Archive for November, 2016

Trump’s Swamp Fever

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

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One of Trump’s closing arguments was his promise to “drain the swamp”.

Less than a week after winning the election in dramatic fashion and preparing to move into the White House, he appears to have caught a serious case of swamp fever.

He may have been infected from the whole set of Washington insiders that he has invited to help him plan the transition.

He may have caught it from President Obama himself. After what he described as very cordial meeting for which he appeared genuinely grateful, he described Obama as a very good man.

That wall that he promised to build on day one? Newt Gingrich admitted that Trump probably can’t get Mexico to pay for the wall, but that it was a “great campaign device”.

Instead of appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, in an exclusive interview with the WSJ, Trump said, “It’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought, because I want to solve health care, jobs, border control, tax reform.”

Instead of making the repeal of Obamacare his first priority, instead he is talking about a series of amendments to improve it.

Oh and that Iran nuclear deal, one of the worst deals in the history of the world? He kinda likes it. He’s going to talk with the Iranians about a couple of his concerns, but he isn’t going to tear it up.

Moving or embassy to Jerusalem (a big issue for Sheldon Adelson)? Trump’s campaign said that any move would come only after there was a consensus by all parties. The Palestinians have been and are seriously opposed to the move.

That waterboarding stuff? Mike Rodgers representing the Trump campaign said it was just “campaign talk”.

Instead of supporting Paul Ryan’s call to privatize Medicare and Social Security, Trump has been curiously quiet.

Those mass deportations? They are history too. Instead Trump has said he is only going to deport those illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes. This is pretty much what the Obama administration has been doing for the past 8 years.

Those nasty late night tweets? Even they appear to have moderated. After sharply criticizing the #notmypresident demonstrations, he quickly released another tweet celebrating their passion and their right to express their opinion.

What happened to this guy?

Who kidnapped Donald Trump and replaced him with a thoughtful moderate?

Here’s my take.

We already know that he is not an ideologue and his main principle appears to be his own self-interest.

What we may be discovering is that he is more of a narcissistic Zelig chameleon than anyone thought.

We also may be discovering that he understands that he has to start working now to win the midterm elections in two years. Those who didn’t vote for him are just waiting for his first misstep to turn the next two years into an Occupy Washington protest.

We are now 7 years into this economic expansion cycle. We are starting to see some inflation and finally a little wage growth. We are well overdue for a recession.

The best thing that Trump could do to protect his Congressional majorities in 2018 is pump a lot of money into the economy as quickly as possible in the form of infrastructure improvements. We know from Obama’s attempts to do the same thing on a MUCH smaller scale that it takes a while to get this going. Obama may have warned Trump about how long it will take to get anything done in Washington. We also know that big spending bills provide plenty of opportunities for back seat driving and second guessing. The last thing Trump needs is a fight over this. The best way to get spending bill passed quickly is to make sure that the Democrats are on board too. He may need their help to overcome the fiscal conservatives and small government ideologues that still dominate his party.

By narrowing his focus to jobs, securing the boarder, amending Obamacare, and passing his tax plan; he can gain enough good will with the public to gain a little momentum. If he can find a way to work with the Democrats rather than poking them in the eye, he can continue to keep the Republican establishment off balance. Perhaps Obama also warned him that the Republicans in Washington are not his friends.

Since he doesn’t have the votes to over override a Senate veto, he would be wise to take small steps that will make it through the Senate. Otherwise, he runs the risk of the Democrats running out the clock on his first two years in much the same way that Republicans tied up Obama.

If he can find a way to get government working again by pivoting to the center, while still retaining the support of his base, he may prove to be a better politician than anyone imagined. If so, it may turn out that swamp fever isn’t so bad after all. If, however, this is really honeymoon fever, and the old combative Trump returns, it could be a bumpy two years.

 

Libertarians Big Fail

Friday, November 4th, 2016

If there were ever an election year when the Libertarian Party could make significant gains, this is the year.

The Bernie Sanders campaign caught fire and inspired a new generation of young people and rallied a cohort of progressives frustrated with eight years of cautious Obama politics.

Many of Bernie’s most ardent supporters were looking for a new champion when Bernie failed to win the nomination.

Donald Trump’s xenophobic populism abandoned traditional Republicans and their concerns about fiscal conservatism and government overreach.

The contest between Clinton and Trump quickly became a personality referendum. Issues took a back seat to an endless cycle of school-yard taunts, shocking revelations of personal weakness, and a deeply disturbing lord of the flies “kill the pig” frenzy.

Libertarianism had the perfect opportunity to assert its simple philosophy that people are perfectly able to make their own decisions and better decisions will be made if people are allowed to experience the consequences of their actions.

This also applies to governments. The world would be a better place, libertarians contend, if governments were less concerned with individual rights and more concerned with national defense.

So why is the Libertarian Party polling at less than 5% of the total vote?

My sense is that when push came to shove, the libertarian faithful including big money sources like David Koch, failed the Trump test.

Trump successfully turned this election into a reality show. Clinton became the villain. Trump became his own hero. His whole campaign is an effort to fan the flames of tribalism by drawing clear lines between us and them. Facts took a beating as every event was re-interpreted within the context of how “they” were biased, crooked, and untrustworthy and “we” were the only choice to save the nation from “them”.

The media, every established political party, the Clinton campaign, and the public have been challenged to respond.

The Libertarians had the opportunity to demonstrate that their philosophy was a better way.

Instead, their leaders and their followers could not resist the temptation to participate in this personality contest in hopes of attracting those who claimed that they disliked BOTH Trump and Clinton.

The issues with Clinton and the FBI are a perfect example. Early on both Johnson and Weld agreed with the FBI’s recommendation not to prosecute. This was consistent with the philosophy that individuals are smart enough to make their own decisions and don’t need government’s help. But when the FBI reopened the investigation, Weld was the only one who continued to stand on principle suggesting the FBI was “off the reservation”. Johnson followed Trump’s line in an effort to pick up some disheartened Clinton supporters. Weld on the other hand received the full wrath of the libertarian faithful.

On social media sites it is hard to distinguish the Trump trolls from the libertarian trolls when it comes to flaming anti-Clinton posts.

The challenge libertarians have always had is walking the talk.

Here’s a classic example from a book by a behavioral economist. The University of Chicago is a bastion of libertarian economists. Milton Friedman was their leader. When the University built a new office building for the economics faulty, there was the obvious challenge of how to allocate office space. Rather than setup a marketplace which would have resolved the issue using the principles that each of these academics spent a lifetime promoting, they essentially appointed a bureaucrat. He created a formula based on things like tenure, seniority, and individual contributions to the institution. That same person then applied the formula in a controlled fashion in an effort to reduce conflict. At the moment when these leaders of libertarian thought could actually put their theories to the test in their own lives, they trusted a government solution.

There are a lot of voters in this election cycle looking for a better choice. Libertarianism failed to gain their votes because libertarians lost track of their major asset which is their simple set of principles. Instead of demonstrating how principles can overcome tribalism, they became just as tribal, just as intolerant, and just as opportunistic as everyone else.