Trumpism is not conservatism

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USA Today reports on how thirty black students were ejected from a Trump rally in Valdosta, Georgia the night before Super Tuesday. Without knowing all the details, it is safe to say that on its face, the optics are disgraceful. This feeds the narrative that Trump is a strongman for bigots.

In recent weeks, movement conservatives have intensified their opposition to Trump. Famously, National Review withdrew its sponsorship from a GOP debate in order to come out in print against the orange mogul.

Trump makes it very easy for conservatives to disown him. Fewer than 100 words from the USA Today article readily exemplify how Trump has nothing to do with American conservatism:

During his remarks in Valdosta, Trump said he’s leading a movement. “I’m just a messenger,” he said.

Later, Trump said his whole life has been about making money, but “now I’m going to be greedy for the United States,” as the audience roared. “I’m going to take, take, take and we’re going to become rich again.”

Karen Clendenin, 58, a victims advocate in the local district attorney’s office, said she was very impressed and that she’ll vote for Trump on Tuesday in Georgia’s primary. Clendenin said she wore her “Trump” T-shirt Monday even though she was “a little embarrassed.”

  1. Trump doesn’t own his positions. By saying “I’m just a messenger,” Trump refuses to take responsibility for his own words and actions. He is comfortable as a demagogue and opportunist, but a coward when it comes to committing to ideas and people in the real world. If nothing else, American conservatives are loyal to ideas and institutions that have a past track record of serving the common good. Failure to own, defend, and advance these ideas and institutions is not conservative.
  2. Trump is a redistributionist. “I’m going to be greedy for the United States” is essentially the same promise a Democrat makes to redistribute wealth by making college free, erasing student debt, or raising the minimum wage. This is not the free market under the rule of law that Reagan conservatives advocate.
  3. Trump is a one-man lawyer employment agency. Conservatives despise how overly litigious America has become. The conservative’s bible about this is Philip K. Howard’s The Death of Common Sense. One major conservative plank for reforming healthcare is tort reform. When I read that one Trump’s supporters is a legal “victim’s advocate,” I take this to mean ambulance chaser, like the 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards. The way progressives bring lawsuits, political correctness re-education and other vindictive instruments to bear on fellow Americans is anathema to conservatism. Trump’s constant threats to sue are much more at home with progressive tactics to silence and punish political enemies than with conservatism.

Bringing it back to race, opposition to immigration is populist protectionism, not free market conservatism which embraces competition and invites the best and brightest to become part of the American fold. Whatever Trumpism is, it is not conservatism.

Photo credit: markahuna via Imgur.

Amnesty, conservatism, and reality

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Scott Greer at the Daily Caller warns that “Pro-amnesty hawks are in for a rude surprise.” His analysis is questionable on several points.
1. No Republican supports amnesty. Which specific GOP-backed proposal, by a magic snap of the fingers, automatically grants illegal immigrants legal status without paying penalties?
2. Greer’s all-or-nothing vision is false. He predicts immigration reform will create “millions of new Democrats overnight,” but what specific legislative provision is he referring to? Republican-backed reforms typically mean that undocumented immigrants have to pay a fine and wait for several years before getting in back of the line just to apply for citizenship. And mere legal status is no ringing victory for Democrats. Meanwhile, he thinks Republicans like Bret Stephens naively anticipate a tidal wave of minority voter support if only they could pass immigration reform. I can’t see behind The Wall Street Journal’s paywall, but I’ve not heard or read anything to that effect from Stephens or others. The depiction is a straw man to boot.
3. There is no moderate wing of the Republican party. Greer pegs certain Republicans as “self-proclaimed moderates” without explicitly stating who does so. Neither do we know what they are moderate about: rhetorical tone or policy substance? In terms of tone, self-restraint, patience and foresight are marks of being a grown up. Bombastic rhetoric puts you on the loser’s path in the general election. Americans go for the happy warrior instead. In terms of policy substance, conservatism is a matter of principle, not what tribe one belongs to. Besides, isn’t identity politics what Democrats do? And no, “neocon” is not a tribe. Interestingly, Greer has made no case whatsoever as to which of the purported wings of the GOP is more conservative.
4. Greer offers no practical alternative. Assuming that demographic doom is written in the stars (and it isn’t), what is the real path to GOP electoral victory? Refusing to grant illegal immigrants any legal status whatsoever will turn off more independents than win them; they will see such a candidate, as Ted Cruz is shaping up to be, as callously bull-headed, not a hero with backbone. As Michael Medved astutely asks, what would Trump or Cruz’s plan be to win swing states like Ohio, Florida, and Virginia? There is no hidden army of conservatives that stayed home in 2012. Rhetorical bombast won’t materialize that army. The progressive media will only use it to turn crucial independents away from the GOP.
5. Conservatives inhabit reality, not fantasy. Trump has promised to build a big beautiful wall and get Mexico to pay for it. He’s insisted that all illegals will have to leave America and touchback in their home country. Even those who have been economically and socially integrated for more than a decade. This is fantasy talk, and fantasy is the province of the deluded and of dreamers. That’s the base of the Democratic party, not the GOP. Politics is the art of the possible, not the bottom line of an anger retail industry.

Feelings Trump facts? Four arguments against the Donald

Donald Trump is leading the pack for the GOP presidential nomination, and many attribute his popularity to the raw anger out there in America. I’ve never been one for unconstructive anger. So let’s say you are angry, and you don’t just want to emote, but want our country to be doing better again. What’s the way forward? Here are four reasons why it’s not Trump.

1. High unfavorable numbers

One recent poll reportedly puts Trump’s overall unfavorability at 59%, higher than even Hillary Clinton. What does it take to be even more unpopular than America’s robotic grandma, the secretive, defensive, and definitively Nixonian Mrs. Clinton?

2. Peforms worse than other GOP candidates in matchups

A recent swing state poll by Quinippiac showed not just that Hillary Clinton does worse than Joe Biden in head-to-head matchups, but that Trump consistently underperforms in those matchups compared to Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. In Florida, Rubio and Bush comfortably beat Clinton and Biden in respective contests, while Trump eeks 2 percent past Clinton and falls to Biden by 3. In Ohio, Rubio and Bush best Clinton, but Trump trails her by 5, and goes down to Biden by 10. And in Pennsylvania, Rubio and Bush each beat the Dems while Trump loses to them. The pattern from this poll is clear: Rubio performs best overall, followed by Bush. Right now Trump doesn’t have what it takes to beat likely Democrat opponents. And given his stratospheric unfavorables, that is unlikely to change.


Tom Simpson / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

3. The stay-at-home conservative voter is a myth

There has been a “stupid myth” floating around since 2012 that three or four million conservatives stayed home rather than vote for patrician, RINO-squish Mitt Romney. Commentator Laura Ingraham has warned that conservative anger needs a chance to play itself out this cycle. According to common wisdom, Trump is the prime shot at that.

Before we buy this premise, let’s go back and check the numbers. According to Michael Medved, Romney gained more than a million votes over McCain. When I crunched Wikipedia’s numbers, Romney’s gain was 985,177. And this gain happened amidst a decline of three million total voters between 2008 and 2012.

If historical observations by Kim Strassel and Ed Morrissey are reliable, then the myth of disaffected conservative voters arose before all the votes had even been counted! As Churchill has been quoted, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to gets its pants on.” The snarling, anti-establishment Right is not as powerful or predictably peeved as typically touted.

4. Birthright citizenship trilemma: jobs, the rule of law, or unreasonable

Mr. Trump released policy statement last week that includes ending so-called birthright citizenship. This is an innovation in the debate on immigration, but it is a non-sequitur. Stopping illegal immigration has been, for conservatives at least, about a couple of more foundational principles: jobs for Americans and the rule of law. While I respect the drive to immigration reform that’s based on a concern for the rule of law, and the need to enforce laws, I don’t buy that ending birthright citizenship significantly increases job opportunity for American citizens. It is an arcane pursuit and any change to the job market will be indirect. So all of the energy for ending birthright citizenship must either come from a pure concern for the rule of law, or something more nefarious. Of course, many in the media and on the Left will gladly attribute xenophobia as the motivation. But if we give Trump the benefit of the doubt, his desire to end birthright citizenship must be about restoring some obvious mistake in interpreting the Constitution. He must be a candidate who champions the rule of law.

The problem for Trump is that he has bragged about paying off politicians and he trades off of the force of his personal charisma. He does not inspire confidence that he will uphold the rule of law. Someone who supports both Trump and ending birthright citizenship owes an explanation as to their priorities: jobs or the rule of law? If the rule of law, then why Trump and not a more principled conservative? If jobs, then why so fervent about the arcane task of ending birthright citizenship? The third alternative is that the supporter is not a reasonable conservative, but a xenophobe or just an unreasonable voter. The latter, sadly for America today, almost seems par for the course.

So, whether you are a Trump fan or suffer daily combat with a friend or relative who is one, I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. There are a lot of great candidates out there this cycle. Let’s be sure to elect one of them.

Study: journalists report think tank leanings selectively

Conservative-leaning think tanks like the Hoover Institution are much more likely to be ideologically identified than their liberal counterparts. | Photo credit: darkmatter / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 

Reason.com recently highlighted a study in the Journal of Media Economics which suggests selective media bias in reporting think tank leanings:

Leading news outlets were 14 times more likely to identify the Heritage Foundation as conservative than they were to categorize the Brookings Institution as liberal, reports a new study in the Journal of Media Economics. The study, conducted by the Department of Justice economist Wayne Dunham, analyzed 25,000 news articles from six large daily newspapers and the Associated Press over the past couple of decades.

Reason correspondent Ronald Bailey points out the implicit bias in this lopsided ideological identification.  It seems reasonable to me that reminding readers of a source’s ideological affiliation tends to make them dismissive of that source.  It follows then that liberal think tanks get less scrutiny than conservative and libertarian ones.

Free societies rely on some semblance of balance and objectivity from the press. It won’t help for government to intervene, as with the Fairness Doctrine.  Rather, news consumers should signal their displeasure to the editorial boards.  To that end, it would be good to know which major papers Dunham examined.  If the report is accurate, then some of America’s most influential journalists need to explain, or else cop to, their own bias.

Pope pontificates unprofitably on free markets

Photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales) / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Pope Francis’s recently released exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (pdf), has made the news and elicited commentary for its admonitions against the free market economy.  This is not a new stance for the Catholic Church.  Still, this latest iteration of qualified praise (hat tip First Thoughts blog) from commentators across the political spectrum led me to study the primary source itself.  After reviewing the text, I can only conclude that on free markets and the poor, Francis is tragically mistaken.  He gets it wrong.

In a section titled “Some challenges of today’s world,” Francis calls Christians to say “no to an economy of exclusion.”  Consider this passage:

… today we have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.  How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?  This is a case of exclusion.  Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?  This is a case of inequality.  Today everything comes under the laws of competition and survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.  As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

Herein we get a good sample of the main vehicle of discourse: platitudes.  Pope Francis doesn’t try to marshal any facts or hard evidence that the world is as he says; he takes it for granted that we share in a worldview where the powerful crush the weak and eat them for breakfast.  But is this really the world we live in?

Writing for the Daily Caller, conservative and Christian Matt K. Lewis affirms Francis’s warning against greed.  To me, his acknowledgment of the “tension” between conservatism and markets comes off as a little too contrite.  Lewis appeals to pure speculation by otherwise venerable Christian writer and apologist Francis Schaeffer.  He supposed that employers who sacrificed profits to pay their employees more would demonstrate Christ’s love better than by giving those profits to charity.  This obsession with profits is beyond misguided; it’s destructive to lend credence to the notion that not giving away profits is inherently bad.

Jesus warns us all to refrain from judging our neighbors.  He warns us to remove the log from our own eye before removing the speck from our neighbor’s.  Accordingly, who am I to say that my neighbor is greedy?  It is one thing if I know my neighbor intimately.  But it is uncharitable and an overreach to attribute greed to a general class of people whose trade circumstances I know little about.

As I see it, Francis’s social teaching remains too mired in a Eurocentric, Old World conception of human society.  The Pope himself hails from Argentina, a poster child for the economic development frustrations that are the norm in Latin America.  At one point, Francis sharply rebuts the efficacy of supply-side economic theory:

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.  This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.  Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

But to say that supply-side stimulation has never been confirmed by the facts is untrue!  In America, Kennedy’s 1964 tax cuts, along with Reagan’s 1986 and Bush’s 2002 and 2003 tax cuts, helped everyday Americans greatly.  Over at National Review, Kevin Williamson details some more of Francis’s economic shortsightedness, particularly his trust of government to ameliorate inequality.

If Pope Francis really wants to lift up the “excluded,” he should look no further than to the tiger economies of South Korea, Taiwan, and most recently, China.  There, real people have been lifted out of poverty and brought into purpose, productivity, and prosperity, thanks to the free market.

Elswhere in his treatise, the Pope offers a thesis that violence will continue as long as inequality prevails.  What supports this idea, given that we’ve always had economic inequality, and there is no political mechanism to eliminate it on the horizon?  We could call upon Stephen Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature to see how violence has declined precipetously over the history of civilization.  We can lay this against our background knowledge that inequality is increasing to say that violence has shown itself to be inversely proportional to inequality.  Truely, may the rich get richer!

The progressive may ask, how could anyone say that?  Well, if life is anything more than a zero sum game, where the only way forward is government enforced redistribution, then that’s something we need to know and lay hold of.  In a Wall Street Journal opinion from 2012, Rabbi Aryeh Spero makes the case:

At the opening bell, Genesis announces: “Man is created in the image of God”—in other words, like Him, with individuality and creative intelligence. Unlike animals, the human being is not only a hunter and gatherer but a creative dreamer with the potential of unlocking all the hidden treasures implanted by God in our universe. The mechanism of capitalism, as manifest through investment and reasoned speculation, helps facilitate our partnership with God by bringing to the surface that which the Almighty embedded in nature for our eventual extraction and activation.

Further, seeking to unlock the hidden treasures of creation brings deep joy.  Spero remarks:

Unlike socialism, mired as it is in the static reproduction of things already invented, capitalism is dynamic and energetic. It cheerfully fosters and encourages creativity, unspoken possibilities, and dreams of the individual.

Where the Pope sees dehumanization and a stripping of dignity, a capitalist who understands economic truth in light of the image of God–Imago Dei–sees joy.  To make room for the invisible hand, to allow suppliers to compete for the benefit of the consumer, and to practice capitalism–under the rule of law, not under the unbridled strawman Francis berates–brings very real material and spiritual benefit not just to the capitalist, but to those whom Jesus called “the least of these.”

If we love God with all our mind, as we’re called to do in Matthew 25, then we can heed Francis’s call to serve as ones “bruised, hurting and dirty.”  But that will mean for someone like myself, refuting a simplistic vision of the world that vilifies entrepreneurship, uncritically trusts government to alleviate inequality, and endows dignity as a wealth transfer instead of a mutually beneficial transaction.  If there is joy in the Gospel, it has to be in knowing the world as it actually is.  As for the economic realm, it looks nothing like Pope Francis sees it.

Remedial economics: Obamacare as teachable moment

Photo credit: peasap / Foter.com / CC BY

Here’s a good news article–from AFP of all places–that highlights the problem when government negotiates prices.  The headline says it all: “Secret pricing spikes US healthcare costs.”   The unflattering description of price negotiation, which is a favorite tool of economic liberals, is remarkable.  The article quotes European health policy experts, who advise the US to follow their lead by turning pricing over to market mechanisms. What a concept!

Meanwhile, a blogger at Values and Capitalism reminds us of the importance of basic economic literacy.  Her mention of “price signaling” triggers that part of me that must lecture everyone: prices communicate information about scarcity.  When government offers subsidies or fixes prices, it distorts that information.  These interventions produce illusion and falsehood.  It’s quite arguably immoral.

The spectacular implosion of the Affordable Care Act that we are now going through is a teachable moment.  Many fiscal conservatives spend a lot of time snarkily tweaking liberals and the Obama administration.  It would be a serious waste not to turn aside for a moment, and soberly remind our fellow citizens that no one can wish away immutable economic realities.  Central planning will never beat a free market.

Rubio’s rhetoric: Right or wrong?

Marco Rubio has taken a lot of flack from conservatives for pressing Senate Bill 744, the “Gang of Eight” immigration reform.  I have not been thoroughly apprised of the controversy’s details, nor do I especially wish to study a lengthy draft of legislation at this point.  I am curious though, as to how fellow my conservatives respond to the point of this ad that I saw while watching FOX New Sunday yesterday morning:

 

The outset of the ad is a powerful rhetorical turning of the tables.  We hear Senator Rubio say in a speech delivered April 20, “”Our current immigration system is a disaster.  What we have now is de facto amnesty.”

It’s hard to disagree with this.  The question for Rubio’s critics becomes, what is the better alternative to taking bipartisan action now?  Will there be some GOP tidal wave sweep of Congress in 2014, that will so shock President Obama as to paralyze him, rendering him incapable of vetoing their plan?  Will Congressional Republicans win the pubic opinion war if they are seen once again as obstinate bill scuttlers? Why should we live with the status quo, letting the perfect become the enemy of the good?

Conservatives should pride themselves for living in the real world.  President Obama is desperate for some sort of second term achievement.  Republicans have decent leverage with this incarnation of immigration reform.  It’s  the best opportunity to start fixing the “disaster.”  If we grandstand and fail to work out a politically practical solution, we’ll be subject to the old refrain: “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.”

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