Thursday, June 2, 2016

Predictability and Pragmatism - Why I Oppose Trump

Before I begin, let's start by allowing me to explain the title. Or rather, to make a few things clear, at least.

First, while the title suggests I have one, perhaps two, reasons for opposing Trump, that is something of a mistaken impression. I can think of any number of reasons to oppose the man. Some are relatively trivial, such as his abrasive personality, his lack of information on many issues, his tendency to play to the audience no matter what it means saying, his tendency -- along with his followers -- to confuse his distasteful and crass logorhea with candor, even his notoriously thin skin. They are all valid complaints, but if that were all I had to complain about, much as it would  embarrass and pain me, I might be able to support him out of a sense of party loyalty, or at least out of concern over the alternate choice. But then there are the other, more serious concerns, his history of strongly liberal belief, his questionable business ethics, his promise to rule by decree, his seeming lack of any knowledge about our Constitution or politics in general, his apparent lack of concern with the quantity of entitlements or the size and power of government, his past abuse of government and participation in crony capitalism (and, no, despite his claims, everyone DOES NOT "do it"), his tendency to brag about quite questionable behavior such as affairs, his strange sexual obsession with his daughter and so on. These would probably be enough to make me withdraw my support*. And then there is the other list of concerns, those coming not from Trump himself, but from the role he would play if elected. The way not just Republicans, but all conservatives would be tainted by his behavior, the way he would cause the public to confuse once again nationalism with conservatism, the way he would validate all those claims that the right is a pit of racist scum, those too would probably be enough to make me withhold my support.

But fortunately, or rather quite unfortunately, I don't have to decide if those failings are enough to make me refuse to support him, as there is one other, monumental concern, one which convinces me, despite all of the problems with Clinton -- and there are more than enough problems there -- Trump would still be a worse choice.

And that is the simple question of predictability**. As should be obvious to everyone by now, Trump simply cannot hold to one position for long. First, his sister would be the ideal justice, then, when that went over like a lead balloon -- even with some of the faithful -- he puts out a list of conservatives clearly drafted by someone with some legal knowledge (obviously not Trump, in other words). But, immediately afterward, he points out it is just a list of people that he might nominate, it is not binding or anything. And this is his pattern throughout the primaries. He makes one statement, then recants, then another, and another, and another, all mutually exclusive, and completely contradictory. I thought Obama was the master of taking either no position or every one (see "The Candidate as Inkblot"), but Trump has bested the former master. He has adopted so many positions, you would have a hard time finding one with which you did not agree. And for the faithful, that matters a lot, as they seem to be suffering selective deafness. Just as with the Obama cult in 2008, which heard in his nebulous phrases whatever they wanted, Trump's faithful hear what they like, and never even hear a whisper of the rest.

Or, for the few who do, who are confronted by critics with Trump's ever changing stand on this or that, they find a way to spin it as something positive. While denouncing "RINOs" who "deal away everything and compromise our principles", they somehow see the same behavior in Trump as a positive. They hate a lack of consistent principles, except for Trump's, which they say demonstrates his "pragmatism"***. Apparently, despite their hatred of RINOs and their inconsistent principles and tendency to deal and compromise, they find Trump's lack of principles and willingness to deal and compromise an asset. And they tell us about it over and over again.

At this point I am sure some readers may be a bit confused. What I am saying is doubtless quite true, but some may be wondering why I discount, say Trump's past liberalism, or even his thin skin, which some worry may precipitate some horrible diplomatic crisis. Why, they might ask, do I find the greatest risk in his tendency to change position? Granted, it is not a very good trait, but why is the one trait which, above all others, convinced me to not just abandon Trump, but my former party?

Allow me to explain with a small story.

Back in the remote past of 1992 and the years after, I used to surprise my fellow conservatives by stating that, if I had my way, I would have preferred a President Gore to a President Clinton. Now, I grant, Gore was definitely more liberal, and given to looney beliefs about the environment, and Clinton, for all his faults, sometimes gave in to public pressure and sided with the Republicans (though he usually stole the credit), but that was precisely the problem. Clinton, though it sometimes meant he would enact a conservative measure, was completely unpredictable, while Gore, though thoroughly more liberal, had principles, and thus could be anticipated. And as I have written many times, the one thing you need for a prosperous society is predictability. Better a predictable tyrant than the most benevolent, but unpredictable, ruler.

And that is why I worry about Trump. He is not likely to rule as far left as Hillary (though I do worry his plans involve expanding the power of the already regal presidency), but I can't tell exactly WHAT he will do. And that is a bad thing. Yes, his protectionist plans are clearly bad for business, but worse still is his tendency to change his mind without warning. Business cannot survive in an environment where it cannot plan. People cannot survive. How do you do anything when what was permitted today may not be tomorrow? Or what is forbidden today could become mandatory in the future Without some predictability, it is impossible to act, all the world will freeze in place, unwilling to move until sanity and predictability is restored.

And that is why I fear Trump.

Oh, I grant Hillary will be bad, many of her policies will be damaging to business, to the common man, and so on. But at least she is, in general, predictable. She might not have the firmest principles, but she definitely has some broad outlines of an agenda, actions which we can anticipate she will or will not undertake. We cannot say the same for Trump. And thus, for all the objections I have about Hillary Clinton, this single objection to Trump outweighs them all.

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* Though I tend to see it more as a matter of the party leaving me, not me leaving the party. See "Not Sour Grapes, Rather a Matter of Principle".

** See  "The Myths and Realities of Strict Construction", "Predictability", "The Consequences of Bad Laws", "Traffic Lights, Predictability and Conservatism", "Inflation and Uncertainty", "In Praise of Contracts", "Contracts and Freedom" and "Juvenile Culture and Totalitarianism".

*** See "Common Sense, Guns and Regulations" , "The Lunacy of 'Common Sense'", "'Seems About Right', Another Lesson in Common Sense and Its Futility", "A Look at Common Sense", "Res Ipsa Loquitur", "The Shortcomings of Pragmatism", "Pragmatism Revisited", "Pragmatism Revisited, Again", "On Extremists, Moderates and Polarization", "The Plural of Anecdote is Not Data", "Rules of Grammar and Pragmatism", "The Problem of the Small Picture", "Keyhole Thinking", "Impractical Pragmatists", "In Defense of Zero Tolerance, or, An Examination of Law, Common Sense and Consistency", "No Dividing Line", "The Consequences of Bad Laws", "Questions of Law and Questions of Fact", "The Rarity of 'Common Sense'", "Common Sense,Philosopher Kings, Arbitrary Law and Dictatorship" and "The Problem with Common Sense Solutions".

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