Freedom ain't free

The paradoxes, mysteries and speculations of Trump and this crazy year

November 11, 2016

This post is no victory lap for Donald Trump, who we have opposed since well before his nomination and who apparently behaves like a pig, but neither is it a wringing of hands. There are paradoxes and mysteries in Trump’s election, and so we offer them up in no particular order for your consideration. There is, in all moments of attempted honesty, something to irritate all partisans. That will be the case here.

We have finally realized the great progressive dream, a president with virtually no debts to special interests. Oh, sure, you can find a few big contributions here and there, but Trump pretty much overcame all interest group opposition in both parties to win this one. So we will learn, once and for all, whether a president free of debts to big money interests and single-issue pressure groups is a good thing.

Trump’s election may mean the end of the evangelical social cons as a force to be reckoned with. They turned out en masse to vote for somebody who had nothing to commend him on any of their issues other than that he is not Hillary Clinton. We speculate that the evangelicals have become to the GOP as blacks are to the Democrats — so infallibly reliable that they can be taken entirely for granted in the formulation of actual policy.

If Ted Cruz had actually prevailed in his debt-ceiling showdown and forced the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Donald Trump probably would not have won either the Republican nomination or the presidency.

As noted on Instapundit, Donald Trump’s election marks the first time that a presidential campaign managed by a woman has emerged victorious. Indeed, Kellyanne Conway’s turnaround is one of the really impressive “saves” of political history. It is revealing that the people who usually celebrate female “firsts” are ignoring this one, which strongly suggests that many such celebrations are actually just partisanship.

We have no idea whether to believe anything that Donald Trump says, or has said. Many traditional Republicans who supported him hope he will appoint pro-life judges, deregulate a bunch of stuff, and cut taxes, but that he does not actually mean what he says about tearing up free trade agreements, rolling back Pax Americana, and shutting down immigration important to businesses large and small. Democrats, meanwhile, are so invested in Trump as a fascist corporatist (as opposed to Trump-as-pig, which is different) that they will believe every unreasonable or irrational or offensive thing he has said as revealed truth but none of the policy promises he has made that they have long advocated for, including much restricted foreign trade, regulation or intimidation of businesses that would move jobs overseas, and the elimination of the “carried interest” preferences for the private equity Wall Street crowd. The truth is, we have no idea what the truth is. We think it is very likely that Trump will shock ideologues on both sides. Would he, for example, trade an anti-litmus SCOTUS appointment (perhaps a pro-choice pro-markets libertarian) for corporate tax reform? In a freaking heartbeat. At least in domestic policy, Trump is going to disappoint a lot of ideologues in the spirit of getting stuff done. You read it here first.

There is more than a little evidence that the Clinton campaign thought that Trump would be easy pickings and worked with allies in the press to increase the chance that he would win the Republican nomination. When the Clintons did this, they of course had known him a long time and would have understood Trump’s many putative shortcomings and alleged disqualifications. To the extent this is true, therefore, Democrats who today profess terror or outrage at the prospect of a Trump presidency might reflect on who in their own party and on their “side” promoted Trump out of rank cynicism.

If indeed Hillary Clinton’s team helped along Trump’s bid for the GOP nomination, what might be said about either her allegedly exemplary judgment or the bottomless depth of her cynicism?

Without getting to whether FBI Director Comey’s various statements about the investigation in to Hillary Clinton and her staff were appropriate — they were definitely unusual — this much is clear: The discovery of Bill Clinton’s meeting with, or perhaps ambush of, Attorney General Lynch on the tarmac set off a chain of events that could not be predicted at the time. Lynch should have offered to resign, but instead announced that in light of the discovery of her furtive meeting she would follow the recommendation of the FBI in the email case. That put Comey in the position of having to make a recommendation to the prosecutors, which reversed the established roles of the police and the prosecution. It is not surprising that Comey then felt the need to explain himself, as the Attorney General would have had to do had she made the decision she was supposed to make but could not because of the discovery of her meeting with Bill. And once he began talking, he found it hard to stop.

Regardless, President Obama could have fired Comey at any time, and chose not to do. Had he done so, Republicans would have been furious and his own reputation for straight pool would have been stained, but Hillary might well have won in the end, since she would not have been responsible. In other words, Obama either (i) doesn’t think that Comey did anything wrong, or (ii) calculated that keeping Comey on was more likely to protect his legacy than firing him. Oops.

After Ken Starr’s ever-expanding Whitewater investigation of Bill Clinton and Patrick Fitzgerald’s inquiry in to L’affaire Plame, neither of which uncovered anything really dangerous (even if icky, or sleazy, or stupid), the insiders in both parties agreed that this whole post-Watergate special prosecutor deal had gotten way out of hand. We wonder if both sides do not regret that now. For Democrats, a special or independent prosecutor would have insulated Attorney General Lynch from the consequences of Bill’s solicitations, and Comey would never have come under pressure to say anything to anybody. For Republicans, there might actually have been a robust investigation with no sweetheart immunity deals for Hillary’s inner circle. The wild card, of course, would have been timing.

The Democrats have been encouraging people to vote on the basis of their race, gender, sexual-orientation or other discrete status for at least two generations. The poorly indoctrinated less educated white population finally said “good point” and did the same, and now Donald Trump is president-elect. If that isn’t ironic, then we don’t know who made little green apples.

But maybe not. Donald Trump, in victory, got fewer votes than Mitt Romney did in defeat. More tellingly, Trump did better than Romney among minorities, especially damning since the proportion of minorities in the electorate has increased in the last four years:

In 2012, the electorate was 72 percent white (which went 59 percent Romney / 39 percent Obama) and 28 percent nonwhite (which went 81 percent Obama / 18 percent Romney), yielding a total margin of plus 3.1 percent for Obama. In 2016, the electorate was 70 percent white (which went 58 percent Trump / 37 percent Clinton) and 30 percent nonwhite (which went 73 percent Clinton / 21 percent Trump), yielding a total margin of plus 0.9 percent for Clinton.

If you dig deeper through the link above, virtually all of Trump’s gains vs. Romney came from his superior performance among minorities. So maybe the “white supremacy” theory is just so much bullshit. Either that, or “voter suppression” tactics in certain red states “worked,” at least insofar as they lowered the proportion of poorer minorities who voted. Our guess is that it is a little bit of both.

Eight years of zero interest rates, ratified and pushed along by Barack Obama’s Fed Chair, inflated asset prices (again) and thereby transferred a massive amount of wealth from middle class savers to the already rich owners of financial assets, exacerbating inequality. (The Fed leadership decided it needed zero interest rates because both Obama and the GOP Congress (after 2010) insisted on a contracting fiscal policy — Obama, to keep his promise to raise taxes on the “rich,” and the House Republicans to keep their promise to control discretionary spending.) Arguably, therefore, the toxic combination of zero interest rates, higher taxes, and constrained spending contributed to the populist uprisings in both political parties, which led to Donald Trump.

Trump has promised — and we write “promised” advisedly — that he will launch a massive amount of infrastructure spending, which Democrats have long argued to do. But infrastructure is hard to build now because of the welter of regulation of the environment, land use, labor, and government contracting. If Trump proposes to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure but also proposes to roll back a lot of that regulation to get it done efficiently and quickly, will the Democrats support the deal or oppose it? We literally have no idea, but it will be entertaining to watch.

Deficit hawks are going to hate the next two to four years, yet many of them voted for Donald Trump. Inflation hawks are also going to hate the next four years.

Our big and oft-repeated concern is in foreign policy — we believe it is a near certainty that some foreign bad guy will challenge the United States early in the Trump administration to see how it will react. This will be the Trump administration’s first big test. If it is not a catastrophe and Trump reacts with something approximating good judgment, we will breathe easier. We do have one speculation backed by the morning’s scuttlebut: That Trump’s threat to “tear up” Obama’s deal with Iran will be one of the first promises he will break. Indeed, it would not surprise us if that took up a part of the conversation yesterday in the White House, from which Trump emerged much more sober in look and tone. This will be seen as treason on the right, but will be reassuring to those of us who want temperance, rather than impulsiveness, in foreign policy.

Of all the left-wing interest groups, we believe that the biggest losers in this election will be the environmental activists. We suspect that in economic terms, at least, minorities will benefit relatively more than under Obama (although a lot also depends on the “replace” part of “repeal and replace Obamacare”).

The second biggest losing interest group will be universities, who have set themselves up as the crazed and implacable enemies of Donald Trump.

What did we miss? Release the hounds.

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1 Comment

  • Reply DEC (Jungle Trader) November 15, 2016 at 1:08 am

    I’ll take a bow now. During the summer of 2015, I predicted Trump’s victory. Trump’s campaign wasn’t bold and original. As a candidate he was a modern-day Huey Long. From Long’s bio at the Social Security Administration website (written before the recent Presidential race): “A nominal Democrat, Huey Long was a radical populist, of a sort we are unfamiliar with in our day. As governor, he sponsored many reforms that endeared him to the rural poor. An ardent enemy of corporate interests, he championed the ‘little man’ against the rich and privileged. A farm boy from the piney woods of North Louisiana, he was colorful, charismatic, controversial, and always just skating on the edge.” Where did Trump get the idea to run as “Kingfish 2.0”? My guess: From the Deputy Mayor Kevin Calhoun (John Cusack) character in the 1996 movie “City Hall.”

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