The Trump Thing

According to my observations, there are four primary groups active in American politics today: there are a large number of people who would like to return to the ’60s and somehow combine the air of rebelliousness with the idea of doing something important; there is another large group – I would guess larger – but one generally less vocal, which would like to return to the ’50s and a (mostly idealized in memory) unquestioned American security and prosperity; there is a smaller number of people dedicated to a mostly coherent progressive liberalism constructed on the primacy of human choice and self-definition; and there is another small number, I’d guess smaller, dedicated to a consistent adherence to traditional legal and social principles which follow from natural law, whether supernaturally affirmed or rationally considered axiomatic.

To understand Trump’s lasting popularity (so far) when three of those groups despise him – the two idealist factions for being a hack, a liar, and proudly anti-intellectual in tone, the ’60sists for personifying The Man – you have to understand that Trump’s rhetoric and sloganeering appeals to that second group, that group that wants things to be “the way they were”.  Much as President Obama’s campaign energized the liberal-leaning bloc with the idea of “Hope and Change” and a black man in high office as an important symbol, Trump’s “Make America Great” appeals to this conservative-leaning bloc.  That is to say, Trump has managed to do what a great number of people were wondering how the Republican party would ever accomplish – energize the politically unmotivated.  A great many people are saying, “Yes, this guy speaks my language.”

Liberal critics are ascribing this mainly to racist motives, while conservative critics are mostly just baffled.  The first is – at best – an oversimplification, while the latter betrays an unfamiliarity with a great many people’s concerns.  The conservative-leaning bloc is not mostly concerned with the issues of legality and precedent which vex conservative idealists: these Trump supporters resent liberal social revolutionism, but generally on social, habitual, or strictly religious grounds, rather than the legal ones (or reasoned socio-ethical ones) an idealist writes thousands of words about.  And they are accustomed to the idea of an all-powerful Federal government – Social Security, Medicare, a military modeled on the old British “next two most powerful” principle: and the association of America with unquestionable rightness.  Liberal critics are not entirely incorrect in considering this vaguely fascist or tending that way, though very slow to realize or admit this attitude could be traced essentially straight to FDR (if not Teddy and Wilson), and to generations taught to revere him (or them).

Of course, the Republican party has relied on these voters for years.  In a sense Trump is both a caricature and the logical endpoint of the pro-military, pro-spending, God-insisting-on, opponent-bashing rhetoric Republican candidates (though Democrats have their own shibboleths) have spouted to the point it’s become mindless.  (And for this very reason, I’m not convinced Trump in office would necessarily be any worse an official, or be actually less conservative, than many of these talking-point-parroting GOPers have turned out to be.)

Trump has collected as a base several groups which one or the other or both party establishments have alienated for years, either by mocking as hypocritical rubes or by paying lip-service to while ignoring their concerns.  Trump is as insincere as they come – but America all but expects its politicians to be insincere.  One can’t attack his policies, because he has no serious policy suggestions.  Sanders has gained an immense following, and the respect even of his opponents, by appearing to buck that trend.  Trump is taking the easier path – and success despite no respect – taking advantage of expectations.

Why I Will Not Vote for Bernie Sanders

That I am not going to vote for Sanders should not surprise anyone who knows anything about my political, social, or religious views.  In fact, this post might appropriately have been titled, “Why I Will Not Vote for a Democrat”, as Sanders is by far the most compelling candidate, in terms of clarity of vision and personal integrity, that the Democratic party has put forward in several decades – and he is absolutely committed to the Progressive vision associated with the party, much more so than the majority of its politicians, who are perfectly happy with the current situation of favor-trading and mutual government-corporate (to say nothing of the unions) backscratching, whatever they may avow on the campaign trail.  Of the primary candidates, Sanders would clearly be the superior nominee for the Democratic party.

In fact, while his agenda is nothing more than an exaggerated version of our current President’s own desires, I am not convinced that a Sanders presidency would be quite the same failure – at least, if he were forced to govern opposite a Republican legislature.  Sanders, despite the problems with his proposed policies, appears to work in good faith, something that cannot be said of President Obama (or at least of his spokesmen – henchmen?).  The danger here would be a slightly different one: that Republicans would continue to play party politics only, rather than taking to opportunity to put forward their own good-faith ideas.  Many of the issues Sanders claims are issues that not only liberals but many conservatives – that is to say, everyone – cares about: and of course, reform of many of the policies implemented under Obama would also have to be done soberly, and carefully even when wholesale repeal is necessary.

Were the Democratic party in power in Congress – that would be a disaster, as I doubt Sanders would commit to using his veto power to prevent the standard cronyism if his own party were responsible.  I could be wrong, but any resulting “reforms” would be as loophole-ridden, favor-granting, and conscience-insulting as Obama’s championed “Affordable Care Act”.

So much for prognostication.  In the following paragraphs, I will outline several specific reasons Sanders is not a candidate I can vote for.  The primary one is moral: he explicitly endorses abortion.  Despite his claims to be on the side of those abused by society, he has put himself against the smallest and most helpless members of this society, and tolerates their murder.  This acceptance of the taking of innocent life is a blow to the roots of any reasoned and reasonable ethics and morality.  For me to ever support, endorse, or vote for a candidate who believes abortion is not only acceptable but talks about it in terms of rights would require circumstances I am not really interested even in considering at the moment.

I am also not a fan of his other proposed policies.  Sanders does identify correctly many of the problems facing the United States today.  Rising costs of education and healthcare, dysfunction in those areas and in many others, collusion between elected officials and those private persons who have supported them – these are all issues that must be dealt with.  Similarly, problems both of inefficiency and injustice in immigration, criminal sentencing, and other government responsibilities must be corrected.  Very few people take significant issue with Sanders’ identification of the problems facing the government (though many disagree with his ideals for society).  What conservatives, including myself, vehemently oppose is the conceit of thinking that the government can correct all of these ills by itself.  Sanders’ avowed commitment to socialism (to be sure, “democratic socialism” on the modern European model; he does not take for his goal the statist socialism of the 20th century dictators) is an indication he is not prepared to actually correct the ills he sees assailing the country.

There are three main reasons to object to socialism – especially at the Federal level – in the United States.  I will take them in order of increasing importance.  The first is that there are serious doubts whether socialistic policies – that is, policies enacted on the axiom that the government should at least potentially own, control, or regulate any industry and capital – actually work, especially in the long term.  Many of our own programs and policies which have socialist underpinnings, from Social Security to gasoline regulations, are financially untenable, demonstrably impractical, or have had massive unintended consequences.  If Sanders were to take office, his first priority ought to be returning those programs to viability or replacing them: but he seems as likely to ignore the faults and instead – much like President Obama who would have then been before him – champion his own pet projects instead.  Even on Sanders’ own terms, the practical results look suspect – and then we remember he would have to work with Congress.

The second concern is the ethical state of the country.  Many conservatives are fond of denouncing socialism due to its tragic, catastrophic failures in the hands of dictators.  Many liberals champion socialism, in its modern guise of “democratic socialism”, for its relative success in Northern Europe.  Few on either side spend much time on the collapse of socialized states in the Mediterranean and South America – but I believe our governing bodies are much closer to this last group than to either the demons or the pragmatists.  Many city governments in the United States are openly corrupt or bankrupt.  Many state governments are, relatively unnoticed, much the same (especially the bankrupt part).  Millions of people, likely a majority, distrust all national politicians except their own favored few – and this distrust has largely been earned.  Sanders’ own personal integrity appears unimpeachable, but with whom would he be governing?

(It is true that no other candidate is much better prepared to address these problems.  Rand Paul, had his campaign proved viable, would have tried.  Ted Cruz I think might have the will: but given his personality I suspect a Cruz presidency would turn out a mirror of Obama’s: several striking successes followed by stonewalling on all sides.  Kasich or Rubio I think are “managers”, which may be better than nothing, and might stabilize the situation for several years, but would not likely produce any real reform.  Trump and Clinton are obviously both as corrupt as they come.)

The third, and most important reason, to reject Sanders’ socialism is that it is illegal for the Federal government.  This has not stopped much of anyone for the last hundred years at least (the precise number I believe is greater, but the hundred years is more or less undeniable).  That is not an excuse for perpetuating disregard for law, even if it may make reforming the accumulated detritus that much more difficult.  The Constitution laid down certain powers for the central government, implying and then by amendment specifically stating that all others – which can be generally summarized as the power to regulate day-to-day business and life – were to remain prerogatives of the State governments or the people.  Justified by the farces of “living constitutionalism” and (especially modern interpretations of) “substantive due process”, we as a nation have grown accustomed to ignoring what the laws say – including this Constitution and its carefully set limits – in favor of whatever we want right now.

Sanders’ campaign doubles down on this principle.  He is at least honest enough to say what he wants, and (more shockingly still) honest enough to say upfront that his programs would cost significant amounts of money not to be found without higher taxes.  However, personal honesty is no justification for governing dishonestly.  He would like the United States to be a neatly run country on a basis of democratic socialistic principles.  To do that, even assuming it were a realistic goal as above I argued it is not, he would have to – though this is a trait he shares with most of our current politicians as they pursue their pet projects – ignore the law.  Nowhere in Sanders’ platform that I am aware of does he call for amendments to authorize all the powers that would accrue to Washington even beyond its current usurpations.  Sanders’ presidency itself might proceed placidly.  But with the corruption, the debt, and the cronyism that characterize our current rulers; with the ideological and social divides crossing the populace; the eroded bases of State and popular power to resist actual tyranny: is there any reason to think these projects which Sanders pursues would end well in the long term?