Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Comment on Lindsey Graham's Recent Behavior

Lindsey Graham
It has caught many people's attention that Senator Lindsey Graham has been acting strangely lately.  Graham is a moderate Republican (from South Carolina, no less!), a close friend of John McCain, a relentless hawk, especially where Russia is concerned, and a strong Trump skeptic.  He has condemned Trump on numerous occasions and taken accusations about Trump and Russia very seriously.

And then, after a few rounds of golf with Trump, he professed himself to have been converted, praised Trump to the skies, condemned the Russia investigation, and even called for a criminal investigation of the persons involved.  Now the honeymoon is apparently over, as Trump shot down Graham's proposed compromise on immigration, and Graham is forthrightly condemning his actions.

What gives?  There are several theories on why the Trump-skeptical Graham suddenly became such a fan.

A Trump charm offensive.  Maybe Trump turned on the charm and totally won Graham over.  By all accounts, Trump's public persona -- overbearing, obnoxious, relentlessly self-promoting, and unable to focus for more than a few minutes on anything other than his own self-aggrandizement -- is exactly what he is like in private, too.  How could anyone possibly be won over by that?

Fear of a primary challenge.  My immediate thought upon hearing Graham become such a fan was to wonder if he was up for election in 2018, in which case he would need to be seen as a fan in order to survive the primaries.  But the answer appears to be no, Graham is not up for reelection until 2020.  So much for that.

Planning ahead against a primary challenge.  Maybe Graham is thinking ahead until 2020 to the 2020 election, recognizing that traditional Democratic constituencies turn out in higher numbers in Presidential election years than off-years and decided he should start shoring up his Republican base. It is possible.

Hope for a Cabinet position.  Trump is on the outs with both his Secretary of State and his Attorney General.  Some people suspect that Graham is sucking up in hopes of getting one of these posts.  But Trump seems strangely unwilling to fire either official despite their differences.  And besides, given how he treats his Cabinet Secretaries, why on earth would Graham want to subject himself to that sort of abuse, at the cost of ending his Senate career?

Blackmail.  We know that the Russians hacked both the Democrats and the Republicans, but only released the Democratic e-mails.  Does that mean they are holding the Republicans' e-mails in reserve for blackmail?*  It seems likely.  But would the Russians share such information with Trump?  Successful blackmail depends on not revealing the secret so long as the victim submits.  Trump is the type who couldn't keep  his mouth shut if you sutured it, which makes him a terrible blackmailer.  But even more significantly, Graham's current open anger at Trump is hardly consistent with him being blackmailed into surrender.

So I have a new theory as to Graham's strange infatuation with Trump.  He was sucking up in an attempt to win Trump's support for his immigration bill.  It didn't work.  I guess Graham's future behavior should reveal whether this hypothesis is correct.

*Someone objected that it seems unlikely that Republicans would openly e-mail anything blackmailable. But I don't think they would have to be discussing any actual crimes.  Simply trash-talking Trump and plotting to prevent him from being nominated would be more than enough to bring the Orange Demagogue's rage down on their heads and wreck their political careers. 

A Note on Sexual Harassment Claims

Look, as before, I am weighing in on this subject a little late and not saying anything that hasn't been said before, but it seems to me that the "Me Too" movement, in insisting that believe women who make accusations, is making the same mistake as the anti-date rape movement on college campuses -- it is conflating two different things.

What does it mean that me should believe woman who say they have been harassed (or date raped)?  What it should mean is that if woman comes asking for compassion, empathy and support, she should be believed and supported without conditions.  Friends, family members, therapists, and others in her support system should not fact check; they should not ask for proof; they should not tell her all the mistakes she made along the way and the things she could have done differently.  They should simply accept her pain as she expresses it and give her the support and encouragement she needs.

But that is when there is only one person involved.  There is no real cost, after all, to supporting the accuser emotionally.  But when it comes to punishment against the accused, that is a different matter altogether.  So when a college is deciding whether to expel a student, a human resources department is deciding whether to discipline an employee, when an insurer is deciding whether to pay out a claim, when a newspaper is deciding whether to publish an accusation, a lawyer is deciding whether to file a sexual harassment suit and (in the most extreme cases) police and district attorneys are deciding whether to arrest and bring charges, automatically believing the accuser without fact checking is a different matter altogether.

Anyone who doubts this need only consider Washington Post's report on Roy Moore.  It carried conviction because it was thoroughly researched with names, dates, places, events corroborated by other sources, contemporaneous confirmation and so forth.  When one of the accusers proved to be false, planted to make the paper look bad, reporters caught her by doing fact checking.  When the accused is facing consequences (including hostile publicity), this sort of fact checking should always be done.

Nor does it do to say that false accusations are very rare, especially against men who are able to retaliate.  There are at least three reason.

First, the accused has rights as well as the accuser.  In case of criminal charges, civil damages, or even a hostile story in the press, these are legal rights protecting against unjust prosecution, civil action, or libel.  In the case of firing or expulsion, it depends on the terms of the school admission or employment contract, but even if there is no legal right at stake, there is a moral right to be considered even if there is no legal right.

Second, with a movement now afoot to believe accusers, it will become easier to make accusations, even against very powerful men.  Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, John Conyers, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer and others have been toppled, as well as less famous men.  But as it becomes easier for real accusers to come forward, it becomes easier for false ones to come forward as well.

Third, when it comes to politicians, there are definite incentives to make false accusations.  Jaime Phillips  of Project Veritas approached the Washington Post with a false accusation against Roy Moore in order to undermine the real accusations.  Roger Stone somehow got advance word of the first accusation against Al Franken.  And unknown persons forged a sexual harassment suit against Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.  So clearly there are incentives here to make false accusations.

So what do I propose instead?  Unconditional compassion and empathy for any accuser who wants compassion and empathy and nothing more.  Even if the accusation is false, no one is harmed by a little misplaced compassion and empathy.  But a process of investigation for an accuser who wants any sort of action taken against the accused.  The rumor mill is a good place to start.  It has become clear, for instance, that Roy Moore's penchant for underage girls was an open scandal in his home town, to the point that shopping malls were on the lookout for him.  Likewise, it was common knowledge among women on Capitol Hill that they should not get into an elevator with John Conyers.  And there were plenty of rumors among people in the know about Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer as well.  This should probably not be sufficient (it certainly is not admissible in court), but it is a good source of leads to investigate.  An actual rape leaves medical evidence.  A traumatic experience leaves psychological evidence, confidences is real time, etc.  Making sure people were in the places at the times they allege does not prove anything, but it can disprove.

It is also true that milder instances probably do not leave evidence.  In the case of Al Franken and Leeann Tweeden, there was ample evidence that they were in a raunchy skit together in the USO, and that he is photographed groping her.  Most of the other cases were pinching bottoms in a photo op and the like.  We can prove or disprove that they were at the place and time together and did a photo op.  But an unwanted pinch or kiss is probably not possible to prove or disprove with any confidence. So no doubt there will be milder cases that go unpunished. But let's face it.  There are milder cases of just about every sort of misconduct possible that go unpunished.  That is simply common sense in recognizing that not all offenses are equal. 

Monday, December 25, 2017

A Quick Note on Trump and Merry Christmas

Look, this should go without saying, but Donald Trump's claim that he has made it acceptable to say, "Merry Christmas" again probably his most ridiculous claim yet.  But his followers will probably believe it.

Look, it's really simple.  Some people say "Merry Christmas."  Others say "Happy Holidays."  I have no idea what the proportion is.  To the best of my knowledge, no serious research has ever been done on this subject.  But regardless, it seems most unlikely that it has changed in any way whatever since Trump was elected.  I suppose there may be somebody, somewhere may have felt intimidated from saying "Merry Christmas" and finally feels liberated.  And probably somebody, somewhere has probably gone from saying "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Holidays" just out of defiance.

But perceptions can be very selective.  If you feel that Christmas is under siege, you will notice every time someone says, "Happy Holidays" and feel affronted and overlook every time someone says, "Merry Christmas."  And if you are convinced that the culture wars are going your way, you will notice every time someone says, "Merry Christmas" and feel vindicated and overlook every time someone says, "Happy Holidays."

And it is perfectly silly that I am even writing about this.

The Deep State and Tocqueville

Aristotle appears to have been the one to introduce the distinction of dividing government into the few, the many, and the one. He is said to have further sub-divided government into good and bad forms. In the good form, the rulers (whether few, many or one) rule for the common good; in bad government, the rulers (whether few, many or one) think only of their own private good. By this standard, "good" governments have been decidedly rare and "bad" government very much the rule.

But he did make a more realistic distinction as well. Government is, if not good, at least acceptable if its rulers, whether few, many or one, respect the rule of law and not merely bad but unacceptably so if its rulers (few, many or one) do not respect the rule of law. The Baron de Montesquieu, the social philosopher who most influenced the Founding Fathers, divided government into three categories. Monarchy was government by a single ruler under law; despotism was government by a single ruler without the law; and republic was government by some or all of the citizens, either directly or by their representatives. The first distinction is a legitimate and important one -- does a single ruler rule by law or arbitrarily is an important distinction, as Aristotle would be quick to point out. And the third category lumps together way too many categories -- government by the many and by the few, direct and representative and, presumably, with and without the law. It has taken me time and patience to realize, but mere government by the many, elective government, or majority rule are not by themselves any promise of the rule of law. Majority rule without the law is simply mob rule.

Which leads me to the question of Donald Trump and the "deep state." David Frum had a pinned tweet (since replaced) that "deep state" simply means rule of law. It is a thought I have been turning over in my head since. Another major revelation to me was the concept that bureaucratic orderliness is really just another manifestation of the rule of law, and that despotism is always characterized by snarling of the bureaucratic order. Thus a government that is not democratic but nonetheless respects the rule of law ("liberal autocracy") would lack contested elections and meaningful legislatures, but would have a bureaucracy with clear and orderly chains of command, rules of conduct, and administrative rewards and punishments for breaking the rules. This is the "deep state," or at least one form of it. The “deep state” may also take forms that do not respect the rule of law, as with the Turkish generals who manipulated things behind the scenes and killed opponents.

So, can government can respect the rule of law without a "deep state" maintaining the rule of law through bureaucratic order?  It is not a thing I am sufficiently interested in at present to want to delve into in great detail, but one I will seek some guidance from Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. In Tocqueville's time the U.S. federal "deep state" was minimal -- a very small army guarding the borders, a post office, a few customers inspectors, and not much more. Most government took place at the state level.  But even at the state level, administration was notably decentralized.  This is an issue that Tocqueville addresses at length because it was so different from the administration in his native France.

France is a country famous for its high degree of administrative centralism, and Tocqueville believed that it was taken a great deal too far, and that France was in need of greater local autonomy. As the alternative to France's administrative centralism, he offered Massachusetts -- not so much because Massachusetts was typical of the U.S. in Tocqueville’s day (it was not) but because the New England states offered the extreme example of administrative decentralism that he could contrast with France, i.e., it was as near as one could come to a functioning government without a "deep state."

Of course, in Tocqueville's day most New England towns were governed by their town meeting, the direct democracy of its active citizens,* which passed town ordinances, elected town officials, and elected and instructed representatives to the state legislature. The town meeting would make decisions such as where to build a school and had some power to pass ordinances, but most of the legislating would take place at the state level. However, the state lacked the administrative apparatus to enforce its laws. Instead, they would be carried out by elective town officials. The Board of Selectmen handled most day-to-day business, but there were other officials as well:
The assessors rate the township; the collectors receive the rate. A constable is appointed to keep the peace, to watch the streets, and to forward the execution of the laws; the town-clerk records all the town votes, orders, grants, births, deaths, and marriages; the treasurer keeps the funds; the overseer of the poor performs the difficult task of superintending the action of the poor-laws; committee-men are appointed to attend to the schools and to public instruction; and the road-surveyors, who take care of the greater and lesser thoroughfares of the township, complete the list of the principal functionaries. They are, however, still further subdivided; and amongst the municipal officers are to be found parish commissioners, who audit the expenses of public worship; different classes of inspectors, some of whom are to direct the citizens in case of fire; tithing-men, listers, haywards, chimney-viewers, fence-viewers to maintain the bounds of property, timber-measurers, and sealers of weights and measures.
Tocqueville reports that there were 19 such positions. All of these were elective positions. All served one-year terms. All adult male citizens were expected to hold some office over their lifetimes, All offices were paid, so that poorer citizens could afford to hold them. There was no formal hierarchy among them. Presumably there was an informal hierarchy, i.e., it was presumably more prestigious to be a selectman than a chimney viewer. But there was no formal chain of command. The selectman had no administrative authority over the chimney view and no authority to give him orders; but all were subordinate to one common superior – the people in their town meeting.  In short, there was plenty of government going on, but very little deep state.** 

This was in contrast to contemporary France, where there was a highly centralized bureaucracy and a formal chain of command. The rule of law was enforced by administrative sanctions, i.e., by promotions and demotions and, in extreme cases, by firing. How was the rule of law enforced in New England without such a hierarchy, where the only superior was the town meeting?  And it turns out that Massachusetts did, after all, have a deep state, albeit a rather skimpy one, and that deep state was called on to keep local elected officials within the rule of law.

Tocqueville points out that there are three ways that a public official can offend. He can do what the law forbids. He can fail to do what the law requires. Or he can comply with the letter of the law but just not do a good job. In Tocqueville’s France, no clear distinction was made among these three types of offense; all were punished by administrative sanctions such as demotion and possibly dismissal. In the United States, the distinction was essential. If a Massachusetts official did anything illegal, he was subject to criminal prosecution before the courts. (Both prosecutors and judges were part of the scanty “deep state.”) If he complied with all laws but just didn’t do a good job, he would lose the next election.

The problem was what would happen if an official did not commit any crimes, but failed to fulfill his legal duties. One might think he would lose the next election, but what if those duties were inherently unpopular? The assessor was a classic example, since his job was to assess the value of land for property taxes. An assessor who failed to assess land so that taxes would not be collected would probably be more popular than one who did his job with scrupulous honesty. But he would not be committing an actual crime that could be prosecuted. So justices of the peace, appointed by the governor(more "deep state"), were empowered to impose a fine on the town that failed to meet its obligations, or to replace delinquent officers with ones who were prepared to do their jobs. But how would justices of the peace know if assessors (or other unpopular functionaries) were failing to do their job? After all, the townspeople would have no incentive to tell them. Apparently this problem was resolved by creating an incentive – to offer informants a portion of any fines imposed as a result. Tocqueville regarded this as a form of corruption and a degradation of the people’s morals.*** He thought it could be better handled by a small extension of the deep state – the appointment of a public inspector who would see if officials were doing their duties and bring actions if they were not.

Within these bounds, however, Tocqueville was impressed by how much discretion New England officials were allowed in the exercise of their duties, comparable to the arbitrary power of officials under a despotism. As examples, he said that selectmen were given complete discretion to decide who to include in the jury pool, and who to identify as public drunkards forbidden to buy liquor. He proposed that such power was in no danger of abuse because the officials who held it were always up for reelection after just one year and therefore would not dare offend their fellow citizens.

In despotic States . . . [t]he sovereign, who has under his control the lives, the property, and sometimes the honor of the men whom he employs, does not scruple to allow them a great latitude of action, because he is convinced that they will not use it to his prejudice. In despotic States the sovereign is so attached to the exercise of his power, that he dislikes the constraint even of his own regulations; and he is well pleased that his agents should follow a somewhat fortuitous line of conduct, provided he be certain that their actions will never counteract his desires. 
In democracies, as the majority has every year the right of depriving the officers whom it has appointed of their power, it has no reason to fear any abuse of their authority. As the people is always able to signify its wishes to those who conduct the Government, it prefers leaving them to make their own exertions to prescribing an invariable rule of conduct which would at once fetter their activity and the popular authority. 
It may even be observed, on attentive consideration, that under the rule of a democracy the arbitrary power of the magistrate must be still greater than in despotic States. In the latter the sovereign has the power of punishing all the faults with which he becomes acquainted, but it would be vain for him to hope to become acquainted with all those which are committed. In the former the sovereign power is not only supreme, but it is universally present.
. . . . . . . 
It is only in limited monarchies that the law, which prescribes the sphere in which public officers are to act, superintends all their measures. The cause of this may be easily detected. In limited monarchies the power is divided between the King and the people, both of whom are interested in the stability of the magistrate. The King does not venture to place the public officers under the control of the people, lest they should be tempted to betray his interests; on the other hand, the people fears lest the magistrates should serve to oppress the liberties of the country, if they were entirely dependent upon the Crown; they cannot therefore be said to depend on either one or the other. . . . . They consequently agree as to the necessity of restricting the functionary to a line of conduct laid down beforehand, and they are interested in confining him by certain regulations which he cannot evade.
It would appear, then, that Tocqueville considered entrusting public officials with extreme latitude in their actions to be compatible with the rule of law because they could be counted on not to jeopardize their prospects of reelection by abusing those powers.

Several objections present themselves. One is what happens if a measure is unpopular but nonetheless necessary. Tocqueville discussed this at length (see above) and appears to agree that this is best handled by the intervention of the deep state.

Another is whether this rule would apply on any larger scale than a small New England town capable of the direct democracy of the town meeting. It was safe give the selectmen complete discretion in who to include in the jury pool or who to exclude from taverns in a small town. Would this same level of discretion be safe to exercise in a larger town like Boston? In a small township, any sort of abuse of power might soon become common knowledge. Can we count on every abuse of power becoming widely known in Boston? Let alone throughout the state of Massachusetts? (To say nothing of the whole United States). Certainly as we have moved away from small towns under direct democracy into a larger scale society, this rule has been found not to scale up. Arbitrary power in the hands of government functionaries, elective or appointed, is a formula for abuse. Clear, fixed rules have proven to be necessary in democracies as well.

Finally, there is the question of the majority oppressing the minority. Tocqueville, who gave us the expression "tyranny of the majority" is well aware of this danger. But his over-analyzed explanation of it does a poor job of conveying the real danger:
In America the majority raises very formidable barriers to the liberty of opinion: within these barriers an author may write whatever he pleases, but he will repent it if he ever step beyond them. Not that he is exposed to the terrors of an auto-da-fe, but he is tormented by the slights and persecutions of daily obloquy. His political career is closed forever, since he has offended the only authority which is able to promote his success. Every sort of compensation, even that of celebrity, is refused to him. Before he published his opinions he imagined that he held them in common with many others; but no sooner has he declared them openly than he is loudly censured by his overbearing opponents, whilst those who think without having the courage to speak, like him, abandon him in silence. He yields at length, oppressed by the daily efforts he has been making, and he subsides into silence, as if he was tormented by remorse for having spoken the truth.
Tocqueville goes at length on this subject, seeming to indicate that the tyranny of the majority operates by certainty rather than severity of punishment, that nothing worse is at stake than loss of career, reputation, or popularity. When offering concrete examples, what he describes is a good deal more alarming. He gives, for instance, a newspaper in Baltimore that criticized the War of 1812 when the war was widely popular in that city. An angry mob sacked the newspaper building and destroyed the presses. The militia refused to protect the editors, so they were placed in jail for their own protection. But the mob broke in, killed one of the editors and severely beat the others, and was acquitted by a jury. He also mentions that black people, though permitted by law to vote in free states, dared not do so for fear of the mob. It was also at this time that the abolitionist movement was in its very earliest infancy, and was the constant target of angry mobs.

Clearly, then something a good deal more serious was at stake than merely career and reputation. What Tocqueville called the tyranny of the majority might more accurately be called the tyranny of the mob. And who was on hand to fight the tyranny of the mob? To all appearances, the professionals in charge of impartial enforcement of the law, against the popular and the unpopular alike. In other words, the deep state.

Finally, Tocqueville also makes clear why the deep state by itself cannot be counted on to uphold the rule of law. In contemporary France, the deep state (the formal bureaucracy) made an orderly, rational administration within the rule of law. Adherence to the rules was enforced by administrative rewards and penalties – promotion and bonuses versus demotion and pay cuts or, in the worst cases, firing. These administrative penalties applied to all the offenses Tocqueville identified – lawful but inept administration, neglect of one’s duties, and actual illegality.

And that was the problem. Public officials who committed actual illegal acts were not subject to prosecution in the ordinary courts, but only to administrative penalties. What if a superior official ordered the illegal behavior? Presumably he would be subject to administrative penalties if caught, but what if the offense went all the way up the chain of command? France apparently had a Council of State that decided whether to subject public officials to prosecution in the ordinary courts for illegal acts committed in the course of their public duties. This Council was part of the bureaucracy (the “deep state,”) answerable to exactly the same officials who might order the illegality in the first place! The scope for corruption and illegality here is obvious. Tocqueville spoke with clear outrage about this arrangement and commented that whenever he attempted to explain it to Englishmen or Americans, they simply refused to believe that such an obvious and manifest injustice could be openly authorized.

Tocqueville praised the United States for making all public officials who committed illegal acts subject to prosecution in the ordinary courts. He also commented that making public offices elective and making the officials who held them subject to ordinary prosecution were necessarily related. Because elective officials were not subject to administrative penalties, criminal penalties were essential, even more so that in a formal civil service. And he made two warnings to any country enacting changes to its form of government but wanting to preserve the rule of law.

A government going from appointed to elective officials must also make them subject to prosecution in the ordinary courts. There tended (he commented) to be more pressure to make officials elective than to make them answerable to the courts, but both measures must be adopted together, or corruption would go unpunished so long as it was popular and democracy would degenerate into mob rule.**** And a government going from elective to appointive officials must limit their discretion and set rules to govern their conduct, or it would set up petty tyrants, and monarchy would degenerate into despotism.
*Property qualifications had been removed by this time, but women were not allowed to participate.
**It is a shame that Tocqeville did not make it to the South, where there was very little "deep state" and also a minimum of regulatory government.  Yet there were serious internal security issues (i.e., large numbers of slaves).  Slave patrols were not made up of professionals (i.e., deep state), but of ordinary citizens, whether volunteer or draftee.  It would be most interesting to know how such a system operated, and whether it preserved the rule of law.
***Parallels to Athens, another very diffuse democracy with minimal "deep state" are clear. Lacking public prosecutor, Athens was forced to rely on informants, many of whom were sleazy and malicious characters. Informants of this type are one of Aristophanes’ favorite targets.
****The case of Joe Arpaio (and many others) stands as proof that even if elective officials are subject to prosecution, they can be extremely difficult to hold within the law if they know how to demagogue well.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Virginia Election

I know it is a bit late to be commenting on the Virginia election, but I was approaching it with a good deal of trepidation.  Polls showed Republican Ed Gillespie catching up and within striking distance of Democrat Ralph Northam once he started serious anti-immigrant demagoguery.  Conventional wisdom held that the momentum was with him and he was probably going to win.  Another poll showed that, although polls of the general population showed a preference for Democrats in the upcoming 2018 election, once it was narrowed down to likely voters, the preference was dead even. 

I felt despairing.  It was a horrible thought.  What if Steven Bannon was winning?  What if he had achieved a successful coalition?  Bannonites would reluctantly concede the economic royalist agenda of the Republican donors in order to keep the money flowing.  Republican donors would reluctantly concede racial demagoguery to win votes.  And so Republican politicians would win elections by appealing to prejudice and demonizing minorities and, once elected, use their office to pass legislation to create a complete plutocracy. 

During the primary season, Republicans would choose the craziest candidate in the field.  The Republican Establishment would campaign against him in the primary, then line up behind him in the general election, confident that they would get their tax cuts and regulatory repeal.  Democrats would try to be pragmatic and elect Establishment candidates, but the party base would refuse to vote for them.  Between the innate advantage our district system gives to rural areas, the power to gerrymander, and Democratic voters’ low turnout in off-year elections, Republicans would lock up the system in their favor.  So the Republicans would rule forever. 

The Virginia election came as a great relief in showing that maybe Steve Bannon wouldn’t win out after all.

From Libertarian to Alt-Right

That being said, a number of people have noted a pattern.  That pattern is that the path from Ron Paul to Trump is not that long.  Nor is this new.  Ron Paul was an ally of Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard, who were remarkably well-disposed toward Pat Buchanan, and worse.  In fact, a lot of people have noticed an ongoing journey from libertarianism (particularly the Mises Institute wing) to the Alt Right.  This has been noticed, among others, by libertarians who have not made the journey.  A number of them have looked for explanations why this should be.

Some have seen this simply as people who are looking for a way to be against the status quo.  Libertarianism was one such opportunity, but when it did not prove crazy enough, they turned to the Alt Right instead.  There probably is some truth in that, particularly among young, hard-core Alt Right types, but there aren’t all that many of them.  Another is that racism has been so pervasive in our society for so long that it was, after all, a bit naïve of libertarians to think they would be spared.  Another suggestion, this one by a more mainstream libertarian, is that libertarians in general have been a bit naïve on the subject of race, assuming that all social ills will resolve if only government stays out, and that any government attempt to interfere can only make things worse.  This has led honest, non-racist libertarians (or semi-libertarians) like Milton Friedman or Barry Goldwater or William Rehnquist to oppose anti-racist legislation, not out of ill-will, but out of a mistaken understanding of society.  That may be true, too, among the more mainstream, more intellectual wing of libertarianism. 

But I don’t think either of them really explains a lot of Tea Party semi-libertarians who ended up as Trump supporters.  The answer there, I think, is one that should make libertarians uneasy, one that shows how easy it is to mistake what one commenter called the distinction between being anti-state and anti-other.  

So what is the “other”?  Well, we are getting into jargon here, but this is basically the view of wanting to protect the sovereignty and autonomy of one’s own group from any outside infringement.  Its attitude toward government is ambivalent.  It basically sees government as having one role only – to protect “us” from “them.”  Government is always too impersonal and too rule-bound to ever really be part of “us.”  And thus government is always to be opposed when it meddles in matters among “us.”  So to that extent it looks anti-state.  But the state should not be under any constraints in its dealings with “them.”

This kind of psychology can explain a lot.  It explains why right wing movements are so often fiercely nationalist, and so fearful of anything that smacks of international cooperation.  They are seeking to protect the autonomy and sovereignty of their nation from infringement from outside nations.  It also explains why in the context of US politics, the same people are often strong supporters of states’ rights.  Again, they are seeking to protect the sovereignty and autonomy of their states from outside influences, including the federal government, which deserves one’s support against foreign nations, but look foreign when it starts to infringe on one’s state.  

It explains Donald Trump’s appeal when he denounces immigrant crime, and talks about black crime in the most thinly-veiled code words.  This creates the impression that his followers don’t really care how high the crime right is, so long as only white, native-born people are the ones committing it.  And I suspect this is actually true.  Crime committed by white people is an internal problem among Us that can be dealt with among Us without the need to involve the state.  The state is needed only when We are menaced by Them. 

It explains, I think, some of the fierce opposition from Trump supporters to Black Lives Matter.  Black Lives Matter is an attack on the state’s only true, legitimate function – protecting Us from Them.  It explains an attitude I have seen in conservative comments sections, condemning white, liberal urbanites who support Black Lives Matter.  At best, they are inauthentic in pretending to care about people outside their own group when no one can possibly care about outsiders.  At worst, they are race traitors for taking sides against their own.  And there is a deep resentment implying that the only reason we need a police force at all is to protect people like them – white people intruding into the black realm of urban areas, and if only young white liberals would stay in the suburbs where they belong, there would (presumably) be no need for a police force, because white people could handle internal crime on their own, and black people are sub-human and not worthy of the state’s protection. 

And I would say it should be considered in all criticisms of Black Lives Matter that ask about internal black crime in black neighborhoods.  This isn’t just “whataboutism,” it is an accusation that black people just want the police, as outsiders, to withdraw and leave black neighborhoods’ internal crime problems as a matter to be handled among Us.  And, in fairness to these critics, I am guessing that a lot of white liberals may be naïve on this matter, and that a lot of Black Lives Matter members probably do see things in these terms.

The Un-Conservative Right

At Least It Pissed Off Liberals
Many conservatives, quite properly appalled by Donald Trump, insist that he is not a conservative, and I am fine with that.  Speaking as a liberal, it is not my place to define what a conservative is, but I can think of many definitions of conservative – cautious, prudent, distrustful of the state, distrustful of any excessive accumulation of power, adhering to traditional religion or traditional values, promoting moral restraint, believing in the rule of law, conscious of the danger of demagogic appeals to people’s basest instincts, etc. – that Trump clearly does not meet.  But it is absurd to conclude from that that since Trump is not a conservative, he must be a liberal, or that he is a phenomenon of the left rather than the right.  No, no and no!  His eagerness to enact the priorities of the Republican donor class, his appeal to so much of the traditional Republican coalition, his loud and aggressive feud with all things liberal are clear proof that, although Trump may not be a conservative, he is definitely right wing.

And to any anti-Trump conservative who takes offense that that statement, I would suggest that liberals might have something to offer there.  See, we have a history of having to deal with Communism.  And there is no need to lie or mince words.  Many liberals and radicals succumbed to its allure, took its promises at face value, and because fellow travelers or useful idiots.  But even from the start there were many who did not, who saw through the danger and denounced Communism as evil from the start. And with the onset of the Cold War, opposition to Communism became the clear dividing line between respectable liberals (and left-wingers) and people outside of any reasonable bounds.

So how was a liberal to deal with Communism?  It wasn’t liberal, not liberal was defined to mean favoring liberty, inclusion, universal human rights, rule of law, openness, tolerance, or the other terms liberals used to define themselves.  Yet it did appear to be left-wing.  Like liberals, it did challenge the status quo of power and purport to be a movement championing the oppressed.  In fact, it actually did champion the rights of the oppressed in countries where it had not yet seized power.  It was pointless to deny that really was left wing.  So what was a liberal to make of a movement that shared liberals’ own criticisms of the status quo of power and championship of society’s unfortunates, even as it wrote vast swaths of humanity out of its moral calculations altogether, and often seemed to be motivated more by hatred and appeals to base instinct more than anything else, to say nothing of its monstrous crimes against humanity.  Our answer, in the end, was that there was a hard left, by no means limited to the Communists, that shared many values and ultimate goals with liberals, but was utterly opposed to us in many others.  We called it the illiberal left.

Well, conservatives might was well admit that Donald Trump shares a lot of goals and values with them.  He wants to cut taxes and gut regulations.  He distrusts government in all its “mommy” functions and any special measures to promote the status of racial and ethnic minorities.  He is an instinctive hawk on foreign policy and a champion of law and order.  In all of this one might as well admit Trump is right wing.  But he differs from true conservatives in these other aspects.  So why not come out and acknowledge the existence of an un-conservative right.  Place Donald Trump in it, along with slave holders, classical fascists, and their modern heirs such as the LePens and the other rabid nationalist parties in Europe today.  

And, yes, liberals will no doubt continue to blur the lines, just as many conservatives blurred the lines between liberal and Communist.  But once you get the basic concept that there are unwholesome people on your side if the divide, and that people on your side of the divide have the first responsibility to police the distinction, we will be drawing closer to a reasonable dialogue on President Trump and how to deal with him.