expansion of social security. Secondly, federal tax revenues have basically never exceeded 20% of GDP. It’s not that higher taxes wouldn’t raise revenue; they just wouldn’t beyond a certain level. A Clinton presidency would not be as fiscally irresponsible as a Trump presidency, but it is a bit worrisome considering the returns of this spending seem to be to get middle class votes more than to help the poor.


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Against Hillary: Healthcare

This is the third post in my series opposing Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. See the introduction in Part 1 here. Read my opposition to Trump here. Read why you should mathematically vote for a third party here.

Healthcare

Now we’re turning to a subject where there may be an unavoidable Fundamental Ideological Disagreement. Nonetheless, I think there may be some agreement that the current healthcare system has many problems.

In 2009, the Democrats had complete control of the presidency, the House, and even had a super-majority in the Senate. Their priority was healthcare reform: the American system was prohibitively expensive, spent too much money even when patients were covered, tied your healthcare to your job, denied coverage to people with preexisting conditions and others who could not pay, and did not properly align preventative care incentives. They took a fundamentally left-leaning, centralized, top-down approach to solving these problems. The Obama administration specifically stayed out of the legislative process allowing much of the law to be patched together through Congress. They solved some of the problems in the American health system (and those steps are to be commended), some they tried to solve, but didn’t, and some they ignored altogether. Ironically, for a piece of legislation often called the “Affordable Care Act”, one of the problems Obamacare largely didn’t touch was the lack of market forces and pricing pressures on healthcare, guaranteeing the price problem would worsen.

When it comes to allocating resources, incentivizing cost saving and innovation, and producing the best quality goods for the lowest possible prices, there is no better system than a competitive free market with unregulated prices. Sellers seek to provide the best product at the lowest cost so that buyers will want to purchase them.  I’d hesitate to even call it a system, since, apart from pricing systems and private property, everything is driven by individuals making decisions, according to their own priorities and needs. Markets do have problems, but the biggest one is that poor people won’t have the money to get the product (i.e. healthcare) they need. Unfortunately, instead of just fixing that problem by giving government healthcare subsidies to the poor, Obamacare tried to solve all the problems of the entire healthcare system through legislation. Obama had an unprecedented opportunity to encourage both market reforms and increased coverage for the poor, but instead opted for the (politically easier) increased regulation on a system already heavily strained by bad rules.

Instead of making it easier to purchase healthcare as an individual, Obamacare cemented the relationship between employment and healthcare. Instead of allowing consumers and doctors to figure out some prices with high deductible insurance plans, Obamacare mandated many more items be specifically covered by insurance plans, thus hiding their costs from patients. Instead of allowing insurance and consumers to follow their own incentives to promote preventive care, Obamacare mandates one-size fits all preventative care regulations which encode waste into the system. For more critiques of the system, check out this review in the Cato Journal.

The result is a system that solved the problem of coverage for the poor and people with preexisting conditions, but did not fundamentally solve the lack of market pricing and bad incentives. The mandates on insurance companies and hospitals (besides creating waste) increased the cost of providing care. The increased cost was supposed to be alleviated by subsidies and more young people entering the system, but the costs have been higher than expected and thus fewer people have signed up than had hoped. Perhaps more subsidies would get more people to sign up, but that doesn’t really solve the fundamental issues, just puts the burden of cost onto the taxpayer instead of healthy consumers. As a result of a lack of healthy young people in the system, insurance companies are raising premiums, despite downsloping demand curves (you drop prices to bring people in, not raise them). Clearly, the problems will only continue, and we’re stuck in a political situation where some parts of Obamacare are popular and now can’t be politically taken back, despite them being unsustainable.

Hillary Clinton wants to keep much of this situation intact. This is a terrible policy. We need real market reforms or this cost growth will continue. This isn’t even to suggest that an insurance mandate would be bad policy, or that the poor shouldn’t be able to get healthcare subsidies; but if there is no price competition, no ability for consumers to choose their healthcare provider, then there are no ramifications for patient or doctor’s actions that are inefficient or unnecessary. The costs are just socialized by the system and the problems never fixed. And it’s not like we are out of ideas for fixing the healthcare system: ending healthcare ties to your employer, allowing for more widespread use of HSAs, scaling, split benefits, and reforming scope of practice laws are just some of those. Over the last 15 years, American middle class wages haven’t improved much. Yet healthcare costs (and spending as a part of GDP) has gone way up. Perhaps if these costs were better controlled (and not paid by employers), more of the productivity gains would return to middle class incomes. But we’ll never find out when Hillary is president.


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Against Hillary: Foreign Policy and Trade

This is the second post in my series opposing Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. See the introduction in Part 1 here. Read my opposition to Trump here. Read why you should mathematically vote for a third party here.

Foreign Policy

Media coverage might make you think that Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson’s weakest point in comparison to Hillary Clinton is foreign policy. On the contrary, foreign policy is by far the the most important policy reason voters should reject Hillary Clinton, especially in favor of Johnson. News stories might seem to indicate that Johnson knows nothing about foreign policy, but in fact he has an excellent nuanced approach to foreign affairs. Libertarians have a reputation for isolationism, and indeed an important part of Johnson’s policy is a reduction in American military involvement in the middle east. But he is still a proponent of American diplomacy and defending American obligations in NATO. He’s also the only proponent of free trade in this election, a policy which has systematically broken down geopolitical opponents by integrating their economies into global markets and intertwining their economic success with ours. Let’s contrast this with Hillary Clinton’s policies.

The American consensus on the 2003 Iraq War is certainly negative, and I’d go as far as to say that most agree it was a mistake, especially on the left. Hillary Clinton voted to support that war, but so did many politicians on both sides of the aisle (including 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry). Of course, even some blame for a war that had several hundred thousand deaths of civilians and combatants is pretty awful. 4,507 Americans died in the Iraq war. This is significantly higher than the amount of people who died in the September 11th attacks. These are real people that likely would be alive today if not for the actions of American politicians. Yes, Hillary Clinton was not the only person who voted for this war, so perhaps she is only responsible for a fraction of this mistake. But is it that great to be responsible for the deaths of only 100 Americans who died for a mistake? What about the thousands of Iraqi Security Forces who died in the insurgency? What about the estimated five million Iraqi orphans caused by the war, or the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who died?

In 2004, Hillary said she had no regrets her Iraq War vote. In 2008, she didn’t want to be flip-flopping and so did not apologize, but she nonetheless lost the nomination to Obama, with the Iraq War support being one of several factors. In her 2014 book, she finally admitted that she regrets her vote backing the Iraq War. Yet, as The Atlantic points out, she was quite sincere in her vote in 2002; this was not simply a political ploy to look strong on national security. And if indeed she has had a change of heart, one would think she would treat future policy decisions differently.

In 2011 as Secretary of State, she faced another policy decision in Libya…and again decided to push for intervention. During a Democratic primary debate a year ago when asked about the intervention, Hillary Clinton began her defense of American involvement in Libya by labeling it as “smart power at its best”. Connor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic harshly criticized Clinton’s full answer stating that her upbeat portrayal of Libya was:

…about as misleading as summarizing the Iraq War by saying that the Iraqis had a terrible leader; they had a free election after the war; and they voted for moderates. It elides massive suffering and security threats that have occurred in postwar Libya.

Also worth noting, as Friedersdorf points out, this war was not declared, and not only violated the War Powers Resolution, but went against the expressed opposition of a Libya intervention Congressional vote. Moreover, the New York Times discusses in-depth how Obama was hesitant to get involved in Libya until Clinton convinced him it was a worthwhile endeavor. This is her war, and it left Libya a failed state.

Clinton’s support of military interventions in the middle east should be very concerning to everyone. Essentially all military interventions she has supported in the middle east have been failures: Libya is most prominently hers; she voted to go to war in Iraq which was a foreign policy disaster; she also supported the Afghanistan surge in 2009 and drone bombing in Pakistan during the first Obama term. Seven years after the surge in Afghanistan, there are still thousands of American soldiers and several times that many contractors in Afghanistan today. The Pakistan drone strikes have been severely criticized, with estimates of civilian casualties varying between 250 to over 900 civilians killed.

Of course, the US hasn’t really had a successful military intervention in the middle east since the Gulf War. Yet Hillary Clinton has continued to favor aggressive hawkish interventions. Her widely touted “experience” during her husband’s administration, as a Senator, and as a member of the Obama administration seems to have created systemic bias towards intervention in her approach to foreign affairs. In the Times piece, Clinton adviser Anne-Marie Slaughter states:

“Mrs. Clinton repeatedly speaks of wanting to be ‘caught trying.’ In other words, she would rather be criticized for what she has done than for having done nothing at all.”

This may sound noble, but it should disturb anyone considering voting for Clinton. The implication that “trying” is always better than “not trying” ignores the possibility that American policy could ever accidentally cause bad outcomes. This isn’t just possible, it’s quite likely, as demonstrated specifically by Iraq and Libya. Now Clinton is proposing additional intervention in Syria, beyond what the Obama administration has pursued. This includes no-fly zones and troops on the ground to create safe zones for refugees.

You might say that Syria is different from Iraq in that the situation literally couldn’t be worse, so perhaps intervention only risks improving one of the bloodiest wars in the last decade. Yet no-fly zones would demand a confrontation with Russia (they are the ones flying the planes) and would require the US to shoot down Russian military aircraft. This is escalation, and thus it’s quite easy for imprecise or incorrect policy to actually make Syria become even worse under Clinton’s policy. A Johnson/libertarian hands-off approach has inherently less risk because there would be no soldiers involved and little to no risk of escalation with Russia. Johnson has specifically advocated working with Russia, which is also basically the policy the Obama administration is taking. Nonetheless, we should acknowledge this approach has done little to end the war in Syria.

But if anything, that’s another point to Johnson: if Clinton’s ideas are so great, it seems that the Obama administration would have already implemented them and succeeded. The implication then is that Clinton differs significantly from Obama in Syria policy. Specifically, she is willing to commit more than pure air support. This sounds suspiciously like a traditional middle eastern military intervention championed by neoconservatives/right-wing hawks. Johnson’s Syria policy is suspiciously similar to Obama’s. So the question is why would Democrats and progressives side with Clinton when the Clinton vs Johnson policies are really right-wing vs Obama Syria policies. It seems siding with Clinton over Johnson in this area means abandoning the left’s positions, including that of the sitting Democratic president.

Moreover, for Clinton’s policies to succeed, she would need to win a middle eastern conflict by building a coalition among international actors who are geopolitically opposed. This war would need to be won against both a strong dictator and a large insurgency, the latter being something the United States has failed at essentially every time in the middle east. These plans are unreasonable, unprecedented, and unlikely to work.

Voting to approve of Clinton’s continual push for war and intervention is to agree not to hold her responsible for her repeated foreign policy mistakes which have lost countless lives. It’s to agree that we can afford to spend another several hundred billion dollars on another middle east intervention. It’s to put faith in a person who has learned nothing, who is hoping her intentions in solving the Syrian conflict will overcome the reality of the middle eastern politics.

Free Trade

Trade is next due to its role in the dynamics of geopolitical relationships. Again, despite the consensus that foreign relations is Hillary’s strong point, this is the second foreign policy area where she is on the wrong side. When it comes to trade, economists are in astounding agreement that free trade is a good thing. The benefits of freer international markets are clear and the results are all around us; today we have global supply chains that reduce the cost and increase the availability of goods of all types. Integration of developing economies has raised the productivity of the global poor and allowed for sustainable, incentivized growth to pull literally billions out of poverty, a feat which government and charities have never come close. The burden is on free trade opponents to explain their position, and in this election, those opponents are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Gary Johnson is the only candidate running this year who is on the right side of perhaps the most important issue when it comes to the degree and number of people helped.

Hillary Clinton may say in private that she supports free trade, but at best then we are hoping she is lying publicly. Unfortunately, whatever political calculations she is making may not necessarily change after election day. At the very least, it seems reasonable to suggest free trade will not be a top priority of the Clinton administration given she is running as far as possible from the TPP. As an aside, the TPP itself has many non-free trade components, including extensive increases in intellectual property protections. But our president should be someone who makes the case to the American people and the to the world of the benefits of trade, cooperation, and commercial interaction (I can’t believe I’m defending Obama). The current presidential administration has created many bad policies, but in foreign affairs, both in war and trade, Clinton is somehow huge steps backwards from where we are today.


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Against Hillary: The Rule of Law

This post is the latest in a series this year covering the 2016 election. In May, I took a look at all candidates that had run for the Democratic and Republican nominations and noted that most were flawed. I restricted much of my analysis to the candidates’ political electability, regardless of my agreement with their ideology. Obviously much of that post focused on the failures of the Republican Party to nominate someone better than Trump, but I noted that already Hillary Clinton was demonstrating some serious popularity issues. In fact, I’m pretty sure her vulnerability (and high likelihood of being the Democratic nominee) was the primary reason for so many Republicans entering the race. That notion has proven correct as the Huffington Post favorability ratings put Hillary at 43% favorable / 54% unfavorable. In comparison at this time of the race, Mitt Romney was about 46% favorable / 48% unfavorable and Obama was 45% favorable / 50% unfavorable. Against an average Republican presidential candidate, I’d bet she’d be losing badly.

But she’s not facing an average Republican, she’s facing Donald Trump, perhaps the worst major party candidate in memory. I’ve gone into extensive detail about the problems with a Trump presidency, and I’ve recommended voting for Gary Johnson (twice), or any third party, if the election isn’t close or you don’t live in a swing state. I define swing state very narrowly as states with a serious chance of their outcome determining the outcome of the election. Indeed, with only a week to go, betting markets have Clinton at over 70% chance to win the election.

However, even if my mathematical arguments make sense to you, if you are a self-identified Democrat or progressive, you might still prefer voting for a mainstream Democrat like Hillary Clinton rather than a third party just because she seems to fit your ideology better; sure, your vote likely won’t count, but perhaps you just don’t see much appeal in the third parties anyway so you might as well state your preference for a candidate you like. This post, at the very least, will lay out the case for why a Clinton presidency would be mediocre, and at best this post will persuade you to vote for Gary Johnson over Hillary Clinton. Again, this implies that there is no real chance of having a decisive vote.

Indeed, it is overwhelmingly likely that Hillary Clinton will be the 45th president of the United States no matter how you vote. While it is nice that Donald Trump will not be president, we must remember that Hillary Clinton’s victory is simply the final act in an election where our political system utterly failed.

One of the reasons I wanted to write Against Trump first was that there are so many faults you can have with Trump without encountering any Fundamental Ideological Disagreements. By Fundamental Ideological Disagreements, I mean that sometimes you encounter people where you don’t have anything close to the same goals in mind due to virtually irreconcilable ideology. A classic example of irreconcilable differences is abortion: some people believe that life begins at conception, and some people believe a fetus only gains rights once it is viable outside the womb. You can’t really get to one place from the other since each has fundamental ideological assumptions about whether an unborn fetus has rights.

Fundamental Ideological Disagreements are part of the reason I favor consequentialism; if we can at least agree on what our goals are, now it’s theoretically just an empirical disagreement on the best way to get there. With Trump, there’s a lot to dislike without considering ideology: he trolls, he flip-flops, he’s unintelligent and incompetent. Regardless of whether we agree with what a perfectly competent Trump would do, it’s apparent, through stupidity or flip-flopping, many of his promises are empty.

Hillary Clinton is not nearly as unknown. She’s done her own share of flip-flopping, but we generally know where she stands on big issues: she favors American military intervention, she favors government involvement and expansion of an expensive welfare state, she favors a regulated economy with higher taxes on the wealthy, and she favors curtailing individual liberties in the name of national security, redistribution, and social justice. To oppose Clinton is to confront these ideological differences which may be impossible to change in a blog post. But there are some critiques that virtually everyone can agree are quite concerning.

The Rule of Law

The biggest issue is the double standard of the law as applied to Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information with her private email server. FBI Director James Comey indicated that because there was no intentional mishandling of information, any case against Clinton would fail despite clear violations of the law. Yet, as Glenn Greenwald points out, this is not how low-level government employees who accidentally mishandle classified information are normally treated. In fact, according to Greenwald, the Obama administration has prosecuted “more individuals under the Espionage Act of 1917 for improperly handling classified information than all previous administrations combined.”

This includes some crazy examples Greenwald lists:

NSA whistleblower Tom Drake, for instance, faced years in prison, and ultimately had his career destroyed, based on the Obama DOJ’s claims that he “mishandled” classified information (it included information that was not formally classified at the time but was retroactively decreed to be such). Less than two weeks ago, “a Naval reservist was convicted and sentenced for mishandling classified military materials” despite no “evidence he intended to distribute them.” Last year, a Naval officer was convicted of mishandling classified information also in the absence of any intent to distribute it.

The idea that the FBI couldn’t get a case together when Clinton insecurely stored documents far more sensitive than those mishandled by low level government workers is absurd. Of course, I’m not suggesting that Clinton necessarily did something immoral; it’s also true that the American government vastly over-classifies everything and is far too zealous about prosecuting people who mishandle information. So called “classified” documents may be classified simply because bureaucrats are playing it safe and covering everything as broadly as possible to avoid any problems. They may even be classified when national security is not in danger but rather because it is simply politically expedient to do so.

But it’s clear that Clinton broke the law and was not prosecuted due to who she is. It’s also true that she repeatedly lied (or didn’t know) about breaking these laws. The stories about her include brazen lifting of NSA classified intelligence sent to unsecured email servers simply because she didn’t want to access email like a regular employee. Against a real opponent, this would be damning.

Moreover, as Scott Shackford at Reason points out, Hillary herself has specifically criticized people who released classified information, even if that information significantly changed the national debate on a topic and led to courts ruling programs unconstitutional:

We’re also talking about a woman who thinks Edward Snowden didn’t go through “proper channels” before leaking information about mass domestic surveillance to the public and should face legal consequences, though the whistleblowing channels she refers to probably wouldn’t have applied in Snowden’s situation. Despite deliberately not managing communications appropriately to make sure everything goes through “proper channels” with correct level of security, she wants to be treated differently.

Again, given Hillary will likely be the president anyway, there are plenty of alternative candidates who have never mishandled classified information that voters can and should cast their ballot for. Voting to state you disapprove of a president using this double standard seems like a worthy undertaking in its own right. At the very least, it is hugely troubling that the likely-president has already avoided the law due to political stature. The fact that our political system gave us a choice between an unpopular, incompetent, flip-flopping authoritarian and someone who couldn’t even follow the laws on classified information as a cabinet secretary is a huge indictment on the system. And any system that allows a president to win when they’ve already demonstrated the law doesn’t apply to them is dangerous. A vote for Hillary is an approval of that system.


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Picture Credit: Marc Nozell, Hillary Clinton in Nashua, NH licensed under CC-BY-2.0

Links 2016-10-12

I’ve added Andrew Gelman’s blog to the blogroll. Really great blog on statistical analysis. I also moved the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project to the Libertarian Web Directory under Issue Organizations instead of in the blogroll.

Comment on Slate Star Codex about evolutionary complexity and politics. There’s a limit to how much useful information we can get from elections, and building more complex institutions on such little information may be dangerous.

John Cochrane on Basic Income and its benefits, along with its large political problems.

So the DEA has taken the massive failure of the War on Drugs and decided the lesson to draw was to add another drug to Schedule 1, the most prohibited category (and more tightly controlled than cocaine). Kratom, a drug used for opioid withdrawal treatment has been added to the list. The 15 deaths cited by the DEA over the last 2 years are sure to bump up as users’ legal alternative to illegal opioids is removed.

Classic example of regulation making it more difficult for simple economic transactions. This manifests in higher prices for compliance which ends up hurting the poor disproportionately. Seattle used to be the leading place for “micro-housing”, but it’s being regulated out of existence to the tune of hundreds of affordable dwellings a year.

The ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International are launching a campaign to pardon Edward Snowden. I’ve gone on the record predicting that the Obama administration will not pardon Snowden, but I hope I’m wrong. Also, watch this excellent Reason TV interview with the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

Gary Johnson: WIRED should have endorsed me for president.

Related: Donald Trump has received no major newspaper endorsements, and many newspapers who have endorsed Republicans for decades, even centuries, are either endorsing Clinton, Johnson, or simply endorsing anyone but Trump. Some newspapers who don’t usually endorse anyone are doing so, such as the Atlantic, USA Today, and actually WIRED had never issued an endorsement. A redditor collected all the information into a nice post.

I’m not a Ross Douthat fan, but I do like this column. There’s a real sense of being surrounded that non-progressives feel. And when surrounded with no hope of making it out alive, soldiers fight to the death because they have nothing to lose. Not a great situation.

Heard through Alex Tabbarok at Marginal Revolution: apparently an author at the Telegraph isn’t happy about Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to eradicate all disease. She’s apparently afraid of the impacts of overpopulation. And she published it. In a real newspaper. So if you’re not optimizing for the “most good” in the world or most “human happiness”, what exactly are you optimizing for? If the author is so concerned about human population, does that mean she’s generally pro-war? Is she pro-Ebola? Anti-CDC? What are her feelings on ISIS? Does she have suicidal thoughts? I just have so many questions.

Seen through Slate Star Codex, the Brookings Institution has a report on charter schools in Massachusetts: “There is a deep well of rigorous, relevant research on the performance of charter schools in Massachusetts…This research shows that charter schools in the urban areas of Massachusetts have large, positive effects on educational outcomes. The effects are particularly large for disadvantaged students, English learners, special education students, and children who enter charters with low test scores. In marked contrast, we find that the effects of charters in the suburbs and rural areas of Massachusetts are not positive.” I’d guess this is because in the suburbs, the schools are already pretty good and must compete with expensive private schools anyway.

Forget moving to New Hampshire, the new mayor of Johannesburg is a self-proclaimed libertarian.

Why are American airports so crappy compared to international ones? Well it’s partially because most American airports cater to domestic flights and are not international travel hubs. Airports that focus on similar levels of domestic travel resemble LAX more than Dubai, LaGuardia more than Singapore.

Scott Sumner asks some interesting questions about a possible decline in materialism and how it relates to GDP growth and measurement. If everything you want to do can be done online, can you measure that economic improvement?

Jacob Levy at Bleeding Heart Libertarians writes that if you look at the polling numbers, Johnson doesn’t draw more from Clinton, and having him on the ticket actually helps her.

Obviously this election cycle has been particularly divisive and nasty. But did you know there are people working on fixing this? Check out the National Institute for Civil Discourse’s Standards of Conducts for Debates. Can you imagine if the political debates were actually like this? I might even want to watch them.

Megan McArdle on How to End the Death Penalty for Good. There’s an interesting point about how abortion laws were on the decline and probably would have quietly died except for the Supreme Court stepping in and making the decision themselves. This galvanized social conservatives into organizing themselves and mobilizing to protect their interests against perceived undemocratic justices. I’m not sure how accurate that is, but it’s certainly true that “judicial activism” has been reviled by the American Right for a while now.

A good rundown by Reason of their staffers and many prominent libertarians on who they will be voting for. Dave Barry’s response is by far my favorite.

There is a storm brewing in the Libertarian Party. Gary Johnson will likely meet the 5% threshold set by the FEC on who qualifies as a minor party. That means the LP will be eligible to get taxpayer provided funding for its candidate in 2020. There are two problem. One is that Libertarians are fundamentally opposed to this practice, and taking the money would make them look like hypocrites. The other is that neither party seems to take matching funds anymore as it also puts a cap on how much you can raise. That cap scales, so the cap itself may limit the LP in the 2020 election. 

Postlibertaian throwback: World Wars Per Century. Only since 2014 have we been living in an age where only a single world war was started in the preceding 100 years.


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Third Party Voting Still Makes Sense

Slate Star Codex has a well-argued post asking conservatives to vote for Clinton in swing states or voting for Clinton or Johnson in non-swing states. If you are interested in Trump vs Clinton arguments, I recommend reading it.

I find some of Scott’s arguments more compelling than others, especially his point on variance, a similar argument I made in my Trump piece. Trump is a completely unknown factor; he could allow his advisers to make most policy or he could take complete control and make policy himself. On the campaign trail he has been quite capricious, changing his mind on every issue. Hillary Clinton is a known entity, and what we know about her is pretty bad (I’ll get into policy in a different post), but the worst Trump presidency is absolutely more terrible than the worst Clinton presidency. Given the House is likely to remain in Republican control, I’m also willing to bet that the House will oppose most of Clinton’s policies, meaning she’ll be less able to implement drastic policy changes. Whether and to what extent the House will stop Trump from implementing bad policy is another unknown. Whether you vote for Clinton or Trump could come down to the level of risk you are willing to take.

I’d say I’m somewhat risk averse, and Scott identifies similarly. The world today is healthier, wealthier, less corrupt, more democratic, and more free than ever before in human history, so totally dismantling institutions is quite a risky endeavor. However, if you support Trump because you aren’t risk averse, then you shouldn’t be worried about voting for a third party anyway, and I’ve already made a long case as to why Gary Johnson deserves your vote over Trump.

However, I’d like to point out that even in swing states, voting for a major candidate (like Clinton) may not be as appealing as it sounds. I pointed out previously that the chance of your vote making a difference, even in a swing state, is incredibly low. Scott brings up that the federal budget is so large even if the president only has control over some discretionary spending, and even if one candidate is only marginally better at allocating the budget to important things, the difference in payoff is in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Thus, the expected value of voting in a swing state with a one in 10 million chance to determine the outcome is still hundreds of thousands of dollars.

However, while the worst of Trump is definitely worse than the worst of Clinton, the expected value of the Trump budget may be very similar to the expected value of a Clinton budget, especially for someone whose political outlook is similar to that of this blog, it’s just that the expected value of Trump’s budget has a much higher standard deviation. Additionally, as of early October, markets don’t have this election as particularly competitive. There is plenty of time for that to change, but if the election were held today, even voting in Florida would likely not be a “swing state” in the normal sense. Moreover, the vast majority of people do not live in swing states. According to the 538’s latest forecasts, there’s about a 50% chance of the “tipping-point state” (the state which provides the 270th electoral vote) being either Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, or North Carolina. Florida is the most likely at around 17%. Most voters do not live in these states, and while I think even people casting ballots in them could probably vote for a third party without affecting the outcome, everyone voting outside of those states will have no impact on the election.

Finally, the benefits of voting for a third party remain: ballot access is a serious problem and there will never be viable third party candidates if it’s impossible to get on the ballot. This year would have been a wonderful year to have an alternative right-of-center party for Never Trumpers to move to, but there’s just no way for a candidate to get on the ballot in most states late in the process. Additionally, if any third party hits 5% of the national vote (Gary Johnson is the only candidate close to this), their party qualifies for federal funding in the next election. Votes for a third party this year set the groundwork for more parties in the next election cycle which can affect much more than presidential elections. Votes for the main parties are completely wasted in non-swing states, and even in competitive states, the chances of affecting change with the two parties is incredibly low.


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If Johnson Can’t, No One Will

We’ve already discussed the huge problems this election cycle has revealed in our primary system. Everyone is also mostly aware of the two party system and the issues it causes; no one wants to “waste” their vote despite votes for third parties having more mathematical impact than votes for main parties.

When you stop to think about it, the overwhelming force of the two main parties is almost inconceivable: the Republicans and Democrats have been the main parties since 1856, that’s four times the length of time of the current most senior senator, Patrick Leahy, who took office in 1975. Imagine trying to win any election against Senator Leahy, who has been reelected six times already, and has connections to virtually all important constituencies and interests. His last election in 2010 he won 64% to 31%., and there’s essentially no chance he will lose an election until his retirement. Now imagine an institution that hasn’t just been around since 1975, but four times longer. It knows not only how to deal with personnel turnover, it has entire pools of talent for staffing, research, management, and outreach. It knows not only how to advertise its political message, it has adapted and changed its message to 160 years of changing American political values. And then you realize that’s just the Republican Party and the Democratic Party is about 30 years older.

So we get it, the two parties are very powerful. But this election cycle, we are getting a full display of just how solidly these institutions own us. Televised presidential debates began in 1960 and were run by the League of Women Voters until 1988. At that time, the League quit hosting the debates in protest, releasing a statement saying they did not want to “perpetuate a fraud on the American people”. This is a direct quote:

Neuman said that the campaigns presented the League with their debate agreement on September 28, two weeks before the scheduled debate. The campaigns’ agreement was negotiated “behind closed doors” and was presented to the League as “a done deal,” she said, its 16 pages of conditions not subject to negotiation.

Most objectionable to the League, Neuman said, were conditions in the agreement that gave the campaigns unprecedented control over the proceedings. Neuman called “outrageous” the campaigns’ demands that they control the selection of questioners, the composition of the audience, hall access for the press and other issues.

Pretty damning. Since 1988, the debates have been run by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonprofit corporation controlled by the Republican and Democratic parties. Apart from deciding the debate formats, questions, and so on, they also decide who gets into the debates. They have made the polling requirements 15%  prior to getting into the debates. Naturally, since this a decision done by the Republican and Democratic parties, there have been no third party candidates that have gotten into the debates. Ross Perot was able to get in, but since his party didn’t survive him, I am not inclined to call it a party. In fact, up until this year, we only had empirical evidence that you could get into the debates as a billionaire. Really democratic.

Of course this year we have the most unpopular candidates since we started opinion polls, and for good reason. Trump is incompetent, misinformed, capricious, and authoritarian. Clinton has been embroiled in scandals, has made bad policy decisions in the past, and has such a tight hold of the Democratic party that the prospect of her political machine controlling the federal government should give everyone pause. This week it’s even come out that her health is at least vaguely worrisome. It just so happens that this same year the Libertarian Party has nominated a ticket with two former two-term moderate Republican governors from blue states. They have more executive political experience than the two major party candidates combined, and a majority of Americans want them in the debates. So if there is a year where a third party should obviously be included, this is it. But as of right now, Gary Johnson and Bill Weld won’t be allowed in.

Our primary system is pretty broken. Congressional approval ratings are extraordinarily low. Federal budgets have barely been approved the last few years. But if we allow Gary Johnson to be excluded from these debates, we have resigned ourselves to living with these two parties, and all the trouble they cause, forever. We are stating that the only people we allow to run for president are members of these ancient outdated institutions or billionaires. We are agreeing that change will only happen if it occurs through two organizations whose entire existence is based upon extending their own political power by winning political office.

I’m not saying that the Johnson / Weld ticket has to win the election, or even that they should win a single state; but if we can’t allow our political parties to be publicly challenged in a debate forum, to suffer even the slightest bit of criticism to keep them in line, then what kind of democracy can we claim to live in? What kind of power does your vote have when your only two choices are extraordinarily unpopular candidates selected by the least moderate elements of each party and all other voices are silenced?


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Photo credit: Ben Grey, licensed under CC-BY-SA-2.0.

Against Trump

In my last post, I made the case for why voting for a main party was far more likely to be a wasted vote than a vote for third party.  I made this argument on the basis of the presidential voting system itself, regardless of any voter’s actual policy preferences.

Nonetheless, if you think Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump have the best policies or ideology, at best my argument should make you indifferent between voting for one of those candidates or leaving it blank (I advocated that one should still vote because of the often overlooked importance of local elections). If you prefer Donald Trump, this post will be my argument for why you shouldn’t. This is not an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, and I hope to write a post against her candidacy next. But there is a third option. I’ve already laid out the case for why it is more practical to vote for a third party rather than waste your vote on the Democrats and Republicans, but this post will show why you should prefer Gary Johnson’s moderate-limited-government-libertarianism to Trump.

Trump: The Troll

The most basic foundation of Trump’s appeal is his fervent opposition to the cultural left, especially the social justice movement and political correctness. In some sense, it doesn’t matter what he says; because he has said ridiculous and outrageous things, he has provided a “safe space” for people who can’t stand the recent domination, real or perceived, of left-wing outrage politics. The cultural left has created a tough situation for their opponents: if you don’t agree with them, they label you as a misogynist, fascist, and white supremacist. The alt-right was a fairly typical human response: they took the insults as a badge of honor.

So what has the left done about Donald Trump? A pretty common response (New York Times, Huffington Post, Vox) is to call him racist! Take a look at these accusations from that Huffington Post article:

  • He attacked Muslim Gold Star parents Khizr Khan and Ghazala Khan. His attack didn’t address their criticism, but suggested Mrs. Khan didn’t speak because of her religion.
  • The Justice Department sued his company in 1973 for not renting to black applicants, and there are stories from employees alleging that he was racist
  • He didn’t condemn David Duke’s support until the next day
  • He questions whether Obama was born in the US
  • He tweeted a picture of him eating a taco bowl to show he loves Hispanics
  • He condoned the attack by his supporters of a Black Lives Matter heckler at a campaign event
  • He claimed Judge Gonzalo Curiel was biased because of his Mexican heritage (Curiel was born in Boston).

These are all awful, insensitive, and moronic actions, but calling them racist or Trump a racist for doing them tries to equate Trump to the level of the KKK. If Trump is fundamentally appealing because he doesn’t back down from outrage tactics, and his supporters are tired of the left screaming that every deviation from progressive orthodoxy is white supremacy, then calling Trump racist is the worst thing you can do. And honestly on many of these issues, Trump is professionally trolling, going just over the line on what is acceptable to draw the outrage.

For example, Trump says he responded to the Khans because they criticized him first, which is true. His response was characterized by an attack on Ghazala Khan and an assumption about her actions due to her faith. This isn’t directly saying that Muslims are inferior, even though there is an implication. But if we just call this out as being “racist”, we really lose out on our argument demonstrating just how awful this episode was for Trump. In fact, Trump supporters can point out that many Islamic countries treat their women poorly and so this is worth questioning. By doing this, we let Trump deflect just how abysmally he managed that political catastrophe; instead, we should be discussing that Trump had no actual response to Khan’s accusations of his unconstitutional policies, and instead had to resort to unfounded assumptions and speculation. He would rather make up things about a family whose son died serving this country because he felt insulted than suck it up and avoid any more fallout. The sheer political incompetence is unspeakable, and the unconstitutionality of many of Trump’s policies remain unanswered.

Many other examples I listed also let Trump get away with absurd positions by jumping immediately to racism. His run-in with the Justice Department is important, but was also over 40 years ago. Was it his fault or his company’s, and does he still have those opinions? The idea of a government agency forcing him into a settlement on allegations of racism is also exactly the conspiracy narrative Trump wants. It seems likely he knows who David Duke is, but I’ve continually overestimated Trump’s abilities in other areas. And just having terrible people endorse you doesn’t automatically make you a bad person too. Trump likely supported the story Obama was born in Kenya because Obama’s father was originally a Kenyan national. It seems pretty easy for Trump supporters to argue he would have demanded a birth certificate of any person whose parentage was outside the US. Calling this racist really lets Trump change the subject to how PC culture is bad, when really we should be focusing on how much of an idiot you have to be to waste so much political capital on a conspiracy theory that was obviously wrong. There were plenty of grounds to criticize Obama’s policies, yet Trump decided to focus on discrediting his legitimacy through a conspiracy theory rather than actual ideas.

Calling it racist when Trump condoned an attack on a protester at his event is sort of the epitome of political correctness gone wrong: it implies that as long he condones violence against protesters of all races at his campaign events, it’s ok. The problem is not the race of the victim, the problem is that he’s condoning violence against people who disagree with him.  His statement against Judge Gonzalo Curiel is almost blatantly racist, as even Paul Ryan states, yet Trump could have easily cited Sonia Sotomayer’s “wise Latina” quote as evidence for why he believed a judge’s ethnicity could influence their opinions. If we get outraged about this, we fuel the perception that social justice not only has a monopoly on outrage politics, but that when the exact ideas that are promoted by the left are used by the right/conservatives/whatever-Trump-supporters-are, only they are attacked. It seems to be targeting of tribes, not even of ideas.

And that’s the point. Trump engages in a motte-and-bailey doctrine where he says things that obviously imply bigotry or outright harming non-Americans, but then if you call him on it, he deflects or calls it a joke. This is an annoying tribalistic tactic (often employed by social justice warriors and also Ann Coulter) where a group will make a ridiculous claim, but really support a weaker version of that claim (see part IV here). As Scott Alexander says, social justice warriors seem to imply ridiculous things like “men can’t be part of a discussion on gender”, but when challenged, they state more defensible positions like “men shouldn’t interject into safe spaces for women”.  Trump says some Mexicans coming over the border are rapists, with the implication being that the average illegal immigrant is a violent criminal. But if you call him on it, he’ll say that he also said “many of them are good people!” which is technically true. He also didn’t say 2nd amendment supporters should shoot Hillary Clinton, but he left it open.

Trump is in part successful (and especially appealing to the alt-right) because he meets social justice warriors with their own methods, and it’s hard to pin him down on anything because his entire presidential run is a giant troll. Of course, I really dislike many of the tactics of the social justice movement and the outrage tactics of internet culture wars. I’ve gone on the record about why I think their ideas and methods are bad. I understand the appeal of fighting fire with fire. But it won’t solve our problems. All of the criticisms aimed at the social justice movement still apply to Trump. We should be trying to elevate our society and discussions, not give in to the temptation to debase them. Collectivism is evil in all its forms, left-wing, right-wing, and bi-partisan.

Many Trump supporters have bought into his campaign as the only way to fight the social justice left. They are wrong on many levels; trolling can’t beat trolling, flip-flopping and incompetence can’t beat Hillary’s political machine, protectionism can’t beat markets, and nationalism and authoritarianism can’t beat freedom. In fact, by allowing Hillary Clinton, one of the weakest presidential candidates in recent history, to continue to dominate this election, Trump has handed the left one of their biggest political victories and squelched one of the biggest opportunities for American conservatives.

And Trump is not the only way to fight back against the worst methods and ideas of blue tribalism. One can oppose collectivism without sacrificing principles or lowering the level of dialogue. As I go through the following deep flaws that Trump has, keep in mind that Gary Johnson has none of them.

The Unknown

What does Trump actually believe? It’s almost impossible to know. These are just the positions I could find so far. I don’t think this list is comprehensive, but I want it recorded somewhere. Many of these are from this ABC news post, this CNN article, and this extensive NBC news article if they’re not otherwise cited.

  • He used to think pretty highly of Hillary Clinton and even invited the Clintons to his wedding, and now apparently thinks they are terrible.
  • Trump declared that he thought Obama was the founder of ISIS, and when pressed on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, he doubled down. Then after a full day of focusing on this point, he abruptly tweeted that it was sarcasm.
  • Trump was going to self-fund his campaign and not fund raise. But he’s gone back on that promise and is now taking money from whomever will give it to him. He was so short on money, he hadn’t even bought TV ads until the last week of August.
  • Trump started out ok with taking Syrian refugees, and then reversed his position and now wants to send them back.
  • Trump initially stated that Japan and South Korea should defend themselves, including with nuclear weapons. Now he says that’s preposterous and he never said that. How do you suffer amnesia about advocating the biggest change in US nuclear policy in history?
  • Trump has relentlessly hammered Clinton for supporting the Iraq War in 2003. It turns out in 2002, he backed the Iraq War too. Also, when asked about Mike Pence’s support of the war, he said it didn’t matter to him. But it still matters that Clinton backed it.
  • Trump made headlines stating he wanted to be a “neutral guy” in the Israel-Palestine conference (a big change from US policy which has held a strong alliance with Israel), and then said Israel was being treated like a second-class citizen later on.
  • Trump has also called the Libyan intervention a total disaster, but he in fact backed this intervention as well. When shown a video of his previous support, he acknowledges it and says he only wanted a “surgical” strike.
  • Trump was originally pro-choice and is now pro-life and even advocated that there should be “punishment” for women who get abortions. Admittedly in that interview, Chris Matthews did a good job of cornering Trump and not letting him get away with dodging the question, so maybe Trump doesn’t actually believe that. But that’s my point: we have no idea what this guy is going to do.
  • Trump advocated the use of torture especially against ISIS and suspected terrorists. When dozens of military advisers pointed out he would effectively be telling people to commit illegal acts, he stated “if I say do it, they’re gonna do it.” The next day Trump said he would be bound by laws just like any president, and then proceeded to call for waterboarding and torture in subsequent speeches.
  • Like abortion, Trump used to have a very different view on gun laws and actually supported an assault weapons ban. Now he’s a strong 2nd amendment supporter. Except in classrooms. Unless it’s a teacher in a classroom. What?
  • Trump was against raising the minimum wage, then for it, then said he wanted to leave it to the states, now says it should be over $10 and left to the states.
  • Trump has been for a single-payer system in the past and has praised Canada’s and Scotland’s system. But he hates Obamacare. But maybe he still likes the mandate. But he doesn’t know what he’d replace it with. His current website’s plan is a pretty good free market approach, but what would he actually pursue?
  • Trump was going to increase taxes on the rich, then said he would cut everyone’s taxes by huge amounts in an online proposal (that this blog looked at), then reduced the amount he would cut, and now it’s a pretty standard small income tax cut with an additional tax break for childcare
  • Trump seems to have called for a renegotiating of U.S. public debt similar to a debt restructuring for an insolvent firm. He seemed to have no idea that U.S. treasuries are so cheap to borrow with because they are never defaulted on. He even indicated that the U.S. can always print more money. Then he seemed to walk it back and say he wouldn’t renegotiate the American debt.
  • Last December Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” In May, this changed to a “suggestion”. Then he added the idea of banning people from places with a “history of terrorism”, then added there would be “extreme vetting” (so not an outright ban?). Trump and his people also added that there had been “no change” in their policy since December.
  • Trump has stated that he would deport 11 million people currently residing in the US illegally. This is significantly larger than the current population of New York City. Then he said he would deport them all, but bring back the “good ones” legally. Buzzfeed even reported that Trump stated off-the-record that deporting all 11 million is just a starting point for negotiations. Just a couple week’s ago, Trump seemed to abandon deportations altogether. Now it seems they are in full force again.

I should also note that Trump said he would call Bill Gates and get him to shut down the internet if need be. I didn’t list that here because I don’t think he ever repudiated that position so it’s not a “flip-flop”.  Trump also suggested Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination. Even on Trump’s most common talking point, his “wall” on the border with Mexico is obviously not true because, as John Oliver points out, it will cost far more than Trump says it will, and there is no way we can force Mexico to pay for it. Adding a tariff on Mexican imports does not force Mexico to pay for anything, it forces American consumers to fund the wall.

This is related to questions of Trump’s temperament; it appears that on many of these interviews, Trump has either never thought about the issue presented to him, lied about his position last time so he can’t remember what his position was, or just honestly changes his position because he’s not smart enough to have foreseen the objection, but wants to appear knowledgeable and so says that was his position the whole time.  The bottom line is that on virtually every issue, even the core issues he’s maintained, we have no idea what he will do.  On top of all this, Trump is capricious and easily offended. He has consistently filed lawsuits against press organizations that have criticized him, regardless of their ineffectiveness and potential attack on free speech. Do we want someone who has no principles, who has no idea where he stands on issues, and can be easily manipulated by his political enemies (“I don’t have thin skin”) to be in charge of our country’s national defense? The Supreme Court is an important issue in this election, but what makes us think we can trust Trump to actually pick from among the names he has mentioned before when he has changed his mind on everything else?

On many issues, he has taken positions not just worse than Gary Johnson or Hillary Clinton, but positions worse than any president in history. Will these be the positions he takes or will they change? Will any of his positions that sound reasonable stick around once he is president? We don’t know.

The Incompetence

Trump has a record of questionable business acumen as well as straight-up fraud. He certainly has done well in the real estate market, but in other ventures he’s been mostly a flop.  He has also widely exaggerated his net worth by constantly trying to tout his own brand. And, by admission of its own employees, Trump University had no interest in teaching any of its customers, only in selling them the most expensive seminars it could.

His political campaign has also been questionable. We will get to policy in the next section, but for now let’s just talk about Trump’s job as a politician, which is to get people to vote for you.  As I noted in May, Trump was one of the worst candidates the Republicans have had as far as political appeal.  He won the Republican presidential primary with only 45% of the vote. By itself, a number that low isn’t unprecedented, but when combined with the fact that most of his primary opponents have decided against endorsing him, he was one of the least liked Republican candidates among Republicans in recent memory.  He’s also only averaged above 40% in FiveThirtyEight’s polling average and above 44% in RealClearPolitics’ average for a couple weeks in July. He has never really pivoted to the general electorate. Trump has had several changes in his campaign management due to apparent incompetence. He will be the first presidential candidate since Nixon to not release his tax returns, and he has just started airing TV ads. That’s correct, Gary Johnson was outspending Trump on TV time until September.

Trump’s response to his abysmal appeal has been to suggest that all polls that don’t show him winning are rigged. In fact, Politico even published a column entitled “What if Trump doesn’t accept defeat?”  As already mentioned in this piece, he got into a very public spat with the parents of a Gold Star soldier who had given his life in 2004. He also said that “there must be some form of punishment” for women who get abortions, and then Ben Carson said that Trump wasn’t expecting that question. Trump wasn’t prepared for a question about abortion in a political event while running for President? You cannot be serious.

What is Trump’s plan in office when foreign heads of state ask him obvious questions he should know the answer to? What is he going to do when people don’t automatically like what he has to say? He has failed in essentially every venture that wasn’t real estate or a reality TV show. The inability to make changes for a better long-term strategy combined with the need to retaliate over every perceived insult disqualify Trump from being Commander-in-Chief.

The Policy

As I’ve stated, it’s hard to nail down what Trump believes on anything.  It often appears like he has never thought about policies or the implications of policies until objections are brought up to him.

One aspect that had been central to Trump was a hardline stance on immigration and deporting illegal immigrants. As of a couple weeks ago, he appears to have flipped on that and now flipped back, but his website still has language that appears to indicate serious criminal charges for anyone living here illegally. Even if Trump has become less focused on deportations, his immigration policy comes with absolutely massive costs, both fiscal and legal. As noted by John Oliver, his “wall” on the Mexican border will likely cost several times as much as he’s claimed, not to mention the hidden costs of wasting construction time and resources on building a concrete wall literally in the middle of nowhere.  If this project ever does happen (which it won’t), it will cause the cost of construction and related services to go up as resources are pulled into a giant wasteful wall. Moreover, as Trump’s website acknowledges, most illegal immigrants don’t sneak over the border; they cross with legal visas and overstay them, and so this wall will do almost nothing to stop illegal immigration.

There are also effects on American citizens as well who are forced to deal with questionably constitutional Border Patrol stops where people are pulled over with no reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Trump has also focused on crime caused by illegal immigrants, despite the fact that crime rates are much lower among this segment of the population than among American citizens. Terrorism, as noted by this blog, is so unlikely that the threat of terrorism via immigration is not even worth addressing.

Moreover, there is a self-evident free market argument for immigration; if the economy would work more efficiently without immigrants, they wouldn’t be coming. Specifically in the United States, immigration helps to expand our workforce while European economies shudder under high levels of retirees and low birthrates.  The OECD has also found that because immigrants come to work, they are productive enough to pay more in taxes than benefits they get out. Trump’s arguments for making H1-B visas harder to give out and more expensive just creates an incentive to ship jobs overseas rather than keep them here. Overall, it seems better for Americans (and likely the global economy) to keep immigrants coming here than to ship the jobs overseas.

There is certainly an argument that we haven’t seen this level of immigration in the United States in a while, even on a percentage scale. Immigrants now make up 13% of the population, but that’s still less than was common during the late 19th century. There’s also the true point that most immigration prior to the ending of national origin quotas in 1965 was from Europe.  Yet, since this is essentially a cultural and not an economic argument, at best this still argues that we should have open immigration–just from some countries and not others. It also doesn’t offer resistance to other forms of open immigration, such as for advanced degree holders (especially graduates of American universities).

We also have to acknowledge that there really are serious obstacles for potential immigrants right now…which has only resulted in illegal immigration. Trump acknowledges the economic burden of an over-regulated economy, but then proposes tons of new regulations on immigration. Using the state to pick winners and losers in the economy is a dangerous thing to do.

Trade is the other area Trump has been most outspoken on. Here, unlike immigration, there is no cultural argument, there is only economics. And it’s clear that when it comes to trade economics, Trump has no idea what he’s talking about. He would add tariffs to goods, making them more expensive for average Americans and cutting into middle-class purchasing power. He would start trade wars with China, and attempt to reverse foreign governments subsidizing their own exports which directly deposits foreign tax revenues into the pockets of American consumers. The protectionism he advocates is essentially an argument for the global economy to leave the US behind and to ensure that new technology and innovation is happening elsewhere while our economy stagnates and our lack of dynamism and competition gets even worse.

Why is Trump suggesting this? Bryan Caplan points out in The Myth of the Rational Voter that voters are subject to many biases, most of which you can find in Trump’s policies. This includes, among others, an anti-market bias and an anti-foreign bias, where voters tend to underestimate the benefits of market systems as well as underestimate the benefits of interacting with foreigners. But despite these biases, free trade is immensely good for the economy. Tariffs being some of the most regressive taxes we have, freer trade is also a big tax break for poor Americans relative to the rich.  Trade, along with immigration, is one of the best areas in which American policy can directly improve the world.

The Authoritarianism

Let’s take a quick history detour: in 1972, five men were arrested for breaking into the DNC’s Headquarters in the Watergate Complex. They had been sent by the Nixon reelection committee, and the Nixon administration immediately sought to cover up their involvement. Nixon actually ordered the CIA to block the FBI’s investigation into the burglary, claiming national security issues.  The administration hoped that would prevent any further prying, but as more details came out, a Senate select committee was established in February 1973 to investigate a possible cover-up, and a special independent investigator was appointed by the attorney general.

When a Senate hearing uncovered that there were tapes of all Oval Office conversations, the Senate and special prosecutor subpoenaed the tapes, which Nixon refused to turn over, citing executive privilege. When the prosecutor persisted, Nixon actually ordered the attorney general to fire him, and the attorney general resigned in protest. Solicitor General Robert Bork eventually complied, but under political pressure, Nixon appointed a new special prosecutor. Edited transcripts were released in early 1974, which showed Nixon in a poor light, although they did not fully incriminate him. The new special prosecutor subpoenaed specific tapes which Nixon again refused to turn over. The case went to the Supreme Court which ruled unanimously that Nixon had no unqualified privilege of immunity from investigation, and that he had to turn over the tapes. Nixon did. They revealed clear wrongdoing on his part, and the House Judiciary committee recommended impeachment on several counts. Knowing he would soon be impeached and likely removed by the Senate, Nixon resigned.

There was a backlash against the office of the presidency after Nixon, but we have fully reversed that trend today. The Bush and Obama administrations have undertaken naked power grabs that have helped create an imperial presidency beyond anything Nixon ever dreamed of. Many libertarians have been warning about these massive power expansions for years. Now in the face of the Trump administration, we’ve created all the tools a tyrant would need to run amok.

As Conor Friedersdorf notes in The Atlantic:

  • The president can order American citizens killed in secret.
  • The president can detain prisoners indefinitely without charges or trial.
  • The president can order drone strikes at will in countries against which no war has been declared.
  • The president can start a torture program with impunity.
  • The president can conduct warrantless surveillance on tens of millions of Americans.

To that I would also add that if deemed a troublemaker, the government has plenty of options to attack you without disappearing you. We know at least the DEA and IRS have used NSA information gained through mass surveillance of Americans, and then obscured this source by finding another stated reason to stop a suspect. The enormous amount of statutes on the books means it’s almost certain average people break laws every single day, and so these law enforcement agencies can always find probable cause to arrest you. Then they can stack up charges to force a plea deal, all at the discretion of prosecutors.  As it stands right now, there’s a strong case that the criminal justice system is biased, slow, and unfair, and that it deprives individuals of their rights. But now imagine Trump in charge of the DEA, FBI, intelligence services, and the military.

Trump administration could be even worse than Nixon; given Trump’s continual flip-flopping, his trolling, his total unpreparedness for obvious challenges, and his terrible policy ideas, we don’t actually know if Trump understands how government works. Many of his fantastical policy ideas on his website go beyond the usual politicians’ wishlists; it’s unclear whether he would even try to sell his agenda to Congress, or just try to implement it with executive authority, or indeed if he would understand the difference.

For example, nestled in his immigration policy is a call to end birthright citizenship. Does Trump acknowledge what that would require? As Rand Paul has noted, the 1898 case US v Wong Kim Ark declared that children of legal immigrants were automatically citizens. It seems that Trump wants to overturn this case, which would require a constitutional amendment. It’s possible Trump wants only to stop birthright citizenship of illegal immigrants (he keeps changing his positions on everything), but does he want to do this with a law, or a legal battle? Does he realize that the president can’t pass laws unilaterally? It’s also worth wondering what Trump believes he can actually do on abortion. We’ve already discussed his bewildering stance that women should be punished for getting an abortion, a position basically no one else has ever advocated for. But does he realize that he would need to pass a constitutional amendment to achieve that goal?

Another example, he declared on a debate stage that if he told the military to commit war crimes they would do it. That’s not only against US law, that’s against international law. If he thinks that he can do things as president that are already illegal, what makes us think he would be waiting for Congress to do anything? How about shutting down parts of the internet? In Trump’s own words: “Somebody will say, ‘Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people.” How about banning people based on their religion? Do we think Trump will wait for Congressional approval of obviously unconstitutional ideas? Or will he just order that they be done without thinking, just like everything else in his campaign?

The ACLU has released a 27 page memo on things Trump has said that are blatantly unconstitutional. It makes an excellent legal case against Trump’s ban on Muslims entering the country as well as his mass deportation of illegal immigrants. The magnitude of individual rights violations from deportations specifically would be staggering, as there is no way to arrest millions of immigrants without also arresting regular American citizens and legal residents as there is no way to tell them apart. Arrests would have to be done without probable cause and largely based on racial profiling with likely hundreds of thousands of law abiding people caught up in the dragnet. The police state necessary to accomplish such an action is likely beyond even the secret police organizations of former communist nations.

The ACLU memo also makes an important point concerning Trump’s promise to “open up the libel laws”: there are no federal libel statutes. What exactly Trump would do were he to be president and then find out that there are only state libel laws, I have no clue. But imagine the powers of the Justice Department in the hands of someone who has a history of abusing eminent domain and using the power of the justice system to silence critics. He has already blacklisted media outlets he doesn’t like and banned them from his campaign events. As Damon Root of Reason notes: “Just like a crybaby advocate of political correctness, Trump wants to hollow out the First Amendment in order to make a ‘safe space’ for himself.”

It’s not hard to see the abuses of the Nixon administration repeated under a hypothetical Trump one. But in 1974, when Nixon lost his appeal to the Supreme Court, he still turned over the tapes. I don’t know if we realize how vulnerable our constitution was in this moment. Constitutional power is not something physical; as Abraham Lincoln proved, the Supreme Court has no enforcement arm. In retrospect, if Nixon had just wanted to maximize his political power, it seems that his best plan would have been to not release the tapes and accept whatever political fallout that was. Maybe he would have been forced to resign, maybe not, but he only risked being in the same situation that actually happened. Trump has arguably already promised to do more unconstitutional things than Nixon ever did, and he’s less popular than Nixon ever was before Watergate. If in a similar situation, would Trump comply with the Supreme Court? With Congress? He’s already calling the election rigged before it’s even happened, and he doesn’t seem to believe polls that report him far behind Clinton (which he is). If he found himself thwarted by the other branches of government, would Trump allow the rule of law to occur, or subvert it using his executive authority? Would he even care that his actions were unpopular given how unpopular he already is?

Most of the problems in this section also apply to Hillary Clinton, and it is likely she would continue to abuse government power just like the Bush and Obama administrations. But while Trump may be running against Hillary, I’ve already made the case that your only decision in voting is whether to waste your vote on a main party, or help get a third party better ballot access. Gary Johnson specifically has been an outspoken critic of the advances of government power and the growing authoritarianism centralized in the presidency. If you want to stand against the increasing authoritarianism of the federal government, there is no way to justify voting for Trump over Gary Johnson.

Trump has many problems as a candidate: he is inconsistent, incompetent, and he reduces our ability to have real discussions. His policies are bad, but his authoritarian threats should give us the greatest pause. Would you vote for Richard Nixon today if Nixon told you he was going to abuse executive authority to preserver his own power? If he continuously attacked free speech and criticism, if he promised to arrest millions of people living in the US, do you think voting for him would be a good idea? Well, it’s not a hypothetical, all of these policies are literal quotations from Trump himself. You shouldn’t vote for Nixon, and you shouldn’t vote for Trump.


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Picture credit: Gage Skidmore, modified by postlibertarian.com (grayscale), licensed under BY-SA-2.0.