Category Archives: Democracy

Lessons From POTUS 2016: Around the Bonfire of the GOP

Trump mocking reporter

I hate POTUS 2016.

I hate all the candidates who aren’t libertarians.

I hate the voters continuing to lend their support to the authoritarian politics of the two major parties.

Most of all, I hate the endless raving about a possible Trump candidacy.

Trump Isn’t the Problem. His Supporters Are. An ocean of words has been written about Donald Trump’s detestable politics and undiagnosed personality disorders. Every one of those words is true. He is a sleazy multi-level marketer with a cheap spray tan and a bad comb-over; a low functioning bully with the attention span of a second-grader, whose first policy instinct will always be authoritarianism and who lacks even the most basic conceptions of constitutional governance, separation of powers and individual freedom.

If nominated, he will, without one shred of doubt, lose the general election to Hillary Clinton.

Nonetheless, anyone who thinks the GOP establishment can do much to stop this slow motion train wreck misunderstands the nature of government.

Government is not the party elite, big money donors, or the politicians in Washington. Government is us. We the people. The voters (and non-voters) who put and keep those politicians in office. Ourselves, our neighbors, our friends, family and co-workers.

The establishment cannot fight Trump because he is not the target. His supporters are.

How has endlessly pointing out how racist, xenophobic and stupid they are worked thus far?

Squeezing out other candidates won’t force any voters to shift their support to an establishment pick. As Trump himself discerns, with his trademark narcissistic clarity (but his detractors somehow miss), those supporters might just as well shift to Trump. And squeezing him out won’t force any of them to turn out for some other, better, more respectable, nominee in the general.

Therein lies the rub.

Trump’s candidacy reveals something ugly and festering on the American right, something with the potential to do nuclear-level damage to the GOP’s credibility with everyone from moderates, independents and swing voters to Christians and mainstream Republicans.

On the other hand, if the party squeezes him out—whether through an onslaught of establishment attacks or a brokered convention—it risks alienating his pissed off contingency of Republican voters.

At a time when voters are fleeing the major parties in droves, the GOP is between a rock and a hard place. A Trump candidacy might be fatal, but so might the loss of his fans. To move forward without them, the party would need to replace its Trump-wing with a new supply of liberty voters.

There’s a lesson in the numbers, for a party willing to make hard choices, and it’s not the only one of the 2016 cycle.

Identity Politics Has Failed, and Pandering Is an Antiquated Campaign Strategy. Women are not breaking for Clinton. Evangelicals are not breaking for Cruz. Hispanics are not breaking for Cruz/Rubio.

It turns out those demographics, like all the others, are not stereotypic representatives of monolithic groups, but individuals with political concerns that transcend gender, heritage and religion. Candidates who ignore this modern reality will continue to be confused about why Evangelicals and Hispanics are voting for Trump—and continue suffering backlashes for their insulting rhetorical devices (like the importance of beginning each day on one’s knees or special places in hell for free-thinking women).

Money Does Not Buy Elections. There’s some evidence money buys politicians and pundits. But Trump’s candidacy annihilates the myth that an entrenched two-party system, dripping in advertising wealth, subliminally messages clueless voters into supporting the status quo.

Neither establishment donors nor the politicians themselves are in control this election cycle. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and their respective Super PACs paid through the nose to perform poorly in the early voting states. Trump, on the other hand, without the support of any Super PAC, is paying minimally to outperform expectations.

That Trump is a phenomenon unto himself might explain why it costs him so little to win. It does not explain why Bush and Christie have paid so dearly to lose.

What does explain it is that rebellious primary voters are not beholden to any amount of campaign advertising, political spending, establishment credibility or ideological purity.

The GOP Might Not Survive the Trump Campaign, But the Country Undoubtedly Will. Trump is a monarchist who wants to use the office of President to crown himself king and savior, while cutting through the red tape for his next casino parking lot. Unfortunately, all too many people—including plenty of Republicans—are ready to go along with the cult of an imperial presidency.

Notwithstanding that problematic trend, we still have Congress, the Constitution, and the limits on presidential power set forth in Article II.

That might not be true if Ted Cruz got his way and turned SCOTUS into just another political branch of government. Party loyalists desperate to stop Trump may not understand how dangerous that is.

Scalia did.

As a libertarian, I have never enjoyed an election cycle in which the viable candidates were anything but clowns. For me, 2016 is just par for the course. The rest of the electorate is now feeling the way I always do.

Maybe now is a good time to ponder what they’re so desperately trying to save.

Unless It Can Reinvent Itself, the GOP May Not Be Worth Saving. I suspect my political aims are vastly different from those of most Trump supporters. I nevertheless also suspect we have similar reactions to the prediction that he is going to destroy the GOP and/or conservative movement:

Are we supposed to conclude that’s a bug…or a feature?

Amid all the handwringing about the wreckage that will be left in the wake of Trump’s candidacy, precious little is devoted to convincing voters there’s anything worth saving.

Remind me again, what is the point of the GOP?

muh roadsIt’s clearly not to restrain spending. Once they obtained control of both houses of Congress, Republicans drove a stake through the Budget Control Act, broke budget caps, suspended the debt ceiling and doc-fixed Medicare to the tune of $500 billion. Along the way, they extended No Child Left Behind, passed a $305 billion highway bill (muh roads!), and reauthorized Ex-Im.

They ended last year with a $1.8 trillion omnibus spending bill.

Senator Marco Rubio did not even show up to vote.

If they aren’t going to rein in the scope of government, cut spending, and balance the budget, what do we have Republicans for again, exactly?

I’ll grant them abortion. That’s one. What else? Carpet-bombing and traditional marriage?

This is me yawning.

If the GOP wants voters like me to come to its rescue, it’s going to have to start selling something we want to buy. It will need to cut lose the growing horde of populist authoritarians, the seedy underbelly of racists and xenophobes venturing from their closets, and the dying remnants of traditional marriage zealots. It will need to replenish its base instead with the growing numbers of liberty-minded voters currently spread out across the two major parties, a few third parties, and the sizable ranks of swing-voting independents.

It will need to unite its disparate factions around common principles of limited government and apply those principles consistently across social, economic and national security issues.

And it will need to convince us that this time it means it.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

The Social Media Revolution–An American Spring?

"Television". Photo. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Regular readers know that I–an irregular contributor here–have long said that the power of the internet is as-yet poorly understood and mostly untapped. Sure, we’ve seen the Arab Spring, but what is the internet really going to do in America beyond providing us endless hours of cat videos?

Well, Scott Adams [of Dilbert fame] suggests that it’s broken down our electoral politics and is turning us into a direct democracy:

The media has led you to believe that this is a presidential contest between Democrats and Republicans. But Sanders is barely a real Democrat and Trump is barely a conservative Republican. If Bloomberg jumps into the race, we will have three candidates with ambiguous party affiliations. So maybe there is a more helpful way to frame this contest.

Naval Ravikant calls it The American Spring, and points out that social media has become the real conduit to power. That’s a revolution. We the People are on the brink of replacing the entrenched powers and their monied interests. If the patriots in Iowa, New Hampshire, and the other early primary states put both Sanders and Trump in commanding leads, they will be – in effect – firing the government. But they would also be firing the system of government that was created by the Founders. Direct democracy via social media – chaotic and ugly – is about to replace the Republic. No longer can a strong leader ignore the will of the people when it is pounding on every door and tapping on every window. The Republic was designed to give elected officials the power to decide for the people. But the elected elites have lost their legitimacy and The People are on the brink of taking back power.

I’ve said before that technology has led America to an increasingly centralized society, culture, and government.

  1. The printing press itself was the first step in creating durable broadsheet dissemination of information to a wide audience. The pen is mightier than the sword, but owning a printing press is like being the general of an army of penmen.
  2. Newspapers have followed an overwhelming consolidation and much of their news-gathering is centralized via the AP. And they had real power, because you “never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.
  3. The introduction of radio enabled a true real-time broadcast to allow single voices to reach much more widely than ever before.
  4. TV came along, and video truly killed the radio star. Because of the expense, consolidation into the “big 3” networks meant that the largest corporations could filter and control the presentation of information to the masses.

"Television". Photo. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

“Television”. Photo. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.


Each step increased the flow of information. But each step also drove the control of which information would flow into a narrower and narrower group of people. But technology marches on, and the filters of broadcast media are increasingly being sidestepped, democratized, and subsumed. It started with Cable, as the cost of getting into the television business dropped dramatically, and the appearance of the 24-hour cable news station widened the number of voices in the market. But nothing has come close to becoming relevant as quickly as the internet and social media. We now see major news productions no longer driving the reporting, but rather highlighting the tweets of feet on the ground. And Presidential primary political debates are taking questions from YouTube “stars”.

The internet has been around the “mainstream” less than 20 years now… Since then, it’s basically broken or fundamentally changed multiple business models in all sorts of industries, as any unemployed former travel agent will tell you. Politically, by 2004, blogs had changed the political landscape enough to give us Rathergate. But 2004–a mere 12 years ago–only brought us the first inklings of the social media future with MySpace. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, all of these hadn’t even been invented yet. Essentially the “modern” social media landscape was built in ~2006, with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and integrated with the “computer in a pocket”, the iPhone and Android devices, over the following few years. We’ve been living with it for only a decade.
popery
The first decade of television was exciting, but raw. Everyone could tell that this was something new, and something important. Much like they can tell with the internet and social media now. It created new stars and obsoleted many former ones. It changed the world of politics. Much like internet and social media has done since. And now, as streaming video is replacing broadcast video for more and more households, and with Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu becoming production companies in their own right, the traditional hold of the TV networks is breaking with it.

The “out of the blue” appearance of Ron Paul and now Bernie Sanders? Voices who have spent decades with no “mainstream” platform are now finding their audience. The growth of “outsider, anti-establishment” candidates gaining real traction? This is due to media conglomerates no longer being able to control the message and marginalize them. These candidates, rightly or wrongly, stand in stark contrast to the politicians who have been screwing us over for years while growing their own power. And can you imagine the quick changes in public opinion on the gay marriage, medical/recreational marijuana legalization fights, and civil liberties issues without a democratized communication platform like the internet? And the internet is not only domestic–it’s making these changes on a global scale.

So, what is the point? Well, it remains to be seen. We are witnessing the greatest social transformation the world has seen since at least the invention of television, but probably since the creation of “mass media” at all. We’re seeing the replacement of “broadcasting” with “narrowcasting”, or “sidecasting”, or “targetedcasting”, or “peercasting” or whatever you want to name it. But the fact is that information no longer only flows downhill from the powerful to the rest of us. Now, while each of us may individually be no more powerful than we ever once were, all of us are collectively more powerful than any individual media magnate or opinion-maker on the globe. While much of Scott Adams post goes into suggesting an idea that I don’t think will ever come to pass, the question of demolishing our system of government is well under way, whether the visible structures of government change or not.

Is this a good thing? Will it advance liberty? I’m not sure. But it’s certainly different, and the world–be it politicians, media folks, leaders of industry, etc–hasn’t quite figured out the implications of that yet.

How Donald Trump Has Destroyed The Republican Party

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The Republican Party is dead in its current form. The coalition of classical liberals, country club business types; and since Reagan religious conservatives, neocons, and populists, has been irrevocably broken. The man who gave it its final coup de grace is a toupeed billionaire blowhard named Donald Trump.

Trump has run a campaign that more resembles the National Front of France than anything else that has been in American politics for decades. Ben Domenech at The Federalist says that Trump could transform the GOP into a party based on identity politics for white guys. He’s right and it’s terrible for the country.

Over the next few months, even if Trump fails to win the Republican nomination, three parts of the old Republican party coalition: classical liberals (whether they self-identify as conservative, Constitutionalist, or libertarian), religious conservatives, and the country clubbers; will have to decide if they can be a part of a Trump-influenced party. Trump’s xenophobic populism is anti-free market and anti-Christian.

Let’s first examine how we got here. Since the Cold War ended, the Republican coalition lost a sense of purpose. It briefly got it back in the 1990s with the Contract With America, but the election of George W. Bush in 2000 knocked the party off track. The party that believed in limited government spent more than LBJ. The party that was once skeptical of foreign interventions launched a war of choice in Iraq. The party that claimed federalism as a principle expanded the role of Washington in everything from education to gay marriage. With the failures of the Iraq War and an economic crash on the minds of Amerians, Democrats were able to easily take control of the entire Federal government.

In the Obama era, we’ve seen even more Federal government intrusions in everything from the food we eat to religious freedom. The Tea Party was inspired as a backlash against the intrusive Federal government of both the Obama and Bush eras. Meanwhile, some Republicans saw it as an opportunity to rebrand from the disasterous Bush era. Still much of the opposition to Obama took on an ugly racial overtone that was a prelude to the current culture war.

Which brings us to the end of the prequel of this terrible tale. The country has erupted in a cultural cold war. The left, which is now fully embracing cultural Marxism, is pushing the politics of racial and cultural grievance. They’re not only content to defeat what they see is white, conservative privilege but they also want to shoot the wounded survivors of the battle. We see this with Christian wedding businesses who refuse to service gay weddings for example. Much of the reason why people support Trump is because they want to take part in a backlash against the uber-PC, cultural Marxist crowd. They see a Republican Party and conservative movement that is not defending their freedom and not fufulling their campaign promises. They’re angry and they’re going to Trump because “he fights.”

But when you delve into the substance of Trumpism, it’s fascism. Classical liberals will not go along with it. Religious conservatives are more interesting. There is definitely an age divide. Older religious conservatives may go along with Trump, but I have a hard time believing younger ones will. Polls show that younger evangelical Christians are more politically tolerant, even if they’re still socially conservative. As the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore points out, there’s not a lot of evangelical support for Trump. Finally, I have a hard time believing my neocon and country club friends will buy into a man who wants to retreat America from the world.

What could this anti-Trump coalition look like? An anti-statist movement that rejects nationalism, but still believes in a strong America playing a leading role in the world. History shows that a liberal democratic society can only exist if it is protected by a great power. It will be unapologetially for free markets, anti-crony capitalist, and a realistic approach on immigration. It will be federalist in nature returning as much power as possible from Washington D.C. and to states, communities, and individuals.

Whether this anti-Trump coalition will be a new political party or built upon the ruins of the Republican Party is yet to be determined. Who could be attracted to it are classical liberals, non-statist religious conservatives, some neocons who can see limits on American power but still want America to play an active role in the world, and many others who were previously not a part of the Republican Party such as independents, moderates, and perhaps some of the old left.

I think that Trump will kill the Republican Party as we know it, but in its place could be something that could be bad for American politics or it could be the birth of a new classical liberal movement. Only time will tell which one will it be.

 

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Misunderstanding Law, Government, and Society

GovernmentIsForceMost people… At least most people in modern western democracies… Seem to have a fundamental and unconscious assumption about the nature of law and government, that goes something like this:

 

 

 

Law and government, are or should be, the expression of the will of the majority, for the purpose of making collective decisions, taking collective actions, fixing problems and righting wrongs.

If I gave that definition to most people as what government “should” be, or even what it is, I’d guess they would agree.

But that’s not what law and government are at all. In fact, that notion of the nature of law and government, is not only wrong, it is extremely harmful.

What are law and government?

Government, is the instrument of collective delegation of the legitimate initiation and use of force against others.

Law, is the body of rules by which that force is administered and applied.

The only legitimate purpose for which, is to secure and protect the rights of individuals governed by them.

So, what’s the other thing, and why is this a problem?

The other definition, is more properly that of society (as distinct from culture).

Government is NOT Society, and Society, is NOT Government

This conflation of government, and society, is a very serious social and political problem because those who hold it… and I firmly believe it’s a large majority… believe that law and government, should be used for “doing what’s good, and stopping what’s bad”.

They naturally wish to see government do what they think is right, or best, and stop that which they think is wrong, harmful, or wasteful… And not just in areas where force should be applied.

They conflate “legal” with “good” and “illegal” with “bad”, and try to make laws against things which they think are bad, or mandating things which they think are good.

They often even conflate “legal” or “attempting to make legal” with “approving and supporting”, and “dissapproving and opposing” with “illegal” or “attempting to make illegal”.

This is incredibly harmful

We have allowed… even encouraged people… to deeply hold the fundamental notion, that they get to vote on other peoples opinions, choices, and behavior; and if their “side” wins the vote, that it is legitimate to make those things legal or illegal.

It also means that these people automatically and reflexively try to solve personal, moral, social, or societal problems, with government and law, when it is entirely inappropriate, even harmful, to attempt to do so. Most of those problems cannot be solved by the use of force;, or at best can only be solved inefficiently, ineffectively, and while violating the rights of others.

In encouraging this misapprehension, we have in fact made the personal, the political, and the political, the personal.

How do we stop the harm?

We must correct this critical error in peoples fundamental apprehension of law and government.

People need to understand, at the most fundamental level, that government is force, and that law is how that force is directed and administered. No more, no less.

If we don’t correct this misapprehension, then we will continue to simply seesaw back and forth between majoritarian tyrannies, as social changes dictate.

Rights will continue to be violated and abrogated as the opinions of society fluctuate.

The favored, will continue to be privileged over the disfavored at the expense of the disfavored’s rights, until the pendulum swings again and the roles are reversed.

Yes, I realize, that is largely how it has always been… But never has law and government had such a depth and breath, had so great a reach into our personal lives, as it does today, and this unfortunately shows no sign of receding.

The absurdity of this reach… and overreach… is finally becoming apparent to many people, on all ideological “sides”; be it the “war on drugs”, the “war on terror”, privacy and surveillance, or gay marriage and wedding cakes.

So, we have to take action, now

Use this growing awareness of the overreach, to help people understand.

We have to show people these aren’t just outlying excesses. That they result from the way we think of, look at, and attempt to use, government.

We have to get people to understand, that if they can say “there ought to be a law”, and then get a law made banning something that they don’t like; then their worst enemy, can get a law made banning something they love.

We have to return to the notion that fundamental rights matter, and that the only legitimate purpose of law, and government, is to protect those fundamental rights.

Everything else?

That’s up to individuals, and to society as a whole, NOT GOVERNMENT.

Voluntary collective action. If it’s really what people want, then they’ll work for it, without the threat of force. If it’s not really what they want, then we shouldn’t be forcing people to do it.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Gun Control and Electoral Math – The Scoreboard

Two years ago, I wrote a piece about electoral math and gun control, and how it was unlikely that we would have any serious national level gun control… and we have not (state level is another story unfortunately).

In that, I included a list of democratic senators who were up for re-election this year, their position on gun control, and how “at risk” their seat was:

Stupidity, Politics, and Electoral Math

So, now that we have the results of all of their elections, let’s see what the last two years hath wrought among them:

XX = Unelected (or resigned and replaced by Republican)

  1. XX – Alaska – Mark Begich – Very Pro Gun – very unsafe seat
  2. XX – Arkansas – Mark Pryor – neutral – very unsafe seat
  3. XX – Colorado – Mark Udall – neutral – not a safe seat
  4. Delaware – Chris Coons – Very anti-gun – safe seat
  5. Hawaii – UNKNOWN (special election to replace Daniel Inouye) – safe seat
  6. Illinois – Dick Durbin – Very anti-gun – safe seat
  7. XX – Iowa – Tom Harkin – Very anti-gun – iffy, can’t afford to screw up
  8. XX – Louisiana – Mary Landrieu – neutral – very unsafe seat
  9. Massachusetts – UNKNOWN (special election to replace John Kerry) – safe seat
  10. Michigan – Carl Levin – very anti-gun – safe seat
  11. Minnesota – Al Franken – very anti-gun – not a safe seat
  12. XX – Montana – Max Baucus – very pro-gun – iffy, can’t afford to screw up
  13. New Hampshire – Jeanne Shaheen – very anti-gun – not a safe seat
  14. New Jersey – Frank Lautenberg – very anti-gun – safe seat
  15. New Mexico – Tom Udall – slightly anti-gun – safe seat
  16. XX – North Carolina – Kay Hagan – very anti-gun – not a safe seat
  17. Oregon – Jeff Merkley – very anti-gun – safe seat
  18. Rhode Island – Jack Reed – very anti-gun – safe seat
  19. XX – South Dakota – Tim Johnson – very pro-gun – very unsafe seat
  20. Virginia – Mark Warner – very pro-gun – not a safe seat
  21. XX – West Virginia – Jay Rockefeller – moderately anti-gun – very unsafe seat

Lotta XX’s there… 9 actually, out of 21 (10 of those 21 were considered safe seats, barely challenged by Republicans). Pretty much every anti-gun democrat that wasn’t in a safe seat, except Shaheen and Franken (and they’re kinda weird cases).

And THAT folks, is why we will not have any significant gun control on the national level any time soon.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

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