Trump versus Clinton – a diabolical choice

Far-Side-Damned-if-You-Do-Dont_2

I am reminded of this Far Side cartoon every time I think of the Trump versus Clinton election circus we are doomed to endure for the next few months, followed by 4 years of whatever we get on the back-end of it.

On principle, I believe that voting for the Presidency should never have become, nor is it currently, a binary choice between lacklustre candidates put forward by two parties. I say this only to make the point that the Far Side cartoon, while humorous and somewhat appropriate, isn’t entirely accurate given that we can freely vote for other options or choose not to vote at all. Much of my actual lament today is that the office is as powerful as it currently is in the first place. If the executive office was relegated to its proper constitutional role, this would be far less consequential of an exercise.  It is the legislature, through reasoned and deliberative process, that was established with the preponderance of governmental powers and placed in the pre-eminent Article I of the U.S. Constitution. This was a wise decision by the founders, who intended to promote the durability of individual liberty through due process of deliberative and participatory government, as I indicate in another post. This legislative responsibility has been eroded greatly through various executive branch usurpations (i.e the vast proliferation of unaccountable executive agencies) as well as a judiciary that has strayed beyond its boundaries of interpreting law as devised in the Constitution and through laws promulgated through the legislature to a modern-day role in actively creating their own laws out of the judge’s’ own political and personal preferences.

All that being said, my ideological principles don’t matter much when the reality is that one of these individuals will become President of the United States, a fact that I can only find comic relief in the Monty Python scene in which the “Constitutionalist” peasant indicates to King Arthur, “well, I didn’t vote for you…”  I picture myself in the next four years as an increasing malcontent who mutters throughout the day, “well, I didn’t vote for you…” every time a poor decision is made or every time something else surfaces that demonstrates their unsavory characters. Actually, upon re-watching the entire scene, I think there is a good deal one could use out of the clip as a parody of modern American government.

And while I don’t agree with the enthusiasm in which the author takes in not ever voting, as I still believe that it is an important right to cherish, there is much in a recent commentary in which he quotes David Boaz posted on the Cafe Hayek blog  that I think is spot on. I quote the main points that I agree with below:

I’ve heard libertarians say, “We know how bad Hillary is, so the mysterious Trump is a better bet.”  But we do know much about Trump.  He’s been clear and consistent on a few issues: banning and deporting Mexicans, building a wall around America, banning Muslims, and taking a sledgehammer to the world’s most important trading relationship (between the United States and China).  He’s indifferent to federal spending and against entitlement reform.  He thinks he doesn’t need advisers or policies or principles.  He has no earthly idea what he thinks about taxes, abortion, minimum wages, debt, health care, or most other issues.  Most disturbingly, he shows disdain for Congress and the Constitution.

A few libertarians have said that war is the greatest threat to life and liberty, and Trump is less hawkish than Clinton and most of the other Republican candidates.  True, he has criticized the Iraq war and nation building and even read a speech proclaiming that “unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct.”  But he has also promised to “bomb the s– out of” ISIS and “take out their families.”  And his ignorance, anger, and impulsiveness about trade and immigration would surely make for rocky international relations.

 

 

Explaining this year’s Presidential Primaries in one simple table

Process and Outcome Continuum

One of the most useful and simple frameworks I have ever received is a concept I gained in a decision making course taught by the late Professor Kent Womack, one of my favorite professors at Dartmouth College and whom I credit with my own enhanced appreciation for understanding human frailties and the need for humility when approaching large organizations and intractable problems.

I believe this framework can largely explain the appalling lack of praiseworthy and honorable choices that the two-party system has left us with in this election cycle.  Since the seemingly going defunct GOP Party is something I am much more familiar with, I can more readily speak to it and fit it within the framework. Trump won most of the primary races by racking up a plurality amongst split votes, but rarely did he win an above 50% majority. His negative ratings, approaching 65%, is unprecedented in presidential election history. I have little doubt in my mind that had he begun this race with fewer choices representing the typical established Republican base, he would not be where he is today. Imagine a scenario in which his only opposition to begin the race was in the persons of Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Carly Fiorina. The race would have likely consolidated on one of those as an alternative to Trump a lot more rapidly than the process of the agonizing and costly whittling down of votes that left us with Cruz and Trump standing in the end. Given this likelihood, Trump’s unconventional campaign and dishonourable and intemperate personality fits the table in the “Good Luck” category. The real challenge for the GOP going forward is that Trump has internalized this “Good Luck” outcome as a direct result of his own special genius – putting himself in the “Justly Rewarded” category, when the truth is much closer to what Bret Stephens from the Wall Street Journal articulated as rolling three double 6’s in a row in backgammon and believing it is a result of your own skill. Trump’s blustery and undisciplined strategy in any other year would result in a campaign going down in a tremendous ball of flames, and may still do so, but this is no ordinary year.  In this great tragicomedy, his opponent on the other side is almost as tragically flawed as he is.

This brings me to my own observations of the Democratic side, where even a pre-ordained coronation has taken a tremendously long time given that the Democratic buyer’s remorse continues to play itself out. For such a party stalwart and established candidate to take so long to take control of the primary says as much about the influence of Sanders and his avowedly democratic socialist ideas as much as it says about Clinton’s weakness. (On the topic of Sanders, Daniel Henninger of the WSJ has an insightful piece of the impact of the Sanders’ candidacy in revealing what was already latent  in the Democratic Party lurch to the left). Indeed, Clinton’s own negative ratings, which are hovering close to 60%, are not too far off from Trump’s numbers. She would probably be bogged down by Clinton family scandals of the past (cattle futures, Whitewater, Bill’s various relations with staffers and interns), but the fact that Clinton has ongoing current scandals has added additional combustible fuel to the fire.

Alas, one of the conundrums of the Democratic Party is that they lack a deep bench of political talent, having been denuded of a fresh crop of intellectual blood coming from state governorships and state legislatures where Republicans have quietly built majority strongholds in a majority of states. Even with a less developed politician farm system, to use a baseball analogy, the lack of existing party grandees such as Joe Biden, John Kerry, or even an independent run ruled out by Independent Michael Bloomberg has gifted Hillary Clinton with a relatively easy and open path to the Democratic ticket. That being said, Clinton’s gifts as a disciplined (if not exciting) campaigner and politician is leagues above that of Donald Trump, but her own glaring weaknesses likely mean that if she went into this race with a formidable opponent that lacked any of her baggage, she is likely already on the sidelines by now.

But here we are as Americans, captive of bad luck and this destined to be stuck with two hard to love and hard to respect out of any moral and virtue sense candidates that present to us little compelling or worthy choice to hold our highest office in the land. The leader of the free world comes down to two unsavory choices who are where they are today out of a historic combination of bad luck from two parties colliding together. Of course, there are other options and this race does not have to be bi-polar. I will be casting a ballot for the Libertarian Party this cycle, but my reasons for this is a topic of exploration for another day.

“Socialism is for the Uninformed”

Sanders.PNGThomas Sowell makes a compelling case for going beyond surface level platitudes and shibboleths being all that it takes to realize that socialism can’t possibly work and that all evidence of countries that have tried a planned and wealth confiscatory approach have all failed. After making the case through some examples and counterpoints to the Sanders’ socialist agenda, Sowell delivers my favorite quote from the article, “None of this is rocket science. But you do have to stop and think — and that is what too many of our schools and colleges are failing to teach their students to do.”

Presidential Politics and the Tendency Towards Mediocrity, Savagery, and Ultimately to Tyranny

A recent Wall Street Journal oped by Joseph Epstein asked the question on the minds of most Americans viewing this tragicomic circus going on that we call the Presidential race: “These five are the best that we can do?”

Readers of this blog and my close friends recognize that over the last few years I have turned Greek and Roman history and philosophy and finding the modern equivalents into an interest and hobby. In this vein, Epstein quotes the ancient Roman general and politician Sulla when he opens with, ““There are some systems which naturally take control out of the hands of good men. There are even some which necessarily put it in the hands of bad ones.”  So it seems with the American two-party system of primary selection  and election process of the leader of the free world. What was historically an expectation of leadership, experience, character, substance, and virtue holding preeminent roles in the winning of votes has devolved into a vulgar race to the bottom based on celebrity and style for the job. Anyone who cynically doubts my previous point about winning the office based on substance needs to go back and read George Washington’s musings and writings on the office of the Presidency as well as the Lincoln Douglas debates and compare and contrast these grand idealistic visions to Trump talking about the size of his genitals to recognize the depth of the abyss we have sunken into.

Epstein takes aim at our media culture as a primary culprit of this devolution. The main thesis of his oped is as follows:

The media and Internet are the major instruments of contemporary political degradation. The media were once more restrained, operating under a largely self-imposed control. During the Kennedy administration, journalists agreed not to photograph the president smoking or playing golf; as for his high jinks above stairs in the White House, that was never up for public discussion. In earlier years, no reporters brought up the lady friends of Franklin Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower, and focusing on FDR’s physical incapacity during wartime was unthinkable.

Things changed under the presidency of Lyndon Johnson. His position on the Vietnam War went contrary to that of most members of the media, who decided that opening the president to attack was not only feasible but honorable. The media’s adversarial role intensified under Richard Nixon. After Watergate, “investigative journalism” became one of the heroic professions. What investigative journalists chiefly investigated was malfeasance and above all scandal.

The advent of the Internet made this all the worse. The Internet is without an ethical standard. On it anyone can say anything—and usually does. Donald Trump has added to the demeaning quality of the proceedings by using the Internet—those endless insulting tweets—and attracting press and television with his steady stream of attacks on the personal lives of his opponents.

While I tend to agree that the media is a perfectly culpable standard bearer and complicit in vulgarity and sophomoric coverage and analysis, I believe that they are a mere reflection of the overall culture that we have become, which is a culture at large that is fueling the demand for “bread and circuses” to fill our appetites, as the Roman satirist Juvenal would quip. The media is simply following reader and viewer demand, rather than a media conspiracy to dumb down our preferences. We can’t let ourselves off of the hook and blame the media for our own vulgarity and mediocrity.

Furthermore, I don’t believe the American appetite for savagery is unique in the historic perspective. We can look to ancient Greece for the same lessons. In Plato’s Republic, much of the effort of his philosophical writing is towards defining the ideal city that is led by people of great virtue and character. When asked why such people of character so rarely choose to enter politics, Plato, using Socrates as the speaker,  offers up the poignant observation that, “Now, the members of this small group (people of great character and virtue – philosophers in a word) have tasted how sweet and blessed a possession philosophy is, and at the same time they’ve also seen the madness of the majority and realized, in a word, that hardly anyone acts sanely in public affairs and that there is no ally with whom they might go to the aid of justice and survive, that instead they’d perish before they could profit either their city or their friends and be useless both to themselves and to others, just like a man who has fallen among wild animals and is neither willing to join them in doing injustice nor sufficiently strong to oppose the general savagery alone.”  The implication is clear that for time immemorial, people of great character stay away from political leadership out of fear of being torn to pieces by the wolves involved in it or perhaps worse, becoming a wolf themselves. Epstein uses Mitch Daniels as an example of a man of great character who stayed away from politics for the reason that Plato outlines above.

More chillingly, Plato uses his writings in Republic  to give voice to Socrates’ opinion that of all forms of government,  democracies are most prone to giving way to tyrants, as that form of government is most likely to succumb to the majority elevating a tyrant. The tyrant in turn promotes members of this class to bodyguards and sycophants who allow them to create and hold on to more powers that are subsequently used to confiscate and redistribute wealth back to the majority, further entrenching this majority party in power. In Socrates’ estimation, the careful balance of a democracy that gives way to tyranny is when those that would protect freedom cease to have virtue and give themselves over to excessive vice and hedonism. A class of people (Socrates derisively calls them idlers) gains power due to their forcefulness and loudness (seeing the parallels here to current politics?) who unite behind a leader willing to advocate their views. Socrates likens such a leader to a wolf who is willing to spill kindred blood and justify it as necessary to get power in order to address wrongs done historically. Thus, acts of evil and vulgarity have their excuses. The tyrant eventually suppresses dissent and any form opposition is not tolerated. Eventually the wolf likely even turns on those he purported to be helping originally on the path to power. Once the blood spills, it can’t be stopped.

While I am not jumping to a dramatic conclusion that current Presidential candidates are the personification of the tyrant wolf so described in the discourse above, I do think Plato’s Republic has some tremendously useful and relevant warnings for American society and the path to devolving into such tyrannies. I don’t believe that America has some preternatural destiny to keep our grand experiment in self-governance going perpetually absent the will and the requisite virtues of the people to keep it going. While our institutions are more durable than countries in Eastern Europe or Latin America, I don’t believe they are absolutely unassailable, especially if the majority of the population are not inclined to defend them. I do believe that if we continue to elevate political leaders that are of weak virtue and character that under the right conditions we could devolve into the dystopian tyranny that Plato describes. As Plato writes, the tyrant comes to power because in every society there are a subset of people that perpetuate evil and wish to do evil to others and wish to extract wealth and natural power from others through the force of government. In well-governed societies, these evil and mindless people become petty people of little repute, perhaps even criminals. They may become successful money-makers, but Plato is careful to point out that making money is not to be confused with virtue. In a place where there is no regard for virtue and poorly governed societies, tyrants are elevated to the leadership by force of will of the majority.

Astonishingly and with incredible prescience and similarity to today’s politics, in describing the nature of a would-be tyrant, Socrates explains that they are,  “those whose nature is filled with fears and erotic love of all kinds… isn’t this harvest of evils a measure of the difference between a tyrannical man who is badly governed on the inside – whom you judged to be most wretched just now, and one who doesn’t love a private life but is compelled by some chance to be a tyrant, who tries to rule others when he can’t even control himself. He’s just like an exhausted body without any self-control, which instead of living privately, is compelled to compete and fight with other bodies all its life…In truth, and whatever some people may think, a real tyrant is really a slave, compelled to engage in the worst kind of fawning, slavery, and pandering to the worst kind of people. He’s far from satisfying his desires in any way that is clear – if one happens to know that one must study his whole soul – that he’s in the greatest need of most things and truly poor. And if indeed his state is like that of the city he rules, then he’s full of fear, convulsions, and pains throughout his life… And we’ll also attribute to the man what we mentioned before, namely, that he is inevitably envious, untrustworthy, unjust, friendless impious, host and nurse to every kind of vice, and that his ruling makes him even more so. And because of all of these, he is extremely unfortunate and goes on to make those near him like himself.”

These are powerful words of warning to the citizens of democracy and predict our turning to savagery and mediocrity in our political leaders and why we lack in the truly gifted of great moral character.

What made America great in the first place?

us-constitution

As I have mentioned in other posts, I am making my way through Mary Beard’s remarkably readable account of Roman history, SPQRBeard has the unique talent of bringing ancient history forward and modernizing it and making it tremendously relatable to modern times while maintaining the integrity of the critical historical elements. One of the remarkable anecdotes that Beard draws upon is the assassination of the Emperor Gaius, also commonly known as Caligula (which loosely translates into “Bootikins” on account of the footies he has as a child, making it a nickname that Gaius actually rather disliked). In the aftermath of this event, Beard chronicles how the Roman Senate took to the Temple of Jupiter, a highly revered and symbolic place for Romans of the time, and, as Beard states, “exchanged fine words about the end of political slavery and the return of liberty.” Calculating that it had been about 100 years since the end of freedom, one of them delivered a stirring speech on the need to return to Republican ideals. While admitting that he was too young to see the true Republic in its old form, he claimed to see with his own eyes ‘the evils with which tyrannies fill the state. No despot is set over you now who can get away with ruining the city…what recently nurtured the tyranny was nothing other than our inaction…Weakened by the pleasure of peace we learned to live like slaves….Our first duty now is to give the highest possible honors to those who killed the tyrant.”

Unfortunately for the speaker, one observer in the crowd noticed that he was wearing the signet ring that featured the face of Gaius on it, a symbol of sycophantic loyalty to the Emperor, and proceeded to rip the ring from his finger. The entire spectacle completely undermined the eloquent speech he had just delivered.  As Beard indicates, the Jewish historian Josephus hinted in his writings at the time that, “anyone who could loudly advocate a return to Republican rule while sporting the emperor’s portrait on his ring did not understand what Republican rule was about.”

I use this as a parallel for the current state of the American polity and our lost sense of what actually makes America great. As the author of a blog post The Jacobins of the Right states, “There is something almost Jacobin – and thus deeply unconservative – about the idea that a virtuous, plain-speaking, authentic outsider can just step into politics and fix everything, and that when all is done, the nation as a whole will be regenerated. Or great again. Or something quite like it. There is something equally Jacobin, and unconservative, about the idea that our country or any other needs to be radically remade.” This is not just about the current presidential election, although it is certainly a symptom of the disease, in my mind, modern Americans have forgotten, or were never really taught, what made America great in the first place. The opening lines of the Declaration of Independence embodies the greatness of what the American Republic aspired to be:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..

What was unique about this incredible endeavor was a paradigm shift from paternalistic aristocratic government structures that predominated the globe at that time and indeed throughout the vast majority of history to one where individuals had unassailable rights and that government existed by the sole consent of the governed. While the United States founding fathers could look to examples of the Athenian democracy, Roman Republican era, and writings from classical liberal (mostly) English philosophers such as John Locke, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, and David Hume, for the most part they were building and executing on something entirely new. It would not have escaped their (or the rest of the world’s) notice that those previous rare examples from Rome and Greece were ultimately flawed and doomed to failure.

As a bulwark against those flaws and with additional wisdom provided by the troubles of the Articles of Confederation period, the U.S. Constitution weaved together a tapestry of government checks and balances across not only the legislative, executive, and judicial branches but also across the central federal government and state governments. While I could make much of this artfully wise construct of checks and balances across government institutions, suffice it to say that by its very inherent design the U.S. Constitution was purposefully constructed to make rapid and dramatic change very difficult and yield to the less efficient incremental and slow changes that are reached by overwhelming support and consensus. For anyone that doubts this, make the Federalist Papers authored by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay your next reading project. A less talked about but equally important nature of the American construct was combining the government checks and balances with elements of an indirect democracy as a form of population oversight of the government; or, in other words – the consent of the governed was never intended to be ‘the majority votes, the majority rules, the majority rides roughshod over the losing minority’. It is critical to note that this was not direct democracy, as the founding fathers were afraid of mob mentality, or what the French aristocrat and prescient writer Alexis de Tocqueville would coin as “the tyranny of the majority” in his observations of America in Democracy in America.

There seem to be two competing populist strains in American politics these days –  one is of a reliance on a single man to somehow ‘make us great again’ by, as the author of the Jacobin blog puts it, “cranky protectionist math that just doesn’t add up.” The other is a naive belief that we can somehow stop a “rigged” system (one of Bernie Sanders favorite terms) by consolidating much more power into the hands of government and create a “fair” society by ironically confiscating wealth from the minority and redistributing it to the minority. These political forces of authoritarian machismo and tyranny of the majority to trample on the rights of an outvoted minority would not have been a surprise to the founding fathers, who did everything they could to try to prevent this type of descent in their founding government charters. For the American people who mistakenly believe that their support of a would-be despot who can get things done by the sheer dint of force due to his leadership and personality and that this is somehow consistent with American greatness, the echoes of the Roman senator droning on about Republican greatness while wearing the Emperor’s portrait begin to ring a loud clarion call.

In Democracy in America, de Tocqueville prophetically states that,  “Governments usually perish from impotence or from tyranny. In the former case, their power escapes from them; it is wrested from their grasp in the latter. Many observers who have witnessed the anarchy of democratic states, have imagined that the government of those states was naturally weak and impotent. The truth is, that, when war is once begun between parties, the government loses control over society. But I do not think that a democratic power is naturally without force or resources; say, rather, that it is almost always by the abuse of its force, and the misemployment of its resources, that it becomes a failure. Anarchy is almost always produced by its tyranny or its mistakes, but not by want of its strength.’

Those bidding for stronger and more effective and decisive government are missing the point of America and are drawing the wrong conclusions. Our government is not without power and it certainly isn’t weak and in need of a saviour. We don’t need more government or more tyranny that I believe both a Trump or Sanders presidency would bring about in different forms. We need greater individual freedoms, less government, less laws so that the rule of law can be adhered to and respected, and a much greater veneration and knowledge of our founding charters and how government is supposed to function and the people’s role within it. Without these forces, the de Tocqueville prophecy of descent into anarchy is ever closer at hand.

 

 

 

 

 

Unholy Alliances – Christian Pastors Who Endorse Trump

Jeffress

The bizarre spectacle of First Baptist Church of Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress endorsing and speaking on behalf of Donald Trump and the enduring support of Evangelical Christians in general of Trump will prove to be one of the starkest examples in American history of a group of people trading their professed values and voting against their own interests for some ill-defined and hopeless expedient gains. It defies all logic, reason, and anything that could be described as remotely pertaining to the things of God, and the only conclusion I can draw from it is that such leaders are complete charlatans who do not actually possess the faith that they profess or that they are falling prey to a Faustian bargain in the hope of some temporal and secular gains and in the process are in great danger of drawing their followers in a wayward direction. Or even worse, they no doubt heap scorn upon Christianity amongst those that are not converts. Thinking about the situation in which evangelicals turn off their minds and close their eyes and ears to what is so blatantly obvious to those that have eyes to see and ears to hear, I am reminded of a quip from C.S. Lewis that, “Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.”

Since Donald Trump takes to bashing opponents in churlish fashion on Twitter and other media outlets, I must have missed where the Apostle James said, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Except of course in cases when an opponent in a political race needs to be bashed and destroyed with juvenile taunts. Then it is justified.” (The first section is real and from James 1:26. The second italicized portion is obviously contrived). Donald Trump once wrote in his book, “The Art of the Comeback” that, “If I told the real stories of my experiences with women, often seemingly very happily married and important women, this book would be a guaranteed best-seller.” I must have missed all of the verses in the Bible about it being completely acceptable to have a complete lack of regard for fidelity to marriage and to openly brag about it and display a total lack of repentance. Jesus summed up his entire ministry when he stated that, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22: 34-40). On the whole loving your neighbor part, I wonder why Jesus missed the memo on providing a caveat that, “except in cases in which they are foreign immigrants from Mexico, then by all means, heap scorn on them, oppress them, and deport them so that they can’t take your jobs and welfare.” I am certain he must have meant to include that. If I was a playwright, I think a perfect plot for a parody of the situation would be a script in which the disciples tire of the love, kindness, and suffering of Jesus and decide to throw in their lot with wicked King Herod, who only has one definable political platform: a promise that he will throw all the Samaritan bums out of Jerusalem and build a wall blocking them off with a promise that this will increase their fisherman’s wages.   

“Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.” – C.S. Lewis

Churches and church leaders often decry moral relativeness and a culture that continues to descend into coarseness, lack of decency, and lack of human kindness. The endorsing of a candidate who is the embodiment of all of those things reeks of abject hypocrisy, which begs the question of if a church pastor is not going to stand against such a candidate’s rise and be a voice crying out in the wilderness for Christian faith and true Christian values, then what really is the point of that church? Leaders so aligned with dark forces critically undermine and wound their church’s entire reason for existence and ring the death knell of their organizations. After all, there are only relatively few avenues for seeking out true Christian faith and doctrinal and worship experiences within a common body of believers. The competition for a collection of the angry and hateful spewing vitriol and concerned with temporal interests and “winning” against one’s rivals is rather abundant, so what is the point of mixing those short-sighted and secular goals with seeking the will of an everlasting deity?

I can only imagine that in some small measure, this mob mentality and co-opting of the Christian church by a demagogue must have been how Diettrich Bonhoeffer felt when so many Lutheran pastors and laymen were co-opted by Hitler with his promises to rid Germany of the shame of the Treaty of Versailles and the ineptitude of the Weimar Republic. Bonhoeffer no doubt had this in mind when he wrote in his great book, The Cost of Discipleship, that, “Now what is it that so easily triggers the opposition of Christians against the authorities? It is the fact that is the they take offense at the mistakes and the injustice perpetrated by the authorities. But with considerations like these, Christians are already in grave danger of paying attention to something other than the will of God, which alone they are called to fulfill. They themselves ought to strive for the good in all things, and to practice it in the way God commands them….not because the way this world is ordered is so good, but because its good or bad qualities are irrelevant compared to the one thing that is truly important, namely, that the the church-community submit and live according to God’s will.” In other words, getting wrapped up and invested too heavily in political affairs was not at all Jesus’s concern for the church or the believer. Bonhoeffer wrote this as an exegesis of Paul’s writings that Christians should not be concerned with political authority as much as their mission on earth. This line of attack from the author of the vast majority of the New Testament makes it all the more inexplicable when a church pastor wraps himself in the cloak of such a vile person seeking political rule as Donald Trump.

The Donald Trump “Bread and Circuses” Experience

Juvenal

Around 100 AD, the Roman satirist Juvenal wrote that, “The people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now concerns itself no more, and longs eagerly for just two things – bread and circuses!”

The simplified quip of “bread and circuses” has since been used to decry and satirize mob mentality coupled with the loss of civic virtue and education and the ability of demagogues to capture the hearts and minds of the uneducated rabble through nothing more than food and entertainment. I dare say little has changed in 2,000 years, and this same satirical critique could be leveled at society that supports the man whose recent victory speech included the statement, “I love the poorly educated…” A part of me wants to be in shock. A part of me wants to believe that the elevation of such crassness is not possible in this country. On the other hand, I think of the general coarseness of our society that devotes much more time to keeping up with the Kardashians and the 20th season of The Bachelor than keeping up with the level of education and morality required to uphold a democratic republic and I can’t help but draw the conclusion that perhaps this is the government that we deserve.

Do the Chinese have an unfair advantage?

According to Donald Trump, the United States loses to China, Mexico, Japan, and just about everyone else in the world. The redress he proposes is a 45% tariff on Chinese goods that he would likely expand to others he lumps in as having unfair advantages over us and a border wall. Has any nation ever made itself great (or great again) through isolation from immigrants and trade wars? Before we jump off into the chasm of a 45% tariff on the Chinese (and others) perhaps we should think about the actual impact of an increase on our goods, particularly the low-cost goods that benefit the poor. As Daniel Henninger lays out in a recent Wall Street Journal Editorial, the tariff is one of Trump’s few actual policy proposals. Henninger elaborates powerfully on the perils of Trump’s proposal in what I have copied below:

At the core of the Trump campaign is one policy idea: imposing a 45% tariff on goods imported from China. In his shouted, red-faced victory speech Tuesday, he extended the trade offensive to Japan and Mexico.

Some detail: Combining the value of goods we sell to them and they to us, China, Mexico and Japan are the U.S’s Nos. 1, 3 and 4 trading partners (Canada is No. 2). They are 35% of the U.S.’s trade activity with the world. The total annual value of what U.S. producers—and of course the workers they employ—sell to those three countries is $415 billion.

Wal-Mart has 1.4 million U.S. employees in stores filled with foreign-made consumer goods. With a 45% price increase, many won’t be working for long.

Mr. Trump says the threat alone of a tariff will cause China to cave. Someone should ask: What happens if they don’t cave? Incidentally, unlike Mexico, China has between 200 and 300 nuclear warheads and 2.4 million active-duty forces. Irrelevant?

As with anything Trump does, the tariff proposal is a naked calculation to rile up the easy to excite masses that are befuddled by economics. His supporters may not recognize this, but all of this is really in the same vein of support as those that support Sanders.  People with pitchforks want to believe that all of their wage stagnation must be the result of some faceless enemy in a foreign land or a Mister Burns character at J.P. Morgan. They will inevitably fall into the trap of rallying behind either Sander’s envy and class warfare or Trump’s foreigner warfare. On the latter, these same individuals will grab their pitchforks once again and demand price controls once their prices down at Wal-Mart also increase 45%. They will fail to see the increase as the predictable result of their own actions. It is a vicious cycle to find succor and assistance from government men with no scruples and who possess the knowledge that true arbitrary power is created on the backs of those ignorant souls willing to make deals with dark power for fleeting and ephemeral gains. This information and knowledge asymmetry is how individual liberties are willingly ceded by voters to those who make pandering promises who know what power they can gain.

I want to turn to the canard that the Chinese have an unfair advantage in trade with Americans. I have always been puzzled by a complaint that if the Chinese manipulate their currency to an unnatural low point that we should in turn punish them. If the Chinese do manipulate their currency (and it is highly debatable whether they do), then the logical conclusion is that in doing so what the Chinese government is actually doing is using Chinese taxpayers to subsidize American consumption. In other words, currency manipulation would necessarily mean Chinese citizen oppression by the Chinese government to support our low prices and consumption habits here. One might disdain this from a sense of humanitarianism and fellow feeling for the Chinese, but what it shouldn’t be is a cry of unfair advantage for the Chinese. We should be thankful for the good fortune that Chinese government ineptitude provides us with cheaper goods! Cafe Hayek states this much more effectively than I just did, so I copy the comments from a recent blog post in the form of a letter to a former student:

Dear Mr. Hester:

Thanks for your reply.

You say that I am “naïve to forget about” the “unfairly low prices which the Chinese ruling elite impose on us.”

Please.  Low prices in America – especially if they are made artificially low at the expense of non-Americans – are no imposition on Americans; they are a blessing to Americans.  (Do you think that we earthlings would be made richer if our rulers adopt policies that require us to start paying more for the light and heat that we have until now imported from the sun at the low price of $0?  If not, why do you think that we Americans would be made richer if our rulers adopt policies that require us to start paying more for the goods that we have until now imported from China at low prices?)

Also, Chinese low wages are largely the consequence of the Chinese people being enslaved, tyrannized, and impoverished for decades by an unspeakably cruel Maoist regime.  Do you honestly believe that this terrible history gives the Chinese people today an unfair economic advantage over Americans?  If so, you must regret that we Americans were denied the advantage-rich experience of being forced to live in a collectivized, starvation-ridden society ruled by murderous despots.  My gosh!  If we, too, could today boast the horrifying recent history of China, then we, too, might be as poor as the Chinese and, hence, we, too, would enjoy – as do today’s Chinese – all the splendid “advantages” bestowed by such an impoverishing history!

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

 

The substantial middle class taxes coming with #feelthebern

The Sanders path to unicorns and rainbows can’t possibly be financed through taxes on Wall Street. In fact, that will barely make a dent in the trillions of dollars needed for single payer healthcare alone. The only way to get all of this “free” stuff is to heavily tax the middle class. So the question is, are you ready for this political revolution of 50% personal income taxes?

Economist Dan Mitchell has more details…

Source: Accelerating on the Path to Greece with Bernie Sanders

Out of the mouths of babies can come great wisdom

Bernie Sanders
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a rally at the Greensboro Coliseum Special Events Center in Greensboro, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Rob Brown)

With a degree of comic disappointment weighing on my mind, I took a break from my attention to the New Hampshire primary last night to put my three year old and youngest daughter to bed and to read her a bedtime story. Moments later, my eight year old daughter delicately tiptoed into the room and interrupted our lamplight reading peace to inform me that someone foolish was on the television talking about taking and having things and that perhaps it was inappropriate and needed to be turned off. I paused from my reading to see if I could hear what exactly she was referring to. No less than the bombastic and avuncular tirades of Bernie Sanders came into my ears.

I wrapped up my own powerful oratory to my youngest daughter about ladybugs being blown one by one by the wind off of leaves and migrated downstairs to catch what was left of the speech. Since Sander’s speech clocked in at minutes that must have tallied up to roughly his age, he was still going. Indeed, Sanders was on a roll racking up his familiar story of class enemies that he would pillage from in order to redistribute income. The non-economist can be mistaken for lapping up his litany of unicorns and rainbows that will be “free” but simple math indicates that it all can’t be paid for purely on the backs of taxes on “Wall Street speculation.” Really, that would not even make a drop in the bucket of a push to fund single payer health, college tuition for all, and subsidizing the many people that will be thrown into unemployment when they lack the skills to justify a $15 an hour minimum wage. Perhaps math is not important at this point for Sanders followers, perhaps it is more of the principle and the anger that he has deftly channeled. Consider it the right time at the right place in this age of populism. Still, one wonders how many people, particularly those with something to lose, are adding up the math and recognizing that taxes on the mundane middle class would have to rise precipitously to fund this political revolution. One wonders if all of the supporters lose any sleep at night over the amount of government power and agency apparatus that would necessarily have to be created in order to confiscate and shift this amount of wealth, and just how exactly is it justice that a government official gets to decide who is deserving of the wealth that they created and just who is worthy of receiving that in an arbitrary confiscation and transfer of wealth. Recognizing that many of the Sander’s crowd are ruddy faced college kids, I am reminded of the Athenian leader Pericles in the 400s B.C. telling a crowd at a war funeral oration that, “For it is impossible for a man to put forward fair and honest views about our affairs if he has not, like everyone else, children whose lives may be at stake.” The thoughts of leaving a legacy for my children makes me far more cautious before willingly turning over precious liberty and freedom to arbitrary government rule that will no doubt be abused. Even if Sanders is sincere and honest, what happens when this new government entrenched power is handed to someone with lesser scruples? Such is the importance of leaving a legacy of individual liberties and individual responsibility to our children. Let their creative and innovative minds not be circumscribed and hindered by a heavy and confiscatory hand of government.

The innocent wisdom of my daughter was to be unnerved by the shrillness of the old man on the TV rampaging on about what he was going to take. Something fundamentally within her told her this wasn’t justice. It is here that I must inform the reader, as much as one might not believe it, that leaving the primary coverage on is something I regard as a lapse in my modus operandi. I have shielded my children from the political race as I have felt they are too young to get involved and burdened with the mess of politics until they have their own firm foundations and respect for knowledge, seeking of truth, and America’s Civic foundations. Thus, her observations were completely her own and from the wisdom and honesty of a child’s perspective. It is something I am still marveling at. And yes, I will admit to a beaming moment of pride in my daughter’s natural skepticism. She is a child that I continue to see as remarkably similar to her father.  Luckily, I had her in bed too by the time Trump gave his victory speech, which I can only really compare to a revised form of the Jerry Springer show, complete with meatheads on stage and meatheads fist pumping and crying out, “build the wall, build the wall!”

I went to bed hoping to wake up having enjoyed the greatest of Mel Brooks parodies. Pinching myself, I went about my day pondering the realities of our populist age and hoping we somehow find enough veneration for our ideals of democracy and individual liberties to make them last.