Monday, April 18, 2016

The Weakest Pro-Trump Argument Yet

I have been reading a number of conservative news and opinion websites recently, and noticed they seem to have arrayed themselves into either explicitly pro or anti Trump, which is interesting in itself, as I have rarely seen many of these sites explicitly identifying with a candidate until after the primary season has ended. But, more interesting than that, reading these sites has also allowed me to catch up on the more popular arguments for and against Trump, as the comments to each article are full of them. And, among all those arguments, one of the pro-Trump gambits strikes me as the weakest of the lot, as I shall now explain.

A few Trump supporters seem to have recognized that Cruz has better Constitutional credentials, while Trump's history seems to indicate, if not a dedicated liberal disguised as a Republican, at least a former liberal who is now pursuing a rather confused and shifting populist platform, with a number of non-conservative elements. To counter this, the Trump supporters have devised the following argument: It does not matter that Cruz has an impressive record of fighting for Constitutional positions before the Supreme Court, that has nothing to do with the President. The Supreme Court exists to ensure the Constitutionality of laws, the President has mostly an economic role, and that is where Trump will shine.

Let us just get the biggest counter argument out of the way first, since it is so obvious, and so destructive of this argument, it makes all others moot. That is, of course, that the President nominates Supreme Court justices, making his opinion of the Constitution, as well as both his legal knowledge and personal knowledge of various judges, quite relevant. In fact, since Supreme Court justices serve -- effectively -- for life, it might make the President more important than anyone other than the justices themselves, since his actions will have an effect for a number of administrations to come.

But, for now, let us ignore that totally devastating argument, and look at this claim in detail.

First, if a President cannot have any real impact on the Constitutionality of government, then why was FDR so a major force for change, while, say, Cleveland managed to hold back the populist/reform tide for some time? Clearly, by setting an agenda, proposing laws, vetoing laws and so on -- even exercising his "economic" powers, such as when Nixon took us off the gold standard -- the president can have a profound impact on the government,t he size of government and the Constitutionality of government.

Actually, the Nixon one points out another issue. Sometimes laws may be enacted, or regulations promulgated, which are difficult to bring to the Supreme Court. After all someone needs standing, and to have a case, for the Court to review. So, when the Federal Reserve was created, for example, the banks largely favored it, and were really the only ones with standing to bring a case. The deposit holders may have opposed it, but they had no standing to sue. Thus, the Supreme Court is not always a reliable means of controlling government, as not all issues of government can be reduced to a criminal or civil court case. How, for example, would you sue to reduce the size of the welfare state? It can't be done. All who might possibly have standing are recipients, and likely not opposed. And even if they were, they really cannot sue to get less, as getting too much is not harm and thus will not support a case. So how could the Court become involved?

And finally, the idea that the president needs to negotiate deals and advance trade is a liberal or mercantilist idea, not a conservative one. Conservatives believe government, of any branch, should just get out of the way. All we need is our nation to remove barriers to trade, business can then find markets. If other nations obstruct trade, so be it, we will find others. We do not want or need the government playing favorites and cutting deals and so on. And, in the end, that is what most trade agreements entail, favoring some companies over others in foreign trade. No, better to just open our doors and let other nations decide about their own. Eventually they will see the benefit of free trade -- or maybe not -- either way, it won't matter that much to us. And it is much better than having a wheeler-dealer president deciding who will and will not have a place in the foreign markets.

In short, for a short statement, this argument is packed full of nonsense.


OK. I will grant a number of conservatives believe in government negotiated trade agreements, though I am not sure why. Generally, reciprocal agreements removing barriers are mostly harmless, so not an issue, but also there is little to renegotiate there. The ones which assign quotas and so on, those are harmful ones, favoring the companies which have the patronage to get such quotas and are the mercantilist fantasies I am denouncing, and also seem to be the treaties upon which Trump is concentrating. And, yes, there are a number of still mercantilist types in the Republican party, mostly calling themselves "paleocons" and ignoring 400 years of history and economic knowledge, but their existence does not change the fact that mercantilism does not work, is not consistent with small government or equal treatment under the law and is, to my mind, contrary to the principles of almost all other conservatives.

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