Monday, November 7, 2016
When the 2016 political season moved into the primaries I was firmly committed to Ted Cruz. My impressions of Donald Trump, though mixed, were not favorable on balance. Mixed because, on the one hand, I saw Mr. Trump as just another example of culturally inbred Northeast elitist big government rent seekers; on the other, I was fascinated (and puzzled) by his ability to challenge establishment media PC sanctimony without serious consequences. I haven't seen anyone do that -- acknowledging major differences in style and substance -- since Ronald Reagan.
Gradually, as Trump began to articulate (at least somewhat) policy ideas - when he published a list of Supreme Court justices he would back -- and when he delivered his nomination speech I actually found myself becoming vaguely enthusiastic. Now I would never in any case voted for Mrs. Clinton or one of the 'big l' Libertarian gnostics, but continued to have doubts about Trump. Still do, but I now give more weight to his strengths than his weaknesses. There was a turning point.
Mr. Trump's performance when he accepted the Republican nomination was stellar; the speech -- skillfully crafted -- hit most of the party's (and others') hot buttons. As well-prepared a litany and distillation of America's current ills has rarely been heard. The charismatic actor read his lines well, and he was believable, inspirational. One senses the hand of Newt Gingrich, Jeff Sessions and other "professional conservatives" behind the curtain. In all, though, a good speech it was, and well-delivered. Still, there were serious shortcomings. It's the hot buttons he didn't touch that I find troubling: liberty and small government.
To summarize my position now -- on this eve of the election -- I have reconciled with the fact that Mr. Trump harbors a number of really bad ideas, but also some good ones. I list them below for anyone who cares for details*. But for all my reservations, I've lately realized that it's the man's style itself (abrasive as it may be to many) that makes him the most desirable candidate in the Republican stable. Better at this point, I think, even than Ted Cruz, my first choice. Why would I think that?
Donald Trump has accomplished two things that no other Republican I know of could have: first, he bests media/establishment/Institutional Left at their own game. He attacks, diminishes, belittles and shames them; he isolates and attacks in the best Alinsky style, nicely turning the tables. He doesn't cower in the face of political correctness. Second, he has the ability to talk directly to ordinary and exceptional Americans alike and not only to harness, but to articulate the public frustration and anger. Mr. Cruz -- sound as he is in principle and in intellect -- could not, I think, have done either of those things. A thoroughgoing shakeup is in order if things are to change.
The Republican establishment has for years seemingly been content to imagine that their Marxist opposition bends to the norms of civil society. They do not, and they haven't done in decades; Marquess of Queensberry against doping, chains and brass knuckles. Republicans who chide Obama and Clinton for failure to recognize America's enemies are themselves a laughingstock. The Party's prolonged weakness and stupidity gave rise to the Tea Party and, ultimately, Donald Trump, who calls out both them and the ruling-class Democrats and their corrupt institutions.
A vote for Donald Trump is a shot in the dark, but Hillary Clinton is darkness itself. What Mr. Trump will do if elected is largely guesswork; what Mrs. Clinton will do is entirely predictable -- or perhaps worse.
Some thoughts on Mr. Trump's nomination speech. I mentioned the ideas missing from the speech that trouble me -- liberty and small government. Troubling not least because whoever prepared the speech omitted those fundamental principles. Technocrats at work. But who is behind the curtain? Do they think they can manipulate Trump when they are no longer essential; when their views come into opposition with those of their principal? I believe Trump's advisors -- and much of the public -- hold the opinion that the candidate will fall into line with those who counsel him. Egos at work. But in the matter of ego, Donald Trump cannot be matched.
As I have said, I found little to disagree with in the points that were made in the candidate's acceptance speech, but I wonder how they square with Mr. Trump's liberal history as a well-connected political entrepreneur. If he is elected president, what will the words he uttered as a candidate mean to him when he takes office? How will he be affected by his taking on new powers beyond those he can now imagine? How will he handle forceful opposition? Hunter Thompson's phrase comes to mind: "When the going gets tough the weird turn pro."
I'll list what worries me about specific things Mr. Trump has said and done in short form.
Government abuse of imminent domain; his record and words are clear on that.
Tariffs. Bad idea for so many reasons; disastrous economic effects in the short term, worse in the long term, stifling innovation, competitiveness. Bullying America's offshore producers, when the emphasis needs to be on the causes driving business away. Some of which he addresses, i.e., corporate tax, medical insurance, regulations.... Maybe he's dishonest, maybe he doesn't know, but he misleads by not mentioning the loss of manufacturing plants (not gross manufacturing, which is strong) driven by greatly improved productivity (automation) and competitive advantage.
Infrastructure/inner city investment. We don't have the money. On the other hand, maybe he has entrepreneureal initiatives in mind. Or the sale of government land and unused installations. We just don't know.
When he asks inner city residents (targeting mainly blacks) what they have lose by voting for him, he overlooks an important incentive for the status quo: victim status. The same applies to other protected groups, many of whom find status and self-affirmation in perpetual 'victimization'. Government has rewarded so many for so long that change may seem unattractive. The same may be in play with many of the chronically unemployed.
Jobs. Does he promise too much? Government schools have churned out enormous numbers of students who have no marketable skills, and government subsidies undermine the motivation to acquire them. Charles Murray's Coming Apart tells us more than we want to know about this and the foregoing item.
Child care. Though he promises free market and tax related relief, wherever children are featured emotion tends to reign and government relief is nearly impossible to exclude.
Trump, whatever else he may be, is a technocrat and a creature of big government. It's hard to imagine his pursuit of political and economic 'fixes' independent of the power of the state. But it will be refreshing to replace the established class of rent-seekers with another. A shot in the dark. But we're out of choices.
Old-school Southerners, when asked for an opinion about a recent acquaintance, will often say, "Well, he's a nice-talkin' fella". Sounds complimentary at first blush, but it is an expression of skepticism, reservation and doubt. Donald Trump's a nice-talkin' fella. If he proves himself, he may one day be called a "nice fella".
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