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An Open Letter to My Friends on the Left… about Donald Trump’s Hair, Unfortunately

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My progressive friends,

It seems to me that your politics has two major goals. It has others, but these two seem the most important.

First, progressivism tries to build a powerful but flexible government, one that can alleviate a good deal of misfortune without becoming tyrannical.

Despite much libertarian propaganda, this is a plausible goal. The world is full of undeserved misery and failure; on that we all agree. And I can understand, even if I do not share, your conclusion that the state should face few limits to its ability to help the least fortunate. The chief limit that you propose, of course, is that the state must actually help the unfortunate, and never their oppressors. That’s noble. And again, that’s at least somewhat plausible.

For its second political goal, progressivism tries to populate this powerful, flexible government with people who share an especially refined sensibility: Bluntly, they must be good progressives.

Now, most other ideologies also want to populate the government. That’s nothing special. But there is a peculiar urgency to this goal for you, my progressive friends: Your single most important check on government power — the stipulation that it must help only the unfortunate — would appear to depend on always getting the right people into power. When the wrong people win, that powerful, flexible government may end up serving all sorts of bad ends.

Indeed, a whole genre of progressive writing seems devoted to proving that the author holds the refined sensibility needed to steer the state. The aim is not so much to raise awareness as it is to signal the awareness of the author. The exercise is difficult, and it involves carefully displaying much otherwise unwonted smugness. Because I read old books, I blame Rousseau for this tendency: Its modern apotheosis is named, fittingly enough, Salon. As you well know, conservatives love to mock progressive salonisme. More on their mockery shortly.

My progressive friends, I suspect that Donald Trump infuriates you because he shares only the first of your two political goals: Like you, he wants a powerful, flexible government. He just thinks that you progressives are a bunch of dweebs, and that he can do a better job of running the machine than you ever could. Sure, you built it. But he could run it better.

That’s why Donald Trump is no Barry Goldwater, no Ronald Reagan, no Jack Kemp. Conservatism was less threatening when conservatives only wanted to dismantle the machine, wasn’t it? Now, with Trump at their head, they’re asking to run it.

And he has such awful hair!

You think I kid about that last line, but I don’t.

Trump’s hair is a meticulously calculated signal. Same with his clothes. And all his other attributes too. Only problem is, his signals aren’t aimed at you. They’re about you. But they’re directed elsewhere.

And that fact, yes that fact all by itself, can explain Donald Trump’s preposterous hair: Trump’s whole public image says that he’s taken a good, hard look at the sort of sensibility that progressives think is needed in a leader — and he’s against it. In all particulars.

Does Trump mean the sometimes fascist signals that he sends? Or not? In a way that’s not the point. The point is that these questions scare you. And his base knows that you’re scared. That’s why he signals the way he does.

Consider that Trump could have totally awesome hair if he wanted. But that would send the wrong signal, wouldn’t it? The simplest choice, Eisenhower-style baldness, would be more reassuring; as even you must admit, Eisenhower was a thoroughly decent, temperate, and stable president. But decency, temperance, and stability aren’t virtues that Trump wants to signal. What he wants to signal is that he repudiates you, just like the rest of the grassroots conservative movement.

That’s right: Despite his billions, Trump’s doing all he can to signal that he’s among the wrongthinking riffraff. And he wants to make sure you know it. He has no patience whatsoever for your preening progressive sincerity cotillion, and he doesn’t care if one consequence of proving it is that he ends up looking a little fascist. (For what it’s worth, I often share the disdain for progressive salonisme. But in my case it’s because I find rulership itself disreputable. You can well imagine what I think of a signaling contest to show how very fit one is to perform a disreputable task.)

What scares you about Trump is that he will get his hands on the levers of power — levers that you yourselves constructed, over the protests of libertarians and old-style conservatives.

For years we who are not of the left put up with the taunts: Isn’t the right wing crazy? How silly to be afraid of the government! How unfair to think of federal agents as jack-booted thugs! To worry about black helicopters and FEMA camps and Jade Helm!

And now just maybe the jackboot is on the other foot.

My friends, did you never imagine that this day would come? Well. Some of us did. (Granted, some of us also imagined that the real menace might have been you. We may have been all wrong about that. Ain’t politics funny that way?)

In a democracy, progressives’ second goal, populating the government, depends on one of two things. Either the oppressed must be the most numerous — unlikely for long in a democracy — or else a coalition must be built consisting of the oppressed and their sympathizers.

But here’s the problem that you now face: The coalition of the oppressed and their sympathizers may turn out to be smaller than the coalition of those who only imagine that they are oppressed. In a halfway decent country, that may be the case fairly often.

Salon-hatred has gotten Trump a good long way on the right. And even further on the far right: Alas, it nowadays pays to read Trump’s white nationalist followers, which I have lately been doing. (You should do it too. It’s profoundly educational. And profoundly disturbing.)

With considerable historical accuracy, the white nats like to point out that immigration from Muslim countries was  essentially impossible from 1921 to 1965. Although sponsored by Republicans, the bills that enacted this policy were overwhelmingly approved by both parties. The entire country agreed that Muslims don’t belong here.

And now? Now the exact same policy that we had for much of the twentieth century — the exact same policy that we had in the Eisenhower years — is denounced as unmentionable in polite company. It’s proof, the far right says, that America is spiraling leftward to cultural suicide. (And isn’t it suspicious, they ask, that this is the ONE part of the state apparatus that progressives have dismantled?)

It may not be the case, as the white nats like to say, that Cthulhu always swims to the left. But their point on immigration does suggest a frightening malleability to progressivism, if it can be more or less indifferent to huge changes like these. With highly plastic government, having your friends in office turns out to be really, really important.

Maybe the appropriate sensibility just changed. Eugenics is no longer a part of righthinking, as it was in the 1920s. But who in the 1920s might have predicted that?

Powerful, flexible government indeed. The white nats want it just like you do, my progressive friends. Only they want to use it to help the people whom they think are oppressed: white, native-born Americans.

And so we end up back where we began: a big, flexible government, run by the clique we happen to favor. And they’d better win the damn election, or the wrong people might end up in charge, and that big, flexible government might really do some damage.

Trump supporters may say it with as much title as you, or as anyone. Now, you will certainly want to defend yourself against the charge that you resemble them. And you have every right to do so.

A simple defense that will not challenge your ideological preconceptions in the least might run as follows: It’s possible to document the social status of various groups. And despite all the bleating to the contrary, whites simply aren’t oppressed. They aren’t even unfortunate.

I will agree with you here. I won’t challenge you in the least. Not, that is, if you don’t want it. But if you do want a challenge, I’ll be happy to supply a different one.

And here it is: Wouldn’t you rather that the present scenario happen less often?

Sure, Trump might lose, for all sorts of reasons. They start with the Iowa caucuses, which may do their good, anti-democratic work and give the GOP the reasons it needs to come to its senses. Trump’s organization is from what I understand shambolic, and it often takes organizational discipline to win a caucus state. So who knows.

But even if Trump doesn’t become president, the Trump scenario will live on, in the threat that someone who loves powerful government just like you will get into office, only with radically different friends and sensibilities from your own.

You’ve been building all these powerful tools. Perhaps some more checks are in order, both institutionally and normatively, so that in the unlikely event you lose an election, all hell doesn’t break loose.

My challenge to you is simple, and maybe obvious: Make it harder to govern in a discretionary manner. Imagine Donald Trump running the machine. Build only as much of it as you’d want him to run. Ponder the consequences to the legitimately unfortunate, whom you love, in the event that someone like him wins.

To your success,

Jason

 

[Image via Wikipedia]


Staff Writer
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Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and editor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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173 thoughts on “An Open Letter to My Friends on the Left… about Donald Trump’s Hair, Unfortunately

  1. We need a better game theory for government, prior to the next realignment (we’re Late! but you knew that!). Accountability that isn’t a 10 point swing might be a good start.

    If you find rulership itself disreputable, I’d love to hear some better game theory on corporations and CEOs. Removing the collusive aspects of the board of directors naming the CEO would be first on my list.

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  2. From this liberal: This is a straw man. I by no means think that the state should face few limits.

    I do not want a fascist with whose goals I agree.

    One of the many differences between Trump and the government I want is that I want a leader who has many checks and balances.

    I do not want Trump to win so Hillary can win. I want him to lose so we can have a sane Republican party that will provide a genuine check on liberal goals.

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    • Forgive me, but it seems from where I sit that the left’s interest in things like civil liberties protections at the federal level, or like limits on presidential war powers, tends to wane when a Democrat is in the White House.

      Yet these are issues on which if the left isn’t good, who will be?

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      • When did civil rights issues wane for the left? Drone strikes? The most serious lefties I know loathe Obama for that reason. Obamacare? A distinction between a libertarian and a liberal is that we can think a positive right is a civil right.

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        • Generally speaking, many and maybe most civil rights are positive rights: things like the right to vote, the right to a jury trial, and even habeas corpus are all rights claims that require others to act in particular ways, rather than merely refraining from acting.

          And I’m very much in favor of all of them. Yet it does not follow to my mind that providing health insurance is necessarily in the same category. More work must be done to establish that, and this work is to my way of thinking far removed from the topic of the post. If you do think that health insurance subsidies and guarantees are inseparable from the things traditionally called civil rights, then let us continue the discussion with a new term for the old things.

          Still, I think it’s undeniable that the left’s antiwar sentiment really did collapse when Obama took office, despite his ready use of questionable war powers. And although civil rights has taken a very welcome place in the left’s agenda on the local level, I see just now that the U.S. Congress has approved a highly damaging cyber security bill (As reported by Justin Amash: R:150-95/D:166-18).

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          • For what it’s worth, this site claims to quote Trump saying he supports universal health care:

            Our objective [should be] to make reforms for the moment and, longer term, to find an equivalent of the single-payer plan that is affordable, well-administered, and provides freedom of choice. Possible? The good news is, yes. There is already a system in place-the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program-that can act as a guide for all healthcare reform. It operates through a centralized agency that offers considerable range of choice. While this is a government program, it is also very much market-based. It allows 620 private insurance companies to compete for this market. Once a year participants can choose from plans which vary in benefits and costs.

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          • Collapse is a strong word. The “antiwar” sentiment had almost no impact on our policies or actions during the Bush administration, and the most visible elements of it had “collapsed” long before Bush was out of office. The grumbling may still have been louder than it has been under Obama (though it has hardly been absent under Obama), but I find it thoroughly unsurprising that a thoroughly defeated coalition did not reorganize and remobilize when someone it might actually be able to influence took power. The spirit was gone.

            I’m not sure what lessons to draw from this, but I would be careful to draw the lesson that it says something about the deep dangers of progressivism, particularly since even within its own party, progressivism hasn’t had all that much influence on actual policy or actions. Hell, Obama himself has been pretty critical of the progressive-wing of his party, including on the subject of war.

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            • It might be salient that Obama has generally drawn down rather than run up thing in matters of war. Indeed the GOP’s current shrieks have been focused on Obama’s dovishness rather than the inverse. You’re not drawing down the wars fast enough isn’t a very strong line to remobolize the anti-war left on.

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            • What a narrow analysis, though the usual slippages and inconsistencies besetting the use of terms like “the Left” and “antiwar” in discussions like these are hardly Chris’s fault.

              However, the notion that “‘antiwar’ sentiment’ had almost no impact on [US] policies or actions during the Bush administration” gives the antiwar movement too little credit in practical-political terms. To minimize the effect of anti-war sentiment (and agitation, organizing, political initiatives, discussion, etc.) in this way is to suggest that, if the Bush Administration had been given a free hand and had received largely unified and dependable support from the People, the Electorate, and allies abroad, it would have conducted OIF in exactly the same way that it did anyway. Of course, such unity is hard to achieve and maintain even in the most favorable circumstances. A lot of what went wrong with the war strategy as a political proposition originated in the effort to overcome early “antiwar sentiment,” or, approximately the same thing, effectively maximize “pro-war sentiment” in Winter 2002 especiallly.

              My point isn’t to re-fight the fight over the fight. My point is that an at least equally reasonable perspective is that the “anti-war movement” – taken as a coalition eventually including everyone from principled universal pacifist to mainstream nationalists disillusioned with “bad wars” (essentially Obama’s positioning) – produced its candidate, one whose early opposition to OIF critically distinguished him from his opponent. The “antiwar movement” didn’t collapse with nothing to show for its efforts. It arguably won on its principle unity issue – US Out of Iraq! – and, with “withdrawal-ism” from then up to around now decisively governing US (and allied) foreign policy, it arguably has been deprived by its own success of strong organizing issues.

              Whether some leftists and others are impressed with their own agitated emotions about drone assassinations, surveillance, and sundry other security-related issues, so “loathe Obama” may not be entirely beside the point, but it is very far from comprising the whole of the political story.

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              • It is intentionally narrow, as it seeks to only focus on the Jason’s post.

                As for the impact of the anti-war sentiment during the Bush administration, if I underestimate its impact, you certainly over-estimate it. The distaste for full-scale war, or even war on the scale of Vietnam, spans the full width and depth of the American ideological spectrum, with only a small segment of the mainstream political right believing that a “kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out” approach is the best one. The (relatively) limited scope of the initial invasion of Iraq was therefore less a concession to the anti-war left than to a broad consensus among the American people about things like civilian and American casualties.

                By the time Obama came around, much more of both the left and the right were anti-war in the context of the Iraq war, and this made it possible for him to beat Clinton, but by that point we were not longer talking about anti-war generally, and it was a sentiment that would dissolve the moment daily casualty numbers stopped coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq (and would be largely limited to those two places). It is an anti-war sentiment that, without any irony, produced a much broader drone war, because a drone war doesn’t produce the American casualties that were the focus of most of that sentiment.

                All of that is to say that to the extent that the anti-war sentiment of the left had much of an influence, it did so only when an anti-sentiment at the same time broader and shallower took hold across the political spectrum, and the pattern Jason highlights here is a result less of the left’s anti-war sentiment than it is of that broader one (which, it must be noted, was the sentiment that guided much of the anti-war talk on much of the left starting around ’04; recall that many of those who by the ’04 presidential election were vehemently anti-war had at least tentatively supported the invasion in March of ’03).

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          • the right to a jury trial, and even habeas corpus are all rights claims that require others to act in particular ways, rather than merely refraining from acting.

            I think we may have had this argument before, but the rights to a jury trial and habeas corpus aren’t really positive rights. They’re better understood, I think, as a negative right: The government may not imprison you without doing these things. There are no circumstances under which the government is actually obligated to give a prisoner a trial by jury or a free ride to court, since there’s always the option of simply dropping the charges and letting the prisoner go.

            I would characterize the right to vote as a positive right, though I’m not a huge fan of that one. Treating voting as an individual right is what led us to a situation where these clowns are considered viable candidates for the presidency.

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            • I would characterize the right to vote as a positive right, though I’m not a huge fan of that one. Treating voting as an individual right is what led us to a situation where these clowns are considered viable candidates for the presidency.

              Huh? One of the big problems in this country is that we DON’T treat voting as an individual right, which is why we allow it to be taken away for anything from a felony to showing up at the wrong precinct on election day.

              Instead, much like your (correct) habeas analysis, it’s better considered a negative right that the state can’t silence your desire to participate for a short list of reasons (money, race, etc.)

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          • Still, I think it’s undeniable that the left’s antiwar sentiment really did collapse when Obama took office, despite his ready use of questionable war powers.

            There’s a difference between launching wars and unwinding them. There’s also a difference between massive engagements and drone strikes/bombings with no boots on the ground. One can (and should!) oppose nearly all of it but apply different priorities to the two.

            If Obama proposed invading any country (particularly without obvious need, as in Iraq), you can be damn sure his party would oppose him strongly. Of course, we’ll never know for sure because he isn’t dumb enough to want to.

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              • I’m interested in a fuller explanation of how Syria is not different in any way from Iraq 2: Dubya’s Boogaloo and Afghanistan. I trust you’ll be happy to provide one.

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                • Obama’s in so many wars, people can’t even keep them straight. I’m not talking about Syria; Obama (and H. Clinton) initiated a war against Libya. On the subject of Afghanistan, it’s Obama, not Bush that greatly ramped up the footprint, the cash and the casualties. To reach a state now that we were pretty much in in 2008. There’s also, per the Nation 674 special forces actions in Africa last year; on hover boards presumably, to avoid boots on the ground. BTW, did anyone ever #bringbackourgirls ?

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                  • Obama has had much less bombyness and boots intensity then the R’s have wanted. He has put much more effort towards diplomacy ( Iran) and far less towards chest thumping brinkmanship. But has done far more then the most pacifist/isolationist peeps have wanted.

                    So clearly he is a feckless surrender-o-crat who has gone invasion military mad like no one before him. He is truly the Holiday gift to screaming people on both far sides of the aisles.

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                  • So, to be clear, the answer is “no, I won’t explain how Obama’s wars are not different from Iraq/Afghanistan, except to note that Obama didn’t retreat from the latter* when violent opposition increased in 2008-2009”

                    *which, perhaps, would have been wiser.

                    So, I’m left with the same point: even if you oppose all uses of power, it’s not clear to me that you need to prioritize the engagements in Syria, Libya, etc. as highly as Iraq or Afghanistan. Or, for that matter, Desert Storm.

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              • Flying over the country, bombing the snot out of it and letting the locals depose their leader isn’t an invasion since it doesn’t involve any significant number of American soldiers being positioned where the locals can take potshots at them. It’s a return to the US’s cheap meddling ways from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. That’s certainly not a thing to be delighted over but it’s a significant climb down from the current GOP’s advocated foreign adventurism.

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          • “[I]t does not follow to my mind that providing health insurance is necessarily in the same category.”

            It does to me, but it rarely, if ever, enters into the debate.
            Health, wellness, and insurance are all notably different.

            If we can agree that emergency services are a positive right, we can work from there to see what constitutes an emergency.
            Flu shots?

            Simply from preservation to constancy is a long path, and there have been many subdivisions we just drove past without bothering to see who is home.
            If only we can wait until the ferry is at the dock before we pull up.

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      • Obama has given us less reason to send people to jail for voter fraud.
        He’s also given us more reason to send people to jail for mistaking “could have done it” for any proof whatsoever. Because in his administration, “you could have done this particular wrong” is plenty enough to send someone to jail.

        You aren’t serious about civil liberties until you’ve been banned from at least one First World country for speaking your mind.

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      • Jason Kuznicki: the left’s interest in things like civil liberties protections at the federal level, or like limits on presidential war powers, tends to wane when a Democrat is in the White House.

        I realize you use the word “left” here, but I don’t think there is evidence that big-D Democrats continue to care about civil liberties. They eliminated them from their otherwise verbose party platform. Bernie Sanders supports them, but (1) he’s not actually a Democrat, (2) he doesn’t seem to mention this important distinction between him and Hillary in the slightest, and (3) he’s not going to win.

        I don’t think this is a case of waning passion. I think they’ve genuinely thought about it and changed their minds. Across their leadership.

        Added: To put it another way, I don’t think if Trump wins the presidency that Democrats will suddenly rediscover their interest in civil liberties.

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        • I think it’s probably safe to say that most of the Democratic Party’s voters never cared about most of it — surveillance, what happens to the Guantanamo prisoners, extrajudicial killings of American citizens suspected of terrorist ties, etc. — even during the Bush administration. A particularly energized segment of the party’s center-left to left-wing became moderately to extremely concerned about them under the Bush administration and remained (mostly) moderately concerned about them under Obama, and that segment of the party was particularly vocal back in the last decade because they tended to have or read and comment at blogs, and they were particularly energetic in the early, more grass-roots organizing of the Obama campaign against Clinton in the ’08 primary.

          Sadly, the world in which they were visible bloggers is mostly gone, and in their place we have a massive number of click-desperate partisan sites like Mother Jones.

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          • If you get a chance to watch The Ghost Writer (I mean, if you can get past the Polanski thing), you should do so.

            The basic plot is what happens after it is found out that a British Prime Minister authorized the seizure of some suspected terrorists and handed them over to a CIA black site to be subject to “enhanced interrogation” and (I think one of the suspected terrorists died under questioning)… and how the world community is reacting with horror and calling for The Hague to Do Something About This War Crime.

            It’s a cute little time capsule.

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  3. For what its worth, I’ve read at least one analysis of Jimmy Carter’s presidency that boiled down to saying he didn’t do enough virtue signalling. I’m pretty sure Carter was a progressive/liberal. Just not as liberal as Ted Kennedy.

    Trump does not worry me. And watching him, I remain confident that he articulates values that do not come close to having the support of a majority of the country. This makes him a problem for the Republican Party, much like George Wallace was once a problem for the Democratic Party. In a sense, I see him as a sign of how that party is entering an important transitional phase.

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  4. How do we put the genie back in the bottle? The aspects of government that progressives don’t want Trump to run were strengthened and built upon by, say, Bush II. If we’re going to get Bush II’s, why not sometime get Obama’s (not that Obama is in all ways better….I get your point when you criticize his engagement with the warfare state)?

    Nondiscretionary government can also be bad, a set of bureaucratic rules run by bureaucrats who are implementing systems. That, too, seems something libertarians don’t like. Of course, libertarians might propose fewer bureaucracies and more subsidiarity, and they might be right to an extent (that’s why I consider myself libertarian friendly). Such might not be so doable.

    All that said–and you might not know it from what I just wrote–I really liked your post.

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  5. Well written and clever, Jason, but a bit cute.

    Presenting Conservatism as wanting to dismantle the state is so risibly nonsensical as to render the entire piece near defunct. Libertarians want to dismantle the state but they represent a junior portion of the conservative coalition, used primarily to sound ideologically coherent in these modern times when the majority of liberals (and the overwhelming majority of politically relevant liberals) are at peace with capitalism (and in the case of politically relevant liberals have flat out co-opted conservatives former positions). Conservatives have had ample opportunity in the recent past to change government how they wished to. The results; deficit financed tax breaks that redounded primarily to the benefit of the wealthy, expansion of government and military adventurism. I love me some libertarians but the tough love truth is that libertarians are not conservatism; they’re conservatism’s hat and pretty coat of varnish over the festering remains of 1980’s Reaganism.

    Trump, qua Trump, is mostly a non-factor in this. He has a snowballs chance in hell of winning the GOP nod and in the highly unlikely event he were to capture the nomination he’d have a snowballs chance in hell of winning against the coalition that’d be energized against him while the GOP would most likely concentrate on limiting his contagion down ticket rather than trying to actually help him win. Left out of your analysis, also, is the fact that for policy focused liberals Trumps quixotic and toxic self would likely result in the least worse case from a liberal point of view. Trump, at least, could out hope that he’d buck the GOP on many issues dear to liberals (safety nets, reproductive rights) where the other candidates would be either eager abettors or pliant rubber stamps. The institutional controls you speak of, which liberals by and large support, would mostly restrain Trump in the areas he talks the most smack in.

    You are certainly right on in pointing out that politicians and government need to be constrained; I don’t think most liberalism disagrees with you. I grant Obama has been creative in his use of executive power; then again with his opposition merrily swimming around in the deranged pool it’s hard not to see the temptation; especially when so much of said expansion has come from congress flat out abrogating their responsibilities to weigh in on the matter.

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  6. I think you are making the class liberal v. libertarian dividing point. Liberals believe that you can have a flexible welfare state that protects people from the worst excesses of capitalism* without having a strong police state. Libertarians seem to disagree.

    On signaling, you are partially correct. Trump is signaling to the white, working class but not that he is one of them. Trump is signaling that he is their version of how to act when you have boatloads of money. Fancy cars, ostentatious houses, women, etc. Jacob Wesiberg called this Trump is the only 69 year old white guy in America that gets to live like a rap star. There is obviously a divide between the white, working class and upper-middle class American liberals. Sometimes I wonder how much of this is because is because the WWC look at upper-middle class liberals and wonder “Why the fuck would you live like this with your money?”

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    • I believe in Market Forces, I just don’t always think market forces lead to good, moral, or ethical results. To this extent, market forces must be tempered by government action. The majority should not be forced to tighten belts because of the stupid decisions of the rich.

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      • I believe in Market Forces, I just don’t always think market forces lead to good, moral, or ethical results.

        Do you know anyone that thinks otherwise?

        Saying you believe in market forces doesn’t say a whole lot. If you asked me to recommend a form of exercise and I tell you that I’m a fan of high intensity interval training, how does that statement alone help you? You’ll need more detail from me to understand what it is you need to do (assuming that you do it).

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    • There is a tension between having a state that respects civil liberties and a welfare state though that operates as a sort of elephant in the room for liberals and leftists. The power for government to do good comes from the same place as the parts of government that liberals don’t like. Sweden has done a lot of stuff in the past that many liberals would find indefensible. During the hey day of eugenics, the Social Democrats got really enthusiastically behind it and sterilized a lot of their own citizens. This continued into the 1950s. The Swedish government has policies designed to discourage women from staying at home with their young children and get them back into the workforce because housewifery is seen as anti-feminist.

      There are many liberals who are fine with the welfare state and allowing people to make their own choices but there is a very common type of busy body progressive that sees the welfare state as an opportunity to force people to make the “correct” choices. The Swedish example about women in the workforce is one of them. Another one, which you personally bring up a lot is how many well-meaning progressives are aghast at the entertainment choices of a lot of people. The middle-class progressives of mid-20th century Britain hated television because it destroyed their romantic images of British working class life. They especially hated that most working class British people seemed to prefer the more consumer oriented ITV with its advertisements and popular programming to the high culture of the BBC. They hated how working class youths preferred American rock music to jazz.

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      • We may need to revisit that forced sterilization thing
        (wait, you mean we never took it off the books? quelle surprise!
        And it’s still enforced????)
        Unless we decide we like the alternatives…

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          • Is a boy any less of a rapist if he doesn’t understand what he does?
            It’s already a fucking horrific human rights disaster.
            Pull the trigger, kiddo, but decide which human rights you want to violate.

            Maybe murder’s the better solution? State supported?

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              • Eugenics laws we still have on the books that are still enforced have to do with the mentally retarded.
                A woman can be forced to abort a baby that she wishes to raise, simply because she is mentally retarded.

                Significant portions of the mentally retarded are all about getting sex, and lack the mental faculties to distinguish “consensual” from non-consensual. Others simply lack the empathy.

                One can sterilize someone, or one can “punish” them for something they didn’t even realize was wrong. Or one can continue to let rapes happen.

                Not a good situation, all the way round.

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                • (Side Note/Off Topic: The above comment was automatically “moderated” by the system, which seems to presume that “mentally retarded” is taboo speech – this has happened before. I wonder if the community agrees that the term should be banned. For me, personally, there are other terms frequently used by commenters that I’d put above this on the list…)

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                • First, I find it highly doubtful that women are being made to abort intellectually disabled children. That is an extraordinarily claim and requires extraordinary proof. With abortion being such a hot topic, you would have to be a very dumb pro-choice person to give anti-choice people such ammunition.

                  Second, I am well aware of the ethical issues regarding intellectually disabled people and sex. We now know that intellectually disabled people have normal sex drives but determining consent is difficult at best. So is not allowing themselves the right to have sex and forcing them into celibacy. It is a problem with no good solution.

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                  • Intellectually disabled women are being forced to abort babies, regardless of the baby’s presumed intelligence, or the woman’s willingness to raise a child.

                    It’s easy to work with the idea that intellectually disabled women cannot give consent (even if that’s not true). It’s FAR harder to deal with the idea that a considerable number of autistic males would/do commit rape, and perhaps while lacking the intellectual capacity to understand the wrongness of what they’re doing.

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  7. “Indeed, a whole genre of progressive writing seems devoted to proving that the author holds the refined sensibility needed to steer the state.”

    This reminded me of the convo I had with our tour director in China. Historically, the common folk, suffering oppression by the gov’t officials in the provinces, KNEW, just KNEW that if the emperor/party leaders, were aware of the issue, all would be fixed, because the central gov’t/emperor, was pure and without corruption. They they showed up, complained, and where thrown in jail.

    I couldn’t help thinking that that’s the same view of our “leaders”. Oh, they are all corrupt, but “our guy” is great. Sure….suckers.

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  8. Glad to see you posting here more often Jason. On the other hand this is not your best. Do liberals want our “clique” in power to do things we want done. Spot on, exactly correct. We have name for that. Democracy. Now if you want to criticize the Big D that is fine and i might agree with you. But the idea of electing people to enact policies you want is seen as a pretty big deal in the history of Western thought, the Sainted Founder’s seemed to like it and is foundational to both to the left and right in this country. As a criticism of the Left, somehow, it is really odd.

    Trump’s hair has been a thing for a long time, far before he was a prez candidate. He is certainly signaling he is rich enough to not care what people think. You think some conservities go out of there way to try to piss off libs…NOOOOOO….you must be kidding!!!!!!!!! Unpossible!!!

    But really, you think. Is that news is some way. In other news some people for X group have always tried to tweek people from groups they don’t like. In fact i remember watching a Halloween parade in the village, NY, years ago, where some rather extravagant people were dressing in a way i imagine they thought would tweak SoCon’s back home.

    Do conservatives dislike how some liberals present themselves. Um yeah. Do you want to start a thread about how some libertarians present themselves ( not you in general)? It would involve the words self-righteous, sanctimonious and sure of being right about everything. Come to think of it, those words describe how people of any belief can be irritating to other people. Hmmmmm. Maybe it’s more about how certain people behave and not their political beliefs. Hmmmm again.

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      • In real life my experience is they attempt to blend in others with the grudging acceptance of pants, limited stubble but with esoteric bumperstickers like good americans. When i saw Penn and Teller earlier this year they tended to shout “Reason Magazine” when Penn talked about being libertarian. Not the most rousing shout out, but they seemed happy so who am i to judge. Well who am i to judge openly and loudly, private judging is different. I’m not sure he wasn’t in a sly way playing them for suckers with some of the merch they sell though.

        On the Internet i assume pants are completely optional.

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  9. When did conservatives want to dismantle the machine, again? The scariest part of the current government, the surveillance/preventive detention/enhanced interrogation state, was built by people who called themselves that, and cheered on all the way by pundits who called themselves that.

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  10. I see this as an odd argument- if I understand the point correctly you seem to be saying that the powerful levers constructed by the New Deal/ Great Society state can now be turned to nefarious means, if the wrong person is at the levers.

    Great Scott! It isn’t the system that produces justice, its only the system with the correct people! Who knew we had such a flawed system, to be reliant upon the good will and character of those at the controls?

    The idea that putting the right people into positions of power is somehow a criticism seems odd to me- why else would the power of the vote be given to the people?

    If we could be assured that it was the system itself that produced justice, independently of the person at the controls, then there wouldn’t be any need for voting- anyone, just anyone could be placed into office and no harm would result.

    I sense there is this Cold War type of thinking under here, the notion that there is somewhere a universal perfect mix of law and regulation that can reliably produce justice and prosperity, without the messy business of politics. Sort of a “Come The Revolution” type of utopian thinking.

    Is it possible to imagine that a perfectly minimal state, doing exactly what libertarians say it should, could also produce dystopian oppression? Of course it could, if sufficient numbers of people wanted it to.

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    • Criminal justice is still within the state’s power in most libertarian schemes of government. Many of the abuses to civil liberties that libertarians and liberals decry like the War on Drugs or using laws designed to prevent the sexual exploitation of minors by adults to crackdown on sexting fall within the police powers of government. It is perfectly possible and there is a lot of historical examples of authoritarian states with capitalist economics with little or no regulation, minimal or no welfare, and a lot of social conservatism enforced by law.

      The United States was like this during most of it’s history. We had laws to prevent obscenity from being distributed and owned, laws to prevent inter-racial romance and sex, anti-LGBT laws, and Blue Laws to enforce Sabbath observation but little economic restrictions and less welfare. Since libertarian and minimalist schemes of government gives government power over criminal law, you just need to define breaches to social conservatism as a crime and you get a free market system with little welfare compatible with authoritarianism.

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      • Nit:
        Blue laws were not enacted specifically to promote Sabbath observation, but to prevent business competitors from gaining an advantage by remaining open where another opted to give employees at least one day off during the week.

        Also, I recently saw the original Blue Law that was signed into law in Illinois, as well as the original abortion statute from the late 1800’s.
        Part of the archive collection in the library basement of the university.

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        • Sabbatarianism was actually a driving force behind a lot of Blue Laws. I’m currently reading Island of Vice, which concerns Theodore Roosevelt’s stint as a police commissioner in New York City. One of the things that Roosevelt made a big deal out of was enforcing the laws against selling alcohol on Sunday. This law dated from the 1850s and was part of a larger mid-19th century attempt to enforce Protestant ideas about the Sabbath. Gotham: A History of New York till 1898 also reveals that there were furious debates on whether or not the Metropolitan Museum of Art, theaters, or even Central Park should be open on Sunday because of the Sabbath.

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          • Sabbatarianism was actually a driving force behind a lot of Blue Laws.

            I’m sure it was.
            But apparently labor, in its early days, was fond of the idea.
            Auto dealers in later days as well.
            I wonder how much of that was actually “pro-labor,” and how much was cover for other agendas.
            Mining and railroads tend to be the big labor issues hotspots of the early days in Illinois.

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            • Sunday closing and other Blue laws first started appearing in the mid-19th century like in the 1840s to 1860s. That’s long before Labor became an important feature or really any feature in American politics, which was sometime during the 1870s. It was even longer before they had legislative success or influence of any sort.

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  11. The best way to make sure the right people to stay in charge is for the right people to credibly raise the fear that the wrong people may be in charge. This fear wasn’t credible in 2000, but it is in 2016.

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  12. Honestly this piece seems most useful as an insight into how libertarians see the world: as a gross oversimplification.

    Nearly all liberal policies are specifically designed NOT to require some sort of benevolent dictator at the top of the heap. How could Donald Trump turn social security to nefarious ends (other than simply ending it)? Medicare? Medicaid? Food stamps? Unemployment? Obamacare? That’s over half of the federal budget right there. Hell, even cap-and-trade would require bureaucratic oversight, but it’s hard to imagine how it could be nefariously misused.

    Now, obviously, a Trump presidency would be a disaster because there are other things a President can do. They can misuse the military, they can cut taxes (always primarily for those who need it least) to create deficits that become excuses to dismantle the programs described above, etc. So this stuff is important. But there’s no simple sliding scale of “government power” that slides between Hobbes and Hitler, with the two parties pushing in different directions.

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    • Honestly this piece seems most useful as an insight into how libertarians see the world

      That’s probably true, or at least how some see it (at least one!), but I think “a gross oversimplification” is unfair. The difference clearly lies less in their view of the practical consequences of a strong government than in their views about the source of the misery liberals/progressives hope the government can, at least to some extent, alleviate. And you can see that here, at least by implication.

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      • But government isn’t really “strong” or “weak” in that way.

        To be concrete about it: libertarians are absolutely right that Obamacare is a new unprecedented (in this country) program that expands government. In a world where there’s a Hobbes/Hitler slider, it’d be a clear push in the Hitler direction.

        How does its existence make it more likely that President Trump will send the army into domestic cities to fight the war on drugs, deport all muslims, or otherwise do the “strong government” things that I would hate to see him do? He might ALSO dismantle Obamacare, but the two things are completely unrelated.

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          • Not sure how else to read him. For example:

            And so we end up back where we began: a big, flexible government, run by the clique we happen to favor. And they’d better win the damn election, or the wrong people might end up in charge, and that big, flexible government might really do some damage.

            Unless his only complaint is that Obama hasn’t passed laws that limit his discretion with the military (or, in a pinch, that Obama’s decision not to defend DOMA is the big-bad here) I honestly don’t see the point except at a so-abstract-as-to-be-meaningless degree of remove. As to the former, I’d note that Obama tried, and still wants, to close Guantanamo. He was just effectively blocked by the GOP. Obviously he’s plenty bad on other military force issues, and creeping presidential authority in that sphere is a big problem. I’m just not sure how that problem gets address (or which party has any interest in doing it).

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              • How does he support the concept that liberals want to build a powerful drone army then?

                It’s clearly true that liberals (especially me!) want to add powers to the federal government. But those aren’t the powers he’s concerned by, and with respect to the powers I want to add, my only fear of President Trump is that he’d take them away again.

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                  • Ok. We’re three layers deep in me saying “I’ve read his piece which is arguing this” and you saying “read his piece” without explaining anything at all.

                    Clearly not going anywhere.

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                    • I have no interest in speaking for Jason, nor does he need me to. I believe “read his piece (and comments)” contains my message: it doesn’t look like you have. He’s making a broad point, and you want to nail him to a narrow one. If you’ve read it and these comments represent what you have taken away from it, then you’re probably right, this is pointless.

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            • Not sure how else to read him.

              That is an odd comment when you consider what has been Trump’s biggest issue through almost all of his campaign: immigration. There is an awful lot of bad immigration policy that the executive could carry out without new legislation.

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              • Immigration is another good example of a reason not to elect Trump.

                Again: what liberal program is it that increased government to give Trump dictatorial immigration powers? Clinton’s law significantly reduced prosecutorial discretion in the area (and, of course, the party now would prefer to take immigration law in a completely different direction).

                If the post was “Presidents matter, so liberals should worry about President Trump” then fine. That’s true and you’ve raised a good example of why. But the post was about how liberal policies would empower President Trump (“What scares you about Trump is that he will get his hands on the levers of power — levers that you yourselves constructed”). Still haven’t seen an example of a single “lever of power” that liberals constructed for Trump to abuse.

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        • Then your objection is not to President Trump, but to GOP politicians – they cut taxes, that’s what they do. That’s *all* they do. They cannot be bargained with or reasoned with. They feel neither pity nor fear nor remorse. And they will never ever stop, until your taxes are cut.

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          • …agreed.

            “Hi, I’m nevermoor and I’m a Democratic voter (::Hi nevermoor.::)”

            Not sure what your objection has to do with the post, or with my objection to the post. Other than, I guess, to agree with me that even if OP is wrong, and liberal policies don’t run the risk of empowering President Trump, there are still good reasons to vote for Hillary.

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    • Perhaps it’s just me, but I see a distinction between Liberals & Progressives (or, at least, modern Progressives). Both are to the left, but modern Progressives tend to be a lot further left, and have a lot of positions that appear to rely heavily on the right people in charge (and perhaps that isn’t true, but I don’t see their policy proposals including language that addresses robust checks on the wielding of personal power; Liberals tend to be more cynical in that regard).

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      • I think it’s true that progressives (and liberals) tend to focus too much on individuals in power, but for the most part, I think progressives are interested, at least domestically, in structures that aren’t reliant on individuals to implement, like the health care reform system. The reason progressives/liberals focus too much on individuals in power, then, is because they want individuals who will create those structures. The reason progressives are unlikely to be swayed by Jason’s argument, then, is that their basic philosophy is to create structures that accomplish their goals regardless of who’s in power (thin the NHS in Britain, say).

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        • Which tells me we draw the line between Progressives & Liberals in different places.

          That larger point Jason was making, however, is still valid – If you policy solutions are long term dependant on having the right people in charge, then you are doing it wrong. If they require a specific mindset for successful execution, or if they can be too easily subverted, then you suffer a constant threat of losing power.

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          • In a democracy all policy solutions and most things in general are dependent on having the right people in charge. There is no fix and forget it government.

            I’ve been a liberal or progressive or leftie or something for my adult life. I don’t have clue what the diff is between a liberal and progressive. They seem like interchangeable words to me.

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            • Hanging out on liberal/progressive blogs, you do see some sort of personality differences between self-described liberals and self-described progressives even if they have many of the same goals. You really see this come out and play when social justice issues go up. When the California state legislature was moving towards affirmative consent as the standard for sexual misconduct on campus, liberals tended to think “affirmative consent is a great ethical standard but are horrible legal one” while self-described progressives tended to be for it in order to make it easier to deal with sexual assault on college campuses. Self-described liberals tend to be unenthusiastic about allowing colleges to handle serious criminal accusations for a variety of reasons.

              If I had to describe the difference between liberals and progressives is that liberals place a stronger premium on procedural correctness, due process, and the method of achieving goals than progressives. If you can’t get the result you want, in the above case of reducing sexual assault, without sacrificing some important liberty features like “innocent until proven guilty” or due process of the law than a liberal is more likely to say fish it and favor due process and civil liberties over the desired result. Progressives look at the goal and try to get what they want.

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              • Okay, if you see that. Seems a bit of “judean people’s front” kind of splitting to me. I don’t think the words have different meanings and if people are inferring beliefs based on them then they aren’t trying to think through the actual positions.

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                • Many of the shared goals are the same but I think there are differences. Liberals tend to go along with FDR’s line about a “necessitous man is not a free man.” They support things like universal healthcare, LGBT rights, and reproductive rights because they believe that it will create more freedom. Progressives support these things because they believe it will lead to a more just society and destroy the forces of reaction that they hate. Essentially, liberals believe they are acting out of a liberty interests and when social justice conflicts with liberty, they will choose liberty.

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                  • I must have been out that day those memos went out. As i remember in the 80’s into the 90’s liberal was a bad bad word so people started to use progressive so they weren’t labeled liberal. At some point people stopped caring. I think this is splitting hairs.

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            • There is a difference between “the Right People” = Competent to the task at hand & “the Right People” = Politically/Ideologically aligned with the goals of the task.

              E.G. The military works largely because the people in charge are, for the most part, very good at killing people and blowing things up. Who they go after is clearly a political decision, but once they are shown the target, it is wise to stand back and let them do their thing. Whenever politics has tried to tell the military how to kill people and blow things up, or otherwise tried to micromanage the process, it’s always resulted in a clusterfish.

              ETA: likewise when the military leadership gets too involved in politics, the results are unsavory.

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              • I’m all for letting agencies do their jobs with pols staying out as much as possible. But some choices are always going to be political. There is no way around that. People are political and politics is how we make a set of decisions.

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                • Take Lee’s example up above, Campus Sexual Assault. Politics should inform how much attention/resources are devoted to the issue, and inform the process to a degree (be more aware of how investigators view/treat reporting victims, etc), but should not try to take the investigation of such issues away from the body that should be doing it. Yet that is what is happening with the encouragement/requirement that campus officials seriously investigate and prosecute campus sexual assault on their own, even though they are not trained in such things, and are not members of law enforcement.

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                  • Another problem is that the body doing the investigation on campus is also the body doing the indicting and trying of cases. The entire thing seems to be like the Court of Star Chamber to liberals because it gets rid of important procedural safeguards in criminal justice.

                    Progressives do care a lot about police and prosecutorial abuses but for sex crimes some of them are more willing to through due process protections to the wind to eradicate them. Liberals are not fine with that.

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                  • I agree colleges aren’t well equiped to be investigating crimes. But like you said there is a political level where choices need to be made regarding how many resources are spent and where they are directed. Situations change, problems are found and choices will have to be made at the political level. Also those choices regard the tradeoffs that need to be made regarding this vs that. If i’m correct regarding what we are talking about, those are all things people/gov need to do. It isn’t a set the gov up and leave it alone thing. It is a constant attention and monitoring thing.

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                    • We are talking past each other, Greg. I never said government is fire & forget, I said that the functioning of government should include enough checks against power, and include enough robustness, that individual ideologues can not abuse or dismantle things.

                      Other good examples of the failure of this ideal are the No Fly List, and the NSA data collection – both programs lack the oversight needed to discourage abuse, and both involve enough power to be eagerly abused in a variety of ways. I’ve seen a lot of self-described Progressives be very critical of the No Fly List, right up until politicians started to seriously want to limit firearm purchasing for those on the list, then it was suddenly a great idea (and not in an ironic way).

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                      • Okay…i see where you are at. I agree in general.

                        I took the progressives bringing up the no fly list as more political gaming and pointing out hypocrisy then anything else. The no fly lists are poorly done and using them for gun controlling is just piling on the stupid. Needling repubs about there support for no fly lists until in gores their ox is not a good move for pols.

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                        • I took the progressives bringing up the no fly list as more political gaming and pointing out hypocrisy then anything else.

                          Every Liberal I know felt this way, without question. If the Progressives shared that feeling, they were not at all obvious about it, and had a bit too much enthusiasm for the idea.

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                      • the Right People” = Competent to the task at hand & “the Right People” = Politically/Ideologically aligned with the goals of the task.

                        Ironically, one of the reasons for the civil service was to fix this problem by insulating government employees from the winds of ideology.
                        And further, one of the main generators of government red tape is for the same reason, to provide a system of checks and balances on those in power.

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                        • Yep

                          Of course, like any such thing, it can get out of hand. Civil servants can acquire enough immunity from the political class as to be able to enact their own ideology (or indulge in bad behavior) regardless of the desires of their superiors, or the mission of their organization. Likewise Red Tape can mutate into a way to protect the organization from actually having to execute their mission, or worse, as a way to enable graft and bribery.

                          It’s a tricky thing to maintain the balance of.

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          • That’s why I think progressives are so enamored with the NHS. It is a government structure that has been largely immune to intervention once in place, in part because people have come to depend on it, but also because it’s pretty self-sufficient once in place.

            I tend to think of progressives as disgruntled center-left Democrats. They’re liberals who stopped calling themselves liberals in part because it became a dirty word, and in part because the Democratic party wasn’t particularly liberal anymore.

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                • Mid-20th century actually. A lot of progressives disillusioned with the Democratic Party compare it unfavorably to the Democratic Party that existed from the New Deal to Reagan’s landslide victory against Mondale. They seem to forget that the Democratic Party had a big conservative faction at this time and that liberal proposals either needed to be watered down, the original Social Security Act did not apply to jobs with heavy African-American representation, to get them through or were just opposed outright by the rightist faction of the policy like Truman’s universal healthcare proposal. There were still hangers on into the 1990s but their power eclipsed by than.

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                  • Oh, I knew what you meant. I was just making a point. See, e.g., welfare reform, which still has a lot of progressives mad at Hillary Clinton even though she didn’t hold an elected or appointed office at the time.

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          • I think there is probably a good debate to be had about whether there is an “elephant in the room” about whether liberals are wrong on their belief that you can have a strong welfare and regulatory state and also a state with good civil liberties.

            Unfortunately felt it was necessary to use the dreaded term “signal” and make typical and boring sneers about how American liberals are so dreadful with their love NPR, Design within Reach Furniture, Restaurants with Farm to Table philosophies, small liberal art colleges, etc.

            There are a lot of people in the Conservative and Libertarian establishments who have the same aesthetic tastes and preferences as upper-middle class liberals because they also belong to the upper-middle class. Yet these Conservatives and Libertarians feel the need to sneer at Liberals for being open about what they like. They also convince themselves that they are the real salt of the earth because the WWC supports them even though said upper-middle class Conservatives and Libertarians would also never shop at Wal-Mart or eat at Denny’s over a farm to table restaurant. Or drink Bud or Miller before they went to their local micro brew tap house.

            *I would love to place a moratorium on the word signaling because as I noted one billion times it is something that people always accuse others of. For the most part, SLAC grads are accused of signaling but a guy who wears camo all the time usually is not. Present company is an exception that proves the rule.

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        • So liberals are okay with deliberately killing old folks to make Medicare reimbursements go up? (We can all sing “fewer readmissions if they’re dead” right?)
          Because these are the rules they put in place. Without the right people at the helm, these Mistakes, assuming you’ll call them that, don’t get fixed.

          After GWB savaged the FBI and CIA, I remain skeptical about politicians’ ability to stay the fuck away from the civil servants. [Extra Crunchy Bonus: our industrial (counter-)espionage capacity skyrocketed!]

          *obligatory disclaimer: Please treat this as a hypothetical. This is in no way happening in a hospital near me. Dunno about you.

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        • If progressives/liberals aren’t interested in relying on individuals and more interested in relying on structures, why was each Democratic candidate on the debate stage last week so concerned about what they called the overprescription of pain medicine? Why weren’t they content to trust the expertise of doctors in the system, but rather, felt it was their duty to impose their own will on this so called crisis?

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        • I think progressives are interested, at least domestically, in structures that aren’t reliant on individuals to implement, like the health care reform system.

          Just about every structure requires individuals to make sure they get implemented. Regulations don’t enforce themselves so there have to be people to do that. To your point about the health care system, individuals are implementing that reform, it’s just that the overwhelming majority of them work in the private sector.

          The reason progressives are unlikely to be swayed by Jason’s argument, then, is that their basic philosophy is to create structures that accomplish their goals regardless of who’s in power (thin the NHS in Britain, say).

          Fair enough, but what happens when the philosophical rubber hits the real world road? You get a cozy relationship between big business and the government. You get high-level people at the Securities and Exchange Commission getting jobs on Wall Street after they leave the public sectors. You get Senators leaving office and lobbying on behalf of corporate interests.

          I also question that basic philosophy when it applies to situations where a structure’s ability to achieve its stated goals is very dependent on how the private sector reacts to those changes. It’s one thing to push for a $15/hr national minimum wage on some basis of fairness or some measure of justice. However, making the case that businesses will react in a way most favorable to the workers expected to benefit from it is a whole other ballgame.

          What good is a philosophy if you can’t think three steps ahead and have at least some idea of the consequences? Maybe it’s just me but this is why I find people that inject ideology into these kinds of discussion about as useless as useless can be (it doesn’t matter what persuasion either).

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          • I tend to agree with this. When people forget that the basic instinct for a corporation is to seek comptetitive advantage at all times, well, real honest humans die. Not hyperbole, either.

            I don’t mind a fifteen dollar minimum wage where folks are swinging it (major and minor cities), but it probably shouldn’t be for the country at large.

            I’d far rather we put in place metrics and cost of living adjustments, rather than swinging for something large and … maybe not beneficial.

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          • I agree with your first point. I meant individuals in power, not individuals within bureaucracies. The idea, in part, is to make the structures so integral in people’s lives/business/whatever that it’s difficult to get rid of them, and when people in power try, they get a lot of heat for it. Conservatives implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) understand this, which is part of why they’ve been so eager to get rid of “Obamacare” before it becomes entrenched and trying to get rid of it exacts a real political cost.

            That said, the rest of your comment is largely an expression of disagreement with the progressive philosophy, which is cool, I disagree with it in many ways as well, though for different reasons. I think, for example, that progressives do try to anticipate the consequences of their policies, they just often disagree about what those consequences will be, or which consequences to place the most weight on, or how far in the future we should look. These are all questions that raise both empirical and value questions, and sometimes I think “don’t inject ideology into it” is meant to remove the value component in a way that’s simply not possible.

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    • “Nearly all liberal policies are specifically designed NOT to require some sort of benevolent dictator at the top of the heap. ” Agreed.

      But what they DO rely on is a gov’t that is smarter than the market place, that can effectively intercede in markets and generate no negative externalizations, or that those externalizations can be foretold, and legislated away. And, fundamentally, that gov’t disruption into markets is preferable to any other type of action.

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      • Damon,
        How much do you know of gametheory and loopholes?
        One can create an iterative game out of designing a game that can’t be beat.

        Or one can simply kill old people… Do you really think we can get ten people on this board to say no to Obamacare simply because EVUL Corporations are killing people for additional Medicare Money? Particularly when the technocrats are already adjusting the rules?

        *discl: Please do not believe me about this. It’s not supposed to be widespread public knowledge. Just take it as a hypothetical and don’t make me explain the bloody obvious gametheory.

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        • ” Do you really think we can get ten people on this board to say no to Obamacare simply because EVUL Corporations are killing people for additional Medicare Money? ”

          Nope. But the gov’t doing it? Yes.

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      • But what they DO rely on is a gov’t that is smarter than the market place, that can effectively intercede in markets and generate no negative externalizations, or that those externalizations can be foretold, and legislated away. And, fundamentally, that gov’t disruption into markets is preferable to any other type of action.

        I largely agree with the bold part, though I would modify it to “preferable to inaction.” That’s a quibble.

        I disagree with the first part. Again using Obamacare as an example, it certainly generated negative externalities, and was certainly complicated enough that it was sure to (and did!) generate unforeseen problems. That said, I supported it because it was FAR preferable to inaction and because I believed that it (like, say, social security) would be refined in the ensuing years to become a great piece of the American social contract. So far that process is happening (though with work yet to do).

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        • it certainly generated negative externalities

          And what are those specifically?

          it was FAR preferable to inaction

          The prior healthcare model was unsustainable and would have placed such a strain on Medicare that the old model would have been just as “big government” as anything coming after.

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          • Should have written “externalizations” because I understood him to mean “doesn’t harm anyone.” HCR harms some people (including those who would rather not have insurance and their near-cousins who prefer cheap/crappy insurance, and (hopefully still) those with really good insurance who should be paying a cadillac tax.)

            Yes, that’s true. The prior model sucked, this one is better (and not just better, but good!). Ergo I supported it.

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      • But what they DO rely on is a gov’t that is smarter than the market place, that can effectively intercede in markets and generate no negative externalizations, or that those externalizations can be foretold, and legislated away. And, fundamentally, that gov’t disruption into markets is preferable to any other type of action.

        I understand the value/significance of markets, but I also think bringing them up as The Thing To Consider or The Litmus Test To Pass is somewhat arbitrary. One could just as easily frame market-oriented solutions as having to pass an equivalent “But is it really better than any policy we could ever craft?” litmus test, and it would be just as irrelevant. It’s like saying “Your meal sounds tasty, but is it really better than a chicken salad?” implying that chicken salad is obviously the meal all other meals must compare to.

        The last sentence is the one libertarian framing of liberalism on that I have lost all patience for. It’s like pro-lifers concluding that pro-choicers must wish to maximize the number of abortions, given that they are such strong opponents of people who want to minimize them.

        Literally no liberals believe “gov’t disruption into markets is preferable to any other type of action”. Certainly some leftists, the outright Marxist ones, want to get rid of capitalism altogether (which means no market for government to disrupt!). But the politically-significant liberals, the social democrats and their kin, simply understand government as a tool.

        Even if the actual truth is that more government in fact means more Nanny Cthulu, it doesn’t follow that progressives desire a Nanny Cthulu; they’re just naively unaware of the consequences, as nicely described in the original post here. If liberals actually wanted bigger government for its own sake, they would think that subsidizing Exxon (for example) is an awesome idea because hey, at least it’s a way to screw with the market!

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        • “Literally no liberals believe “gov’t disruption into markets is preferable to any other type of action”” Really? That’s ALL the response from statists (left and right) is.

          Problem identified
          Solution is “gov’t must do something”.
          A new law or regulation is passed.

          How is that not the sum of human political active over the last 100 years? I cannot recall any statist saying, “problem? Hell, let’s reduce gov’t regulation/repeal a law to solve it!” Perhaps excluding taxes.

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          • You’re not getting what I’m saying. Suppose I grant that the “statist” solution is never to reduce government. (This seems bogus unless “statist” is defined circularly. Non-libertarians on the left and right have plenty of laws they’d like to see repealed and government branches they’d like to see reduced.) It still doesn’t follow that the default “statist” solution is “increase government”. That’s way too damn vague!

            Absolutely nobody believes in increasing government for its own sake, and this is the most tiresome thing libertarians keep pretending is true. There might be impersonal forces that naturally expand government. (For example, perhaps when you have one party that says More Government in X, Less Government In Y and another with the opposite positions, the long-term result is always More Government in X and Y.) But it’s not a tenet of any real ideology that all government growth is good.

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            • “Non-libertarians on the left and right have plenty of laws they’d like to see repealed and government branches they’d like to see reduced.) ”

              I cannot recall any Democrat in Congress arguing, much less passing legislation, for less gov’t spending, for reducing any number of bureaucracies or hell, even military spending. I could also say that for most of the Republicans.

              “Absolutely nobody believes in increasing government for its own sake.” I’m not arguing that. I’m saying that the “default response” is “we must do something” and that something 99/100 is to pass a law, change a regulation, etc., ie get gov’t involved in “fixing” the problem.

              But you did nail it on the head when you said “when you have one party that says More Government in X, Less Government In Y and another with the opposite positions, the long-term result is always More Government in X and Y.” That has lead to the current problems and is as good an example that I can come up with.

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              • I cannot recall any Democrat in Congress arguing, much less passing legislation, for less gov’t spending, for reducing any number of bureaucracies or hell, even military spending. I could also say that for most of the Republicans.

                You know, I’ll concede this point as well. In fact I think I have a better idea of why libertarians so often vote Republican. If you want drug legalization, freer immigration, less of a security/military state, less spending, gun rights, and deregulation, do you support the side whose base talks a good game about the first three but whose politicians seem incapable, or the side whose base at least makes some headway with the last two?

                (Well, maybe immigration is a quasi-exception. But you’re probably just as likely to see libertarian-positive approach under a Republican as under a Democrat, or at least you were until the present Age of Trump, and now it’s anyone’s guess what a President Jeb Bush or President Marco Rubio would do.)

                I still believe “X wants More Government” is a flawed and non-useful framing. But I’m seeing some of its merits here and there. I’m reminded of the merits of the pro-choice contention that the pro-life movement is motivated less by their stated view that embryos are people, and more by a desire that sex have consequences — as indicated by their attitudes about contraception (usually against it) and scientific research to prevent miscarriage (which isn’t a thing on anyone’s radar as far as I know). Perhaps unfair, and certainly not accurate with regard to the explicit content of anyone’s beliefs, but still food for thought.

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    • How could Donald Trump turn social security to nefarious ends (other than simply ending it)? Medicare? Medicaid? Food stamps? Unemployment? Obamacare? That’s over half of the federal budget right there. Hell, even cap-and-trade would require bureaucratic oversight, but it’s hard to imagine how it could be nefariously misused.

      I understand where Jason is going and I think a good example of his second point above is the SEC and DOJ. If those agencies reflected the will of a not-so-small number of people that thought that the Wall Street CEOs deserved to be thrown in jail, I think there could have been a risk of misuse of power.

      If only the people at the SEC weren’t so cozy with Wall Street, right?

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      • If the CEOs weren’t (mostly, nearly all of them) trying so hard to prevent the world economy from going to guns and cigarettes, I might have some sympathy for this.

        As it is… it was ballsy to blackmail the entire world’s financial system. If the system went tits up, it wouldn’t have been the SEC going after the bastards with the golden parachute. Mercenaries, hitmen, assassins, you know the like. No one’s really going to let someone get away with burning the world to the ground, sets a bad precedent.

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      • Here’s where I land:

        Jason is right that the government has powers that I’d rather be in the hands of someone I trust than someone I don’t. Those are largely police/military powers. He and I also agree (at least to some extent, I don’t know exactly where he stands) that those powers could use some curtailment.

        Jason is wrong to connect that in any way to my desire for the government to have more specific powers to help those in need (and, directly or by extension, all of us). Because the government having (or not having) the powers in this category has no bearing upon the abuses we are both concerned about with respect to use of force.

        Which is why I said his point is oversimplified.

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      • If those agencies reflected the will of a not-so-small number of people that thought that the Wall Street CEOs deserved to be thrown in jail, I think there could have been a risk of misuse of power.

        It would have been great. Use civil forfeiture to take away their ill-gotten gains so they can’t afford fancy lawyers, threaten them with several lifetimes in prison as if they’d done something truly reprehensible like downloading documents you have free access to, and push them hard to roll over on their confederates. It’s amazing how much we’d have learned about the dishonest and unethical crap that goes on in the name of high finance.

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  13. There’s little about the damage progressives fear wrongthink-people will do with big government (that progressives don’t alone create) that would be smaller if they capitulated on their attempts to grow government’s ability to do what they want it to do. Especially since the most pressing part of that damage consists of an expansion of government that wrongthingk-people will seek when in power absolutely irrespective of any other size-of-government concessions the left makes elsewhere: the restriction of abortion rights. That’s the main thing that the left sees as the tradeoff of any high-risk political/governing strategy. There are other things too – the proclivity of federal political appointees to vigorously pursue environmental protection, federal discrimination and civil-rights investigations, etc. But none of that is mitigated by capitulating on what the left would like the government to do in terms of providing material assistance to those in need. There’s not just one size-of-government lever; there is one individually for most of the individual functions, and the parties move them in different directions when they get into power.

    If the left capitulated on its attempts to grow government in the areas in which it wants it to do more, they would still face roughly the same consequences from wrongthink-people taking over the government that they would if they stayed in that fight. Conservatives would still try to restrict abortion rights. There would be people less inclined to investigate various bad actors (in government and out) for civil rights violations at the DOJ, and for environmental harm at the EPA. (These have ambiguous size-of-government net effects taken together.) From the perspective of the left, they would still face even more aggressive national security actions from wrongthink government, whether war or government intrusion, however unsatisfactory their own leaders have been on that score. (Other observers would dispute they should feel this way, but many do.) And I would say that the left would still face constriction of the actions it does want the government’s ability to take to grow, i.e. helping provide people with a baseline of material security in the form of income support, health care, etc., except we’re positing that it had given up this fight in hopes of getting something back in the previously mentioned areas.

    But they wouldn’t have gotten any of that back; they’d have simply fished themselves for no reason at all. So yeah, the left wants to keep its people in power, and there are consequences when they fail. But it’s the nature of democracy that they will fail from time to time, and I think most are prepared for that. But they’re not going to buy into any false illusion that capitulating on certain of their priorities for government will mitigate the effects of the inevitable. Government isn’t limited in size generally in that way; various coalitions have the ability to grow where they want to grow, restrict where they want to restrict. Whether the left would/should accept an ironclad limited-government pact with wrong think factions out of a hope of limiting the damage they can do is a fairly uninteresting theoretical question we could ask. But it’s not of interest to real people on the left working to negotiate the world that actually exists and experiencing the consequences of failing to do so in the best way that can practically be done, because no such offer can be remotely credibly made. The many axles of government action turn independently; agreeing to the tightening of one to slow its roll doesn’t do anything to tighten various others. And promises of voluntary reciprocal tightening are just promises.

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  14. Had a conversation once with someone who was very concerned that those awful Republicans would get into office and make abortion illegal. I suggested that maybe the government shouldn’t have the authority to ban abortion and then it wouldn’t matter who got into office. He got offended because, he explained, the government needs to be able to ban things, otherwise people would hurt themselves. He just hoped that the government wouldn’t ban abortion.

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  15. By the way, the argument about his hair reminds me of this from Orwell:

    The goose-step, for instance, is one of the most horrible sights in the world, far more terrifying than a dive-bomber. It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face. Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is ‘Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me’, like the bully who makes faces at his victim.

    The violence is wildly overstated for Trump, of course, but there’s a similar idea.

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  16. This post should be right in my wheelhouse, but a few things give me pause. Yes, the primary impulse of progressive government is often about getting the right people in control. Generally, though, as soon as those people get control, they immediately start constructing a bureaucratic machine that effectively takes control out of their hands. Depending how you feel about bureaucracy, that is either a feature or a bug. Either way, I don’t get these sense that most progressives want to actively wield the levers of power to the extent that folks like Trump want to. And that is exactly the thing that Trump likes to hammer the left on, or anyone he can characterize as being ineffectual.

    You have to go pretty far to the left to find anyone who has a similar vision of government as the one that Trump is enunciating. I mean Hugo Chavez far to the left and, at that point in the continuum, right and left start to break down and you are mainly talking about authoritarianism with left or right characteristics.

    Trump just does not fit very well into the standard right-left political breakdown, that is why he simultaneously has seen great success in the polls but is unlikely to be a threat in either the primary or the general election. The things that make twenty percent of the population love you are the same things that make the other eight percent hate you. In that regard, there are already checks on someone like trump. And as others have pointed out, even if Trump became president he would have a very difficult time steering the ship of state in his desired direction. The controls are simply too diffuse and too complicated for one man the exercise that level of control.

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    • The point is not whether they want to. They point is that they’ve installed the levers at all. And sure, they’re only for those just-once-in-a-great-while-we-swear-really times when they need them, like when Republicans just will not come to the bargaining table and see reason. But the levers are there.

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      • But the levers are there.

        That is just it. They aren’t there. The government does not run on levers. To the extent that there are levers, those levers are attached to Rube Goldberg-like machines of questionable efficacy.

        Put another way, the most salient critique of progressive government is not that it accumulates and centralizes power for anyone to come along and seize. Rather it’s that progressive government diffuses and devolves power to an eternally growing list of committees and agencies and ad hoc proviso stipulations pursuant to the aforementioned clauses. That sort of thing is great when you have a high level of trust in the engineering skills of the designers and the conscientiousness of your fellow citizens, but not so great when you’re trying to get access to the blacked out portions of a FISA warrant or get the hot water working in your housing project apartment.

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        • Of course the government runs on levers. It runs on blackmail and bribery, favors and debts. Jason, naturally, hasn’t done a damn thing to make any of that go away, other than the simple principle that “maybe if the government can do less, it’ll be less of an issue.”

          Which would be fine, if the government wasn’t the most competent zombie organization out there. As it is, the government does charity better than most charities.

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    • “I mean Hugo Chavez far to the left and, at that point in the continuum, right and left start to break down and you are mainly talking about authoritarianism with left or right characteristics.”

      If taken in terms of the political compass far right or left has less to do with authority than the measure of collective-individualism. Authoritarian-libertarianism is the y-axis. So in effect one could be moderate in the collective-individual spectrum but be highly authoritarian.

      If Cleek’s Law has weight, the opposite of a leftish collective authoritarian bureaucracy headed by executive enabled leader would be rightish individual anarchy.

      Trump while being a face full of sand to the left, is no individual anarchist. The GOP will faction and fail repeatedly. The left hasn’t seen crazy (hair) yet.

      (Interesting topic Jason!)

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  17. Yes, progressives have never considered the possibility that there would be an imperfect American president until this post revealed it to us. This election is the first time in history that a non-progressive may actually get his hands on the levers of power and boy are we terrified. Jason is an obviously smart guy and this reads like a post that he himself could easily have rebutted with a few additional minutes of thought. But if we’re taking up residence in strawman-ville, I’ve got some future post ideas:

    * Progressives are all about equal outcomes while conservatives are all about equal opportunities.
    * Progressives are all about giving people hand-outs while conservatives are all about people empowering themselves.
    * Progressives view the world through an ethno-centric lens, while conservatives are color-blind.
    * Progressives say they’re for fairness but then why are they putting their thumb on the scale in college admissions (read: affirmative action)?
    * Progressives say they want corporate behavior taxed and regulated, but do they realize that when people don’t pay taxes they can go to jail and/or die (read: Eric Garner) – that’s like saying they want corporate behavior to be punishable by death!
    * Progressives believe government can rid the world of evil, while conservatives know that evil is just a part of life.
    * Various riffs on the quote “the problem with socialism is you eventually run out of other people’s money”.
    * Progressive’s say they are for racial justice, but did you know the Democrat party used to support the Klan?

    This is just to get you started, I’ll work on some more.

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  18. Friends, Progressives, Liberals, lend me your ears;
    I come to bury States Rights, not to praise them.
    The evil that States do lives after them;
    The good is oft interred with their bones;
    So let it be with States.

    I recognize that “States Rights” here is excessively antagonistic, but Intermediate Institutions just didn’t fit; I did it for art.

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  19. Losing elections is scary. We can:

    a) attempt to rig the system so nothing bad happens when we lose; or

    b) focus on winning elections.

    Attempting to distract us with a) is a clever bit of concern trolling, but I suspect most liberals will just keep focusing on b).

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  20. “Make it harder to govern in a discretionary manner.”

    Actually, from what I’ve read, US regulations tend to be far more rule-based than those of other countries, and create far more private rights of action against the government for its non-compliance. And here in California there are significant tools available to the public to obtain judicial review of agency actions.

    The inherent problem is that this is a big modern complex country with a big modern complex economy. The appropriate role of government in all sorts of areas from taxation to the environment are hotly disputed, so legislation ends up being ambiguous and regulatory agencies then need to write rules by which their regulators will apply the laws to the facts.

    The quest for simplicity is a fool’s errand.

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  21. While this is somewhat late to discussion, I have to point out some slight magical thinking here of

    The article seems to think that, somehow, electing libertarians is ‘one-way’. That we couldn’t have elected libertarians for a decade at this point, and *still* be faced with someone like Trump.

    I…do not understand how this is supposed to follow.

    It might make sense if we could somehow change the mind of the entire American political and judicial system in their interpretation of how the Constitution works, and then we ‘couldn’t’ elect tyrants…but that’s not quite the same thing as merely electing libertarians, and considering we, in recent memory, had everyone ignore *torture* and illegal wiretapping and well, everything, uh, the idea that we’re actually somehow *bound* by those idea of how the Constitution and laws work is almost laughable. Yeah, we *wish* that’s how it worked, but it doesn’t.

    Or maybe the theory is that, in a libertarian world, we could elect tyrants, but they couldn’t *do* anything from lack of funds. This, too, is almost laughable. I’ve pointed out before that fascism does not actually need a lot of funding, and the funding it *does* need is the funding that literally is the least likely to dry up: The funding for the military and/or the funding for the local police.

    Meanwhile, the specific things that are scary that Trump seems to want to do are not because of anything liberal did, and in fact are stuff *all* governments have to do, like laws about immigration and rules of war. Now, it’s possible to argue that too much of that power has been left to the executive…but a) that almost certainly isn’t liberal’s fault, and b) that means we need *more* laws, or at least more specific laws, not less.

    Seriously, let’s imagine that, in 2008, we elected whoever a Libertarian, and then in 2010 and 2012, we doubled down and they ended up with enough Libertarian Congressentities to actually make the Federal government more libertarian-ish. Not a libertarian utopia, but a significant shift in that direction.

    And then we get ISIS and whatnot, and we get Trump leaping in talking about how we should be fighting ISIS and droning terrorists (And this time he has more of a point because we’re truly *not* doing that, unlike now, where all the Republicans keep suggesting we should start doing exactly what we’re already doing!) and we should keep all Muslims out and whatnot.

    What, *exactly*, is going to stop him from getting elected and what is going to stop him from implementing all that when he does? No government funding? He’s a *Republican*, he’ll just borrow it. Less of a military? That’s what *military contractors* are for.

    Is the idea that the other libertarians in this hypothetical government would stop him? Well…uh…so would, *liberals*, if they could.

    This post seems to think you can design a government that can work with the wrong people in charge, and libertarians would do that! Neither of those idea seem correct!

    You can *sorta* can set up the first one…which you do by setting up, under the law, slow moving bureaucracies that are hard to change, with civil service laws and unions meaning the government can’t just replace all the employees. So it doesn’t matter who is in charge, those entities keep chugging along, doing the same thing, following the law, regardless of political pressure.(1) (Which can be a problem if their mission needs to change, but that’s a whole different discussion.)

    It seems unlikely that libertarians would do that, and that only works for sufficiently low values of ‘wrong’ and/or ‘people’ anyway. And it doesn’t work for things that can be done in the dark, like the CIA torturing people. And, more importantly, it doesn’t work for things that enough of the American people approve of…like if they get caught up in open Islamophobia. Because the bureaucracies will just *openly* have the rules changed on them.

    1) The whole ‘IRS targeting right wing groups’, at least, the *actual story of events*, is an interesting read there. But anyone who brings that up on the assumption it actually happened will be roundly ignored by me, because it is not my job to constantly debunk things. Meanwhile, the fact *everyone was so outraged* is actually sorta evidence the system of bureaucracy generally works and everyone understand how it’s supposed to work.

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