Still, Never Trump

Donald Trump has won the Indiana primary—and with it, likely the Republican nomination. So, barring a miracle, it looks like the next president of the most powerful nation in world history will be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump—two of the people I’d least like to see as president.

No, I don’t think the nomination of Donald Trump will be armageddon for the Republican Party. Nor do I think the election of Donald Trump (if by some miracle he can manage that) will be armageddon for the country.

But his nomination will be very bad for the party, and his election would be very bad for America. Which is why I for one will not be voting for him. Even if that means Hillary wins.

Now is a good time to run down some of the unpleasant facts about The Donald and then discuss some of the implications for this election and for the future of the country.

Trump as Enemy of Free Trade

Donald Trump wishes to “throw free trade out the window,” an insane position totally at odds with individual rights and economic liberty.

True, the Republican Party used to be the party of economic protectionism, meaning its leaders favored “protective” tariffs and the like.

The term “protectionism” is misleading, however, as what tariffs actually do is prop up some industries at the expense of other industries and of consumers, who must pay higher prices, and make people poorer overall. Tariffs “protect” a country in roughly the same way that influenza viruses “protect” a person’s body.

The previous “great” Republican president to run with protectionism was Herbert Hoover, who was, like Trump, a successful business leader. Hoover’s anti-trade policies helped push the country into the Great Depression, setting the stage for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s disastrous New Deal.

To emphasize the point: A businessman Republican “protectionist” bears substantial responsibility for the rise of statism—bordering on economic fascism—in 20th Century America. That this fact apparently gives so few modern Republicans pause is disturbing.

Thankfully, for the last few decades, the Republican Party, guided by such sensible free-market advocates as Milton Friedman, has largely embraced free trade (despite some obnoxious exceptions).

It’s not like the principles of free trade are difficult to understand. Politically, people have a right to buy and sell goods and services to whomever they please (excepting some military items and the like). Economically, when people of different regions can specialize in what they’re relatively good at and then trade, people overall grow wealthier.

Yes, free trade can result in some people having to find a new profession—as the introduction of the automobile caused many horse breeders to find new work. But consumers don’t owe any particular person a given job. If American consumers prefer to purchase some goods from out-of-country, that’s their right. (The same principle applies if people in one U.S. state wish to buy goods and services from people in another state).

Of course, insofar as U.S. tax and regulatory policy drives businesses overseas and punishes domestic producers, that is horribly unjust. The proper solution is to remove those government impediments to production, not to add more.

It is no accident that Trump and “Democratic Socialist” Bernie Sanders are now leading the political movement against free trade. Restrictions on trade are a logical extension of the statism that both Sanders and Trump endorse. Both men are enemies of economic liberty—and, by extension, of the prosperity that comes with it.

Trump as Enemy of Free Speech

As I’ve written, Trump is antagonistic toward freedom of speech. Consider a couple key examples:

Rather than stand in support of those drawing Mohammed—such as Bosch Fawstin, who nearly was murdered by jihadists in Texas—Trump said drawing Mohammed is “taunting” jihadists. In other words, Trump joins the many leftists who essentially claimed they were asking for it.

And Trump said he wants to “open up the libel laws” so he can sue media outlets that criticize him. (He said he was discussing “false” articles—he said the New York Times and the Washington Post write such articles—but it’s pretty clear that he wants to set a low bar for judging a critical article of him “false.”)

Trump as Enemy of Freedom of Association

Obviously Trump cannot be trusted, ever, to maintain his positions from one day to the next. However, at one point, Trump insisted he’d deport some eleven million immigrants currently living in the United States without the proper paperwork.

In short, Trump threatened to turn the United States into a fascist police state for the purpose of forcibly removing millions of peaceable people. Yes, “Papers, please!” is now a rallying cry for many within the Republican Party.

Of course, Trump has also indicated that he didn’t mean it.

Trump is right to criticize the government’s soft treatment of illegal immigrants who have demonstrated a propensity for violence.

He is wrong to forcibly prevent Americans from hiring peaceable people who wish to work for them.

It’s pathetic that many Republicans stand up for freedom of association only in the context of bigoted bakers declining to serve gay couples, not in the context of employers wanting to hire peaceable immigrants.

Trump as Cronyist

The most tragic aspect of this year’s election is that many people will confuse wealthy Trump with an ideological defender of free-market capitalism. Trump is a businessman, but he is no capitalist. He is a cronyist, someone who uses government force to acquire wealth.

As David Boaz summarizes, “The billionaire mogul-turned-reality TV celebrity, who says he wants to work on behalf of ‘the silent majority,’ has had no compunction about benefiting from the coercive power of the state to kick innocent Americans out of their homes.”

And, as Jonathan Hoenig points out, “Donald Trump is explicitly anti-capitalist on issues ranging from taxes to anti-trust to trade.”

Trump as Latin-Style Cuadillo

Dave Kopel aptly described Trump as a “Latin-style caudillo” (strongman). Consider some illustrations:

  • Trump said he’d order members of the U.S. military to murder the families of terrorists and to engage in torture—both war crimes.
  • When two of Trump’s supporters mercilessly beat a homeless man from Mexico, Trump described his supporters as “passionate.”
  • In response to a protester at his rally, Trump said he’d like to “punch him in the face” and see the protester “carried out on a stretcher.”
  • Trump predicted that his supporters would riot (thereby promoting such action) if the Republican convention were contested.
  • Trump said the Chinese government’s murder of students at Tiananmen Square “shows you the power of strength,” and he said “Putin has been a strong leader for Russia.” (He said he wasn’t “endorsing” such strength.)
  • After Marlene Ricketts donated money to an anti-Trump PAC, Trump threatened, “They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!”
  • Back when a contested convention was a real possibility, Trump’s ally threatened to publish the hotel rooms of Cruz’s delegates.

Trump as Conspiracy Loon

Trump has floated so many loony conspiracy theories it’s hard to keep track. (This is the man to whom many Republicans wish to hand the U.S. nuclear codes.) Here are some examples:

  • Trump claimed that Rafael Cruz (Ted’s father) was “with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death [of John F. Kennedy], before the shooting.” In reply, Ted Cruz sensibly called Trump a “pathological liar.”
  • Trump promoted the story that Barack Obama may have been born a Muslim in Kenya. (This example and those following are via Ben Shapiro.)
  • In defiance of the evidence, Trump claimed that vaccines cause autism.
  • Trump suggested that the 9/11 terrorist bombing may have been carried out or invited by the U.S. government.
  • Trump suggested that Antonin Scalia (who died at age 79) may have  been murdered.

Trump as Mean-Spirited Bigot

Again we can consider some well-known examples:

Trump and the Supreme Court

Given the above, no thoughtful, self-respecting person can vote for Donald Trump for any office, much less the presidency. This is not a “reality” television show; this is the greatest republic in the history of humanity. At least it was.

I haven’t decided whether I’ll disgustedly vote for Hillary Clinton or vote for a minor-party candidate (bearing in mind that a single vote for president is never decisive).

(I will point out, though, that it is flatly untrue that not voting is the same thing as “voting for Hillary,” as I’ve heard on the radio. Switching one’s vote from the GOP to Clinton is effectively a two-vote difference.)

The most (potentially) compelling reason for voting for Trump, despite it all, is that the next president is likely to nominate several Supreme Court justices. Wouldn’t it be better for Trump to do this rather than Clinton?

Someone on radio (I think Hugh Hewitt) suggested that Trump would name specific possible court nominees in order to win Republican support. That indeed would be a smart strategy.

Of course, there is the problem that it is impossible to trust anything Trump says. We can rely only on his presumed desire to win reelection (if he wins this time).

Then there is the question of whether Trump’s nominees would actually be better than Clinton’s. Trump probably would pick people more likely to uphold gun rights and less likely to permit censorship of political speech. But I’m not hopeful that Trump’s selections would be very pro-liberty; undoubtedly in some ways they would be worse than Clinton’s picks.

Constitutional scholar Randy Barnett thinks that “either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will appoint justices who will stand aside and let them flout the constitutional limits on their powers.”

But I want to make a broader point. The Supreme Court is supposed to be the last line of defense for blocking abusive, rights-violating government actions. If Congress did its job properly, the Supreme Court would not have to consider bad laws, because they would never be passed.

The only reason the Supreme Court matters with respect to gun rights is that Congress and various state legislators pass anti-gun laws. The only reason the Supreme Court matters with respect the EPA regulations is that Congress has completely abnegated its responsibility to “regulate commerce” itself, rather than pass off this responsibility to unelected bureaucrats. The only reason the Supreme Court matters with respect to free speech is that Congress and state legislatures passed laws allowing censorship of political speech.

In other words, the primary reason the Supreme Court matters to conservatives (and to liberty advocates) is that conservatives (and liberty advocates) have been largely feckless in blocking rights-violating legislation. Indeed, conservatives (but not liberty advocates) have proactively supported much rights-violating legislation.

For example, Republicans elected John McCain (and company), who sponsored the censorship law (McCain-Feingold) that Hillary Clinton now complains was overturned by the Supreme Court.

So what matters more than the next Supreme Court justices is the future of a real pro-liberty movement that blocks bad legislation in Congress and in the state legislatures.

And what will Donald Trump, if elected, do for the future of such a pro-liberty movement? He may destroy it.

If Trump wins, the only way he will not destroy a pro-liberty movement is if advocates of liberty do not help him win, but instead stick to their principles.

It’s obvious that, if Clinton wins, Republicans will rally against her rights-violating policies. It’s equally obvious that, if Trump wins, Republicans who support Trump will rally around his rights-violating policies.

Then there is the matter that many down-ticket Republicans will have to distance themselves from Trump in order to win their elections. Other Republicans can’t help them do that while they’re busy collecting their thirty pieces of Trump’s silver.

So, no, the Supreme Court is not a reason to vote for Trump, an anti-liberty buffoon.

Silver Linings of Trump’s Success

As disappointed as I am that enough Republicans flocked to Trump to give him the nomination, I do see some silver linings to his success. In no particular order:

1. Trump represents the rejection of the hyper-sensitive “political correctness” now rampant in our culture. It’s one thing to avoid gratuitously insulting comments in public (not that Trump does that); it’s another to bow to the “safe space” thought-police.

2. Trump’s trouncing of Cruz indicates that the evangelical movement is not the behemoth, focused ideological group I had feared. Cruz’s central strategy, at least early on, was to win with evangelicals. He failed. Instead, evangelicals flocked to Trump, despite his relatively moderate abortion stance (which no one even believes he believes). I continue to think the evangelical movement could gel into a powerful and frightening ideological movement in the future, but today it is scattered and largely unserious.

3. Trump’s success sends a strong message that the GOP should stop running squishes such as McCain and Mitt “Father of ObamaCare” Romney for president.

4. In 2010, scholar Brad Thompson penned an obituary for neoconservatism. Trump’s success (and Cruz’s and Sanders’s success for that matter) affirms that attempts at nation-building are over (at least for now).

5. The rise of the Never Trump movement hopefully will lead to a serious reevaluation of the conservative movement and of the Republican Party. I suggest they start by reading Stuart Hayashi’s article, “Donald Trump and the Anti-Reason Essence of Conservatism.” In many ways, various conservative and Republican leaders set the stage for Trump for many years. He is the culmination of the worst aspects of today’s conservative movement.

Concluding Remarks

It is dangerous to think that Trump is some sort of national savior, that he (and he alone) can “make America great again.” As Cruz and others have suggested, he has hardly any idea what made America great in the first place.

But I think it’s also dangerous to overstate the disaster of Trump’s nomination and possible election. (The same is true of Clinton’s possible election.)

As far as our nation has strayed from the Constitution, the basic structure of government with its checks and balances remains in place, and Trump cannot change that. Even if Trump manages to win the general election, which seems highly unlikely, he will have to contend with the rest of the executive, Congress, the Supreme Court, state governments, and—most importantly—the American people.

I have no doubt that, in a different era or in a different place, Trump could comfortably settle into the role of dictator. But this is America, still. And this will continue to be America long after Trump fades from the headlines—if we who champion liberty and Constitutional government hold strong now.

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· Reflections on the Presidential Race after Super Tuesday
· Get Government Out of Political Parties: How to Resolve the Primary-Caucus Debate
· Ted Cruz’s Remarkable Nod to the Separation of Church and State
· Trump, Cruz, and Freedom of Speech

Image: Gage Skidmore

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