TotD 3: Have Republicans Really Changed?

In their essentials, I say no.

It has been widely reported that the party of Reagan has become the party of Trump, and that this represents a major political shift. Some say a momentous quake in the zeitgeist, or a major political realignment. Is it, really?

Recently, Teflon-Don called upon “both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth.” Earlier this year, he promised that “…we’re going to have insurance for everybody…” and that “…there was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it… that’s not going to happen with us.”

Trump is not an advocate for the free market, or limited government, or individual rights. He promotes economic nationalism. He wants to clamp down on immigration. He refuses to cut social security and medicare. Reagan fans remember when he asked the Soviets to tear down the Berlin Wall. Trump groupies swoon when the Donald tells them he will a build a wall. On the surface, Trump appears to be a divergence from the traditional Republican, a misshapen defect that somehow made it through the Reaganite, GOP assembly line.

Many Reaganites think this is true. Consider David Brooks at the New York Times, a typical conservative specimen. In a recent column, he argues that “the old Reagan conservatism was economic individualism restrained by social and religious traditionalism,” and that “Trumpism is all about protection, security and order.” For Brooks, “healthy American political philosophies balance individualism and collectivism, personal freedom and communal cohesion…”

In other words, it is “healthy” to compromise your principles and pragmatically endorse individual rights only when it is convenient to do so. The individual is self-made, except when he must serve his community. The individual is free to produce and trade, except when tradition demands he sacrifice. The individual has reason, except on Sundays when he defers to religious dogma.

Brooks rationalizes his pragmatism, but leftist commentator Bryce Covert is more forthright. In her column on the subject she points out that even Paul Ryan, supposedly a principled advocate for limited government, defines freedom as “..the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need.”

She explains that “Conservatives are typically proponents of negative liberty: the freedom from constraints and impediments” and that “…Mr. Ryan inadvertently revived an idea that desperately needs to be resuscitated — the idea that freedom requires not just a lack of barriers, but also the conditions that allow people to live their lives fully.” “Deprivation,” she concludes, “is a constraint on Americans’ freedom.”

Covert is partially correct in her assessment: Ryan’s approach to freedom leads ultimately to statism. Where she goes wrong is in expecting Ryan to properly defend freedom in the first place.

In any war of ideas, the most consistent side will emerge victorious. As Ayn Rand once remarked, “there are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.”

The proper defense for political and economic freedom rests ultimately in ethics, an area that pragmatists like Brooks and Ryan are unable to broach honestly or consistently. One cannot defend capitalism and limited government without acknowledging their moral base: individual rights. Instead, Republicans implicitly endorse the altruism celebrated openly by the left and attempt to rationalize the contradictions that follow. In doing this they undercut the moral defense of capitalism and ultimately help their enemies expand state power.

So have Republicans changed? Sure, they have become more consistent. Too bad it is in the wrong direction.

Election 2016: A Rebuke to Democrats

A wake-up call to the American left in the wake of a Trump victory.

The 2016 American presidential election was a landslide victory for Donald Trump as an individual and populism as an ideology. Americans in many states that were expected to vote Democrat instead rebelled against the elite voices in academia, Washington DC, the mainstream media, and Hollywood to vote instead for a foul-mouthed septuagenarian with a Twitter addiction and a reality television career.

This election was certainly what statistician Nassim Taleb would call a “black swan” event; that is, an outlier that one cannot foresee with considerable consequences. Few predicted that a man with no political experience, a large personal bankroll, and fiery rhetoric would defeat the Clintons, one of the strongest political machines in American history. Now that we are in the twilight of the Obama administration and the age of Trump looms ahead, I think it best for us to dissect the election results objectively and assess the good, the bad, and the ugly.

It has become fashionable in many quarters to blame the election results on a tide of racism and xenophobia. Many vocal Democrats in California, New York, Washington DC and Chicago have come to the conclusion that the majority of Trump supporters are bigots and that this is why Hillary Clinton lost in her bid for the presidency. In fact, nothing can be further from the truth.

It all began last fall, when Trump’s opponents in the media first revealed a strategy to assassinate Donald Trump’s character with early attempts to link Donald Trump to white nationalist David Duke, who had not even endorsed Trump at the time the media had demanded “accountability” from the Republican candidate. Trump took a strong position on illegal immigration and this was portrayed as an indictment of all Mexicans as rapists and criminals. Trump took a strong position on refusing refugees from a war-torn country with a known anti-American ideology and this was portrayed as “Islamophobia.” Trump took an aggressive approach to Megyn Kelly’s criticisms of the way he feuded with Rosie O’ Donnell in 2007 and this was portrayed as  “misogyny.” Trump called his opponent a “nasty woman” during one of the debates and Democratic women reappropriated the term as though it applied to all of them.

These arguments are all, in fact, common fallacies used in public discourse. The David Duke connection is a classic guilt by association play, since nobody can control who endorses them and why. Just because two individuals share a common position on a single issue, it does not mean that they therefore agree on every issue. Consider for instance that the Communist Party of the USA was excited for Hillary Clinton in this election cycle; we should not take that as license to believe Clinton wants to destroy the institution of private property. The Nation of Islam endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, but that does mean Obama and Louis Farrakhan agree on everything under the sun. These allegations are good examples of composition fallacies intended to mobilize large segments of “victim groups” to view Trump’s election on a par with Kristallnacht and to therefore act appropriately. There is also the amusing fact that these charges ignore crucial facts about the subject that they intend to “explore.” Mexico is a nation state and Islam is a religion; neither is a race, so criticizing either one is not a racist action. The media attacked Donald Trump for his character and the average Democrat believed them, as did many moderates and some of the more Victorian conservatives.

Despite the fact that many Trump voters helped to elect Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, the media doubled-down on their allegations of racism. On election night, self-described communist Van Jones wen on to label the election a “whitelash against a changing country” on CNN. The same evening NPR’s Cokie Roberts stated that Americans voted against Clinton not  because they thought her untrustworthy, but because she was a woman. Not to be outdone in the niche market that have made them a household name, Vox cemented its role as a racial agitator a week after the election by putting out a story that claimed Trump won by tapping into racism, “the most powerful force in America.” Not content to let these media outlets speak for them, many on my own Facebook news feed parroted this message with startling comments, such as: “feeling stressed out by uneducated whites”, “America really let down women and minorities” and “So disappointed in America..We are far more racist, sexist and morally unjust than I thought we were…Not proud to be an American.” One person even went so far as to create a public Facebook thread as a “safe space for women and minorities” and explained that any comments posted by white males would be deleted. I didn’t ask her, but one wonders what her reaction would have been if I had decided to identify as a black woman on that particular evening and post something sympathetic on the thread; it sounds like she needs to check her privilege.

Herein lies my beef with the American left. For decades progressives have cried wolf on bigotry and labeled honest opponents as racist or misogynist with little evidence to back it up. In prior campaigns, the mainstream media succeeded in portraying George W Bush as a moron, John McCain as old and out of touch, and Mitt Romney as an elite financier with little connection to the common man. Alongside these particular critiques of the candidates, however, there was always an underlying message that Republicans are racist xenophobes who do not care for women and minorities.

What is most curious, though, is that many on the left do not seem to notice that in framing Republicans as bigoted they are in fact engaged in the same sort of collectivism that they are supposedly calling out. After Trump won, the usual divisive barrage ensued as nearly every media outlet explained that it was shocking that Trump had won more black votes than Romney and McCain. Embarrassed pollsters who called the election for Clinton sought to repair the damage done to their reputations by slicing and dicing the election statistics in order to install awe in people who could never imagine a single Hispanic person voting for Trump. Prominent “progressives” like Ana Kasparian of the Young Turks put William Shakespeare to shame when she poetically explained that white women who voted for Trump were “fucking stupid”. Inherent in all of these reactions is the premise that the left have figured out what is in the interest of all members of the supposed “victim groups” that they champion. A person that holds this premise will think people foolish or naive when they diverge from what is prescribed to them, but the basic fallacy that they commit in thinking this way is that the groups are somehow more real than the individuals that comprise them. What needs to be said is that it is individuals and not classes that have interests, and not all people who receive government benefits and favors want to keep them. This is why Clinton lost: people vote as individuals and this time, they were not buying what ol’ Hilldabeast was selling.

The resentment generated by the left’s race-baiting has not stopped with mere words. Rioters in Oregon set fire to property amid assault against alleged Trump supporters. Individuals in California and New York City blocked traffic, preventing commuters from returning home from work and obstructing emergency vehicles. In New York City, marchers convened on Trump Tower chanting “rape Melania”, a slogan that garnered a Twitter following of nearly 350,000 before eventually subsiding. There is footage of a Trump voter in Chicago being beaten to within an inch of his life by several black youths. Actor Michael Shannon, the man cast to play General Zod in the Superman movies, came out recently with the statement that “if you voted for Trump, it is time for the urn”, and no, he was not in character when he did it. On a less violent note, there are lesbians and gays who fear that Trump will overturn their marriages within his first 100 days in office. I have even heard it said that Trump plans to grant federal funding to the Ku Klux Klan.

Where to begin with this disgraceful turn of events? One could start with the observation that the protesters are doing this in overwhelmingly Democratic states which voted Hillary, and that they are only hurting their political allies. One could elaborate that this country has a separation of powers and that the power of the president to do many of these fantastic acts is strictly limited. One could recount that prior to the election many in the media demonized Trump supporters as violent and chastised Trump for not vowing to accept the election results, only to prove themselves hypocrites when the election was over.

I am not a racist, misogynist, or a xenophobe; I believe in limited government and individual rights. Trump does not represent my values and neither did Hillary Clinton, but in my estimation he was the lesser evil compared to Clinton. To see why I think Clinton was an opportunistic influence peddler and a proven incompetent, see my essay here. Trump, on the other hand, has some short term policy proposals that I see as tactical victories.

On the issues, here is what I considered. I think the US needs a more conservative Supreme Court that will not overturn Citizens United in an attempt to punish corporate America at the expense of the First Amendment. I think healthcare is not a right and to treat it as such is a political, economic and moral disaster. Clinton made overtures that she would continue many of Obama’s policies and this was a deal-breaker for me on several counts. I am opposed to Obama’s behavior overseas when it comes to decrying American exceptionalism and claiming, as he did to people in South America, that there is “no difference between socialism and capitalism.” Obama’s failure to stick up for America as a unique nation with a secular Constitution and a respect for individual rights is shameful and his abdication of responsibility for American national security to the United Nations, a corrupt body that treats China, Russia and the United States as moral equals on the world stage, is feckless and uninspiring. I think climate change alarmism is a solution without a problem, and that the supposedly harmful effects of global warming are exaggerated by the environmentalist left to enable government more control over scientific research and ultimately, to roll back the achievements of the Industrial Revolution. Of course, I am also for lower taxes and enforcement of current immigration law.

A Trump presidency has considerable potential for negative long-term consequences as well as short-term positive ones. Trump is an untested and inexperienced world leader, and there is some doubt that he will be able to do the job effectively. Trump has praised dictators like Vladimir Putin and made it clear that he believes the market is “win / lose” rather than “win / win”. Trump is a protectionist who may do severe damage to American trade with foreign nations. The Donald has engaged in petty Twitter wars over personal sleights, and has changed his position on many key issues since the start of the campaign in order to garner his populist support.

I want to end this with an olive branch to those on the left: we need you in the coming years, and we need you to be sane. Save your ammo for the real fights and turn away from the regressive ideology that has animated you for the last decade.