Edmund Burke and the Trump Problem

The conventional wisdom has had it that another terrorist attack along the lines of San Bernardino would put Donald Trump in a strong position to capture the White House. But in the aftermath of the Orlando attack, Trump’s poll numbers continued the slide that began with his attack on a federal judge. Polls(Poll numbers from Real Clear Politics are available at this link).


The collapse of Trump’s heretofore gravity defying poll numbers has sparked an outbreak of panic among the Republican hierarchy—and not a moment too soon. The list of Republicans walking away from Trump heads north as the polls head south. The growing list now includes Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Michigan Rep. Fred Upton. Former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has announced he will be voting for Hillary Clinton. And John Kasich has yet to weigh in.


And it isn’t just Trump’s poll numbers that are collapsing—the Party’s poll numbers nationwide are hitting new lows. The good news for Republicans is that their collapsing poll numbers may be just the thing they need to get their act together and deny Trump the Republican nomination. As Samuel Johnson famously said, “When a man knows he is to be hanged, it concentrates his mind wonderfully”. And make no mistake; if Trump is the Republican Presidential candidate in November, he will lead the party to a spectacular loss both up and down the ballot.


With that in mind delegates to the Republican convention should consider Edmund Burke’s speech to the Electors of Bristol, delivered on the 3rd of November in 1774. Burke argued that Parliament “…is a deliberative assembly of one nation with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole”. And he said “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion”.


There is already a move underfoot to change the rules at the convention to “unbind” the delegates so as to allow them to vote their individual consciences. The delegates claiming to be conservative now have a chance to prove it by heeding Edmund Burke. They should vote to change the convention rules so that it serves its proper function as a deliberative body, and then select a principled Presidential nominee who will fight for limited government and individual liberty.


Enter the Libertarians

The Libertarian Party held its convention over the Memorial Day weekend and nominated credible candidates for the Presidential elections. For President they chose Gary Johnson, a 2-term Republican governor of New Mexico who served in that post from 1995 to 2003. For Vice President they selected Bill Weld, also a 2-term Republican governor, who was first elected in Massachusetts in 1990 with 51% of the vote and was subsequently re-elected in 1994 with 71% of the vote. Both are fiscal conservatives who slashed taxes and spending during their years in office. And both are staunch defenders of abortion rights.


To the extent that there is a unifying principle that defines the Libertarian Party, it is the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP), which in essence says that your freedom ends at the tip of my nose. Accordingly the use of force (except in self-defense) or fraud is anathema to libertarians. Otherwise libertarians are content to let the market function as it will without the huge regulatory infrastructure it is now saddled with. And libertarians are perfectly happy to spend money for self-defense, but they are loath to intervene in foreign affairs unless the U.S. is attacked.


A major point of contention among libertarians has to do with abortion rights. The party platform explicitly supports what it refers to as the right to life in that it supports “…the prohibition of the initiation of physical force against others….” The party also rejects state imposition of the death penalty. The platform says that it “[recognizes] that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can have good-faith views on all sides…” but that the matter should remain one of individual conscience.


In part because the negatives associated with the major party candidates are so high, and because the Libertarian nominees (Johnson and Weld) are serious people with actual political experience, the Libertarian Party is getting a look from people who would normally ignore them. The latest Bloomberg Poll has Clinton at 49%, Trump at 37% and Johnson at 9%.


So it is worth keeping an eye on the Johnson / Weld ticket if only because it may present a reasonable alternative to Trump and Clinton. And it would be an altogether wholesome development to have smart and committed libertarians on the debate stage with the major party candidates if only to let some of the hot air out of the Clinton and Trump balloons. But for the Libertarians to truly succeed they need more than a respectable showing come November. They need to build a solid political foundation so the Party can promote the libertarian idea, win elections up and down the ballot, and implement policies designed to promote liberty.

That’s a tall order in a 2-party system. But given the electoral disaster in the making, it’s certainly worth watching the Libertarians to see if they are ready for prime time.



Quick Hits…Republican Officeholders Supporting Trump

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said that Donald Trump’s comments about a federal judge constituted “the textbook definition of a racist comment” – but then Ryan went on to say that he would back Trump anyway.


Meanwhile Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pointed out that, “…it’s pretty obvious that he [Trump] doesn’t know much about the issues”. Later McConnell went on to say that he wouldn’t rule out rescinding his endorsement of Trump.


Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois has done just that.


Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has urged his fellow Republican senators to rescind their endorsements. Referencing Trump’s attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, Graham said “If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it.” He went on to add “There’ll come a time when love of country will trump hatred of Hillary Clinton”.


Referring to Trump’s comments Mitt Romney accused him of fueling “trickle down racism and trickle down misogyny”. In the meantime GOP donors are in revolt and the latest estimates are that Trump will only be able to raise about $300 million—far short of the $1 billion or so Romney was able to raise in 2012.


So the rational voter is entitled to ask the following of Republican officeholders: What exactly would Trump have to do to finally persuade Republican officeholders to abandon their support of his candidacy?

Hillary Clinton Gets One Right… Well Sort of

On June 2, 2016 Hillary Clinton made a speech in San Diego that was billed as a major foreign policy address. But it wasn’t really a foreign policy address so much as an attack on Donald Trump. The attack is richly deserved. The pity is that Trump’s fellow Republicans failed to make the case when they had the chance. Their timidity is the proximate cause of Trump’s capture of the Republican presidential nomination, and the awful possibility (however unlikely) that he could actually win the White House.


The most damning words Secretary Clinton spoke were not her own. They were Donald Trump’s. All she had to do was quote him. Consider: Trump has essentially invited Saudi Arabia, Korea and Japan to acquire nuclear weapons thus tossing 50 years of bi-partisan (and multi-national) nuclear non-proliferation policy right out the window. He threatens to abandon NATO; he said he would order the military to torture suspected terrorists and kill their relatives, and he said he would remain neutral with respect to Israel’s security.


If Trump didn’t exactly praise China for its massacre of its citizens at Tiananmen Square he didn’t find much fault with it either. And he seems to admire North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin for their “leadership abilities”. Trump, who says he knows more about the military situation in the Middle East than the U.S. military does because he “has a good brain”, has suggested that “maybe Syria should be a free zone for ISIS”, and has refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against ISIS which would, at the very least, lead to massive civilian casualties.


So Secretary Clinton has successfully made the easy-to-make case that Donald Trump is (1) an ignoramus (2) whose mental stability is suspect and (3) who should not be trusted with America’s nuclear codes, the threshold question for any presidential candidate.


But Secretary Clinton has not made anything close to a convincing case for why she should be taken seriously as a strategic thinker when it comes to foreign policy. Let’s not forget that when President Obama took office with Clinton as his Secretary of State we had two wars going on, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Now we have three—the first two plus Libya. And the ongoing disaster in Libya is the direct result of Secretary Clinton’s successfully making the case for intervention under the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine that was so fashionable at the time. And then there was pushing the “Reset” button with Russia, which in retrospect does not seem to have turned out all that well.


Obama’s drawing and abandoning “red lines” in Syria has left U.S. credibility in tatters, and that has not gone unnoticed by friends or foes. As the U.S. continues its global retreat, China ratchets up its claims in the strategically important South China Sea. Kim Jong Un tests nukes and ballistic missiles at an unprecedented pace. And let’s not forget that in 2009 the Obama Administration, including Secretary of State Clinton, accommodated Putin by pulling anti-missile defense systems out of Poland and the Czech Republic. But in the wake of its Iran deal, the Obama Administration has placed an anti-missile defense system in Romania, with plans for more in Poland no less, to protect against—Iran.


It is glaringly obvious that the world is considerably more dangerous now than it was 8 years ago. The West is increasingly vulnerable to terrorism. America’s credibility has been badly damaged. Important strategic relationships around the globe are strained. When it comes right down to it, the foreign policy record of the Obama Administration—and Hillary Clinton—is abysmal. The best she can say is that she is not Donald Trump.


And that is probably enough.


Donald Trump: Legal Philosopher

Senator Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, appears to be trying to make the best of a bad situation. The Washington Post reports that he says he is supporting Trump because “…[He] doesn’t want four more years just like the last eight”. In another interview published by The Hill, he says that Trump will not fundamentally change the Republican Party. He says that the Republican Party “…is America’s right-of-center party. If he brings in new followers, that’s great, and well worth the effort, but he will not change the Republican Party”. He says that it is much more likely that the Republican Party will change Trump than vice versa.

We shall see about that.

Meanwhile in an interview with NPR McConnell says that people voting for Trump should take comfort in his list of “right-of-center, well qualified” potential nominees to the Supreme Court, although in a separate interview McConnell that he would like “to see a more thoughtful Trump”.

Well it would be hard to get a less thoughtful Trump, but it’s still wishful thinking. Consider that not too long after he released his list of potential Supreme Court nominees—a bad idea all by itself—Trump went on to attack a sitting judge. And Trump was not using the judge to make some abstract point about judicial philosophy. He launched a personal attack against a judge who is currently presiding over a case in which Trump is a defendant.

Among Trump’s more subtle complaints is that the Judge, appointed by President Obama, is hostile and biased, and has treated Trump unfairly because the judge is “a Trump hater”. Trump’s evidence of bias: The judge has ruled against him. And to cap it off, Trump attacked the judge over his ethnicity. Said Trump (sic) “The judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great, I think that’s fine,” Trump said according to the LA Times. “You know what? I think the Mexicans are going to end up loving Donald Trump when I give all these jobs, OK?”

By the way, the judge, who is of Mexican extraction, was born in Indiana.

Trump supporters like to think that their guy “Tells it like it is”. Leaving that absurdity aside, they should ponder this: If any one else personally, publicly and repeatedly attacked a sitting judge before whom they had a case, they would likely find themselves held in contempt, which is where Trump deserves to be held by all.


Hillary’s Tangled Web

Is there anyone this side of sanity who truly, seriously believes a word that escapes from Hillary Clinton’s lips? Of course not. And that is a very big problem. The reason is that Mrs. Clinton’s lies have a special character that reach well beyond the usual “all politicians lie” sort of thing. Those politicians essentially try to hoodwink the public about what they are going to do.

Mrs. Clinton’s lies go well beyond that, which is not to deny that she too routinely makes promises that she has no intention of keeping. Mrs. Clinton lies about what she has already done and invites the public to pretend to believe her. That is what is so special about Mrs. Clinton’s lies. Their principal purpose is not really to deceive so much as it is designed to invite the public in on the game by making the lies acceptable. In so doing she further degrades both popular culture and political discourse from the already parlous state they are in.

A case in point is the ongoing e-mail saga. Virtually everything Mrs. Clinton has said about what she did (and why) is demonstrably untrue. For example she still insists on calling the FBI investigation a “security review” despite the fact that the FBI doesn’t do “security reviews”. They do criminal investigations.

When the e-mail story first broke she insisted that she never sent nor received classified information. When turned out to be untrue, the story quickly morphed into the idea that she didn’t send or receive emails that were “marked classified at the time”. When that was exposed as being untrue, she argued that the documents were needlessly “over classified”. When it turned out that some of the documents were correctly classified at the highest level, she then insisted that she didn’t intend to send or receive classified material.

All the while she insisted that she would cooperate with the investigation. As recently as May 9, 2016 on “Face the Nation” Clinton referenced the e-mail situation when she said “…I made it clear I’m more than ready to talk to anybody anytime. And I have encouraged all of my assistants to be very forthcoming and I hope this is close to being wrapped up”.

Well, not so fast. As it turns out, Mrs. Clinton refused to speak to investigators from the State Department’s Investigator General. For that matter so did at least 3 of her top aides, namely Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan and Huma Abedin. In effect they asserted their 5th amendment rights.

As the video below shows, in an interview, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer pressed Clinton Spokesman Brian Fallon on Clinton’s refusal to testify saying that “it really looks as if she has something to hide.” Which of course she does. And everyone knows it. Everyone. But no one who is anyone in Democratic politics will say a word about it, other than to say that it’s all a partisan witch hunt, despite the fact that President Obama appointed the Inspector General.

And so we have a conspiracy of silence from Progressives and Party officials who hope to make this a non-issue by throwing ink in the water with claims of bias and partisanship, all designed to allow people to fool themselves into believing, or excuse themselves for pretending to believe, the pack of lies that is the Clinton campaign

On Not Casting a Vote for President

Soon we will be hearing the quadrennial chorus solemnly informing us that it is a citizen’s sacred obligation to vote. This mythical obligation is often cast in terms of the soldiers who died to protect our right to vote. Except they didn’t. They died protecting our freedom, which is not the same thing by a long shot.

And so I for one am having none of it. I have no intention of casting a ballot in the Presidential election. At least if the major candidates are named Trump and Clinton and there is no sensible alternative.

On January 20, 2017 the winner of the Presidential contest will raise his (or her) right hand and take the Oath of Office as mandated by Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution. It reads in full, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”.

That Constitution includes Article 2 Section 3, which says that, the “[The President] shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed….” That language should give room for pause because it is readily apparent to roughly everybody that neither Mr. Trump nor Mrs. Clinton has the slightest intention of honoring the oath or of seeing to it that the laws are faithfully executed. Instead should either Trump or Clinton ascend to the White House, the winning contestant intends to ignore, avoid, and sometimes subvert, laws—and the rule of law—in service of political expediency.

Make no mistake; neither candidate has shown even a hint of restraint when it comes to the exercise of power. Nor has either candidate displayed the slightest concern for the protection of natural rights that are at the heart of the Constitutional order. (For that matter neither candidate has displayed a willingness to abide by Constitutional norms). Instead each candidate has demonstrated a willingness, if not eagerness, to trample on citizen’s rights for the purpose of self-aggrandizement.

How do we know this? The candidates themselves have all but said so. Consider just a small but telling sample of the record.

First we have Donald trump. He has specifically promised to deport approximately 11 million or so people in the U.S. that are here illegally by means of a specially created “Deportation Force”. And he would accomplish this in a mere 18 months to 2 years by “good management”. Mind you this is going to be accomplished by a government that takes 3 hours to get a few hundred people onto an airplane.


So let’s cut to the chase: forcibly deporting 11 million people in 2 years (all of whom are entitled to a hearing) would require hiring massive numbers of deportation police, prosecutors, judges and defense attorneys, not to mention kicking in doors and executing mass arrests without probable cause. Leaving aside the utter impossibility not to mention absurdity of all this, the 4th amendment would lie in tatters. And so would the rest of the Bill of Rights including the right to counsel, the prohibition against self-incrimination, the right of free-association and assorted privacy rights not expressly enumerated. In short, implementing Trump’s scheme would necessitate that the U.S. become a police state, perhaps modeled on the work of Vladimir Putin, a man for whom Trump has expressed  admiration.

Not to be outdone, there is Mrs. Clinton. That is the same Mrs. Clinton who used to bemoan “litmus tests” in the selection of nominees to the Supreme Court. But now Mrs. Clinton freely admits that she has come up with a litmus test of her own. That litmus test has to do with the Citizens United decision. In that case, Citizen’s United sought an injunction against the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) to prevent the application of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Act. Specifically, the FEC rule in question prevented corporations or labor unions from funding “electioneering communications” from their general treasuries. In striking down the FEC rule, a 5-4 majority of the Court held that the First Amendment does not permit the limiting of corporate funding of independent political broadcasts. The majority went on to say that political speech is indispensable in a democracy notwithstanding the fact that the funding of such speech comes from a corporation.

Mrs. Clinton disagrees or professes to disagree although she routinely hoovers up huge amounts of corporate cash. And she acknowledges that she now supports a litmus test for the purpose of overturning Citizens United. Having said that, Mrs. Clinton as usual, incorrectly frames the issues at stake, miscasting it as a contest between “a person’s right to vote and a billionaire’s right to buy an election”. There is no small irony in this since Mrs. Clinton has been in the access and policy selling business for years, now on an industrial scale through the Clinton Foundation, which is currently under investigation by the FBI. Not only that, but as Mrs. Clinton well knows, there is no right to buy any election, and never has been.

Mere corruption is not the issue however. It is Clinton’s willingness to trample on speech rights that is at the heart of the issue. It should also be noted that subsequent to the Citizen’s United case in September of 2014 Senator Charles Schumer (D, NY) proposed, an amendment to the First Amendment, which was co-sponsored by every single one of the Senate’s 48 Democratic Senators. The amendment was designed to grant legislatures the power to restrict political speech through rules regarding “contributions and expenditures intended to effect elections”.

Note that the Schumer amendment specifically identifies the target as political speech, which should leave no doubt that the purpose of the amendment is to erect a protective barrier to political competition by making it difficult for issue advocates to challenge incumbents on their policy choices. Note too that the Citizen’s United decision left in place the ban on corporate contributions to candidates. It held that citizens do not lose their speech rights when they band together through corporations (including non-profit ones like the Sierra Club) to advocate for policy positions. Thus the Clinton claim that the decision allows corporations to “buy” elections is thus exposed as yet another falsehood.


To sum up: neither Trump nor Clinton intends to honor the oath of office. We know this because they have told us so in their own words, over and over again. And so when January 20, 2017 rolls around the first official act of the probable next President will be to knowingly, willingly and deliberately lie under oath on TV for the entire world to see. And the people who voted for either Trump or Clinton will have acted as enablers.

I will not be one of them.




Is Hillary Clinton the Adult in the Room?

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump seem to have achieved the impossible: together they have made Mrs. Clinton appear to be responsible–at least in relative terms. That is no mean feat. After all, she has been an unabashed opportunist in her policy pronouncements, including those involving national security.   For example, Robert Gates writes that “Hillary told the president that her opposition to the [2007] surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary…”. Moreover, she is an inveterate liar. The rapidly dwindling minority of people in the world who still resist that description should read Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker on the subject in which she references a new You Tube video. Then watch the video (below).

So it must be said that Hillary Clinton is drenched in sleaze and has almost certainly engaged in criminal behavior (for instance with her e-mail set up while at the State Department). But when it comes to policy idiocy, both Trump and Sanders leave Clinton in the dust. Consider a few examples (and there are many, many more). Both Trump and Sanders are outspoken opponents of NAFTA and free trade generally, which have not only been instrumental in raising billions of people around the world out of dire poverty, but they have also raised American living standards to boot. Both Trump and Sanders promise to maintain Social Security in its current form even though it is insolvent. For instance, the most conservative estimates of the present value of unfunded Social Security liabilities are in the neighborhood of $10 trillion under current law. That is on top of the $19 trillion or so in outstanding publicly held debt we already owe.

For his part, Senator Sanders has actually proposed additional massive increases in spending (on the order of $18 trillion) and taxes (the number is hotly disputed), despite the ongoing build-up of the existing debt. To almost nobody’s surprise the Senator’s numbers don’t add up, as the NY Times has reported. See for instance, “Uncovering the Bad Math…” published by the Times on February 26 of this year. Sanders demonstrates his utter cluelessness by asserting that he will pay for all this by taxing “the rich” (who already pay the lion’s share of taxes) and by taxing Wall Street “speculation”.

Naturally enough this attempt would result in massive capital flight from the U.S. worthy of Venezuela where Sanders style economic policies have created shortages of food and medicine.

Not to be outdone, Donald Trump, who has plenty of experience in bankruptcy courts, has suggested asking our current creditors to accept “ a little less…”. Incredibly enough, among other things he said, “I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal”. It apparently has not occurred to Donald Trump that creditors do not take kindly to debtors hinting at default. Nor does it seem to have occurred to him that “crashing” the world’s biggest economy is not exactly like one his many trips to the bankruptcy courts. It would be a global catastrophe.

And so by default, so to speak, Hillary Clinton looks vaguely responsible, which is a sad commentary on the current state of affairs. And as yet we have hardly even touched on foreign policy.


Dump Trump

Winston Churchill once observed that the best argument against democracy is a 5-minute conversation with the man on the street. That conversation is no longer metaphorical. Now it is there for all to see in the person of Donald Trump.

Mr. Trump is not merely an oaf, although he is surely that. And it is perhaps overstating the obvious, at least to the apparently shrinking community of the sane, that Trump lacks even a basic understanding of Constitutional checks and balances, and that he is utterly clueless in both domestic and foreign policy. And then there is the temperament of the speaker to consider.

All of which leads to an inescapable conclusion. The nuclear codes of the United States should not be turned over to a man with the temperament of a 15-year old schoolboy. Especially someone who aspires to be Commander-in-Chief but doesn’t know what the nuclear triad is.

Perhaps what is, or ought to be, most disturbing to libertarians and libertarian leaning conservatives is the immense structural damage Trump has wrought. That damage grows daily. There now exists the possibility, if not probability, that Trump will remake the Republican Party into an empty vessel as devoid of principle as he is. As a result, the party of Lincoln will no longer be in a position to credibly promote limiting government power and expanding individual freedom.

Consider what Trump has already proposed. For example, he would weaken the first amendment by making it easier for politicians to sue news organizations. And his declared intention of tilting of policy against Muslims certainly runs astray of the free exercise clause. His whole-hearted support of Kelo v. City of London (2005) eviscerates the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause, which proscribes the taking of private property for public use without just compensation. Note that in the Kelo decision the Supreme Court justified the state’s transfer of private property from one private owner to another for the purpose of economic development. Trump, the real estate operator, thinks this is just fine. No surprise there.

Trump makes little attempt to mask his authoritarian tendencies, as when he implicitly encourages his supporters’ use of violence against political opponents. Even worse, he has explicitly promoted the use of torture in pursuit of enemies, and he has advocated “going after” the families of terrorists. How is that for due process? And not to put too fine a point on it, deporting 12 million illegal residents would require turning America into a police state.

Trump’s willingness to attack the natural rights of individuals even though they are clearly protected by the Constitution is not an accident. We are not talking about a latter day Edmund Burke here. The trash-talking Trump does not understand that manners are small morals, and that demeaning opponents is antithetical to the government’s main task of securing unalienable rights endowed on men by the Creator.

Trump, who complains that the system is rigged, brags about having bought off politicians to do his bidding for years. Trump, who routinely accuses the media of lying about him, also said according to George Will that “it doesn’t matter doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass”. Not to mention implying that Ted Cruz’s father had something to do with the Kennedy assassination. Or that Trump’s appreciation for nuance and subtlety is about on par with that of Brittany Spears.

As of this writing Trump appears to have locked up the support of what we euphemistically call low-information voters. We can only hope that chunk of the electorate is relatively small or that it loses interest by Election Day. Regardless of the election outcome, there is a flashing warning signal that libertarians should take note of here.


The warning signal is this: Donald Trump is not the cause of our political woes—he is an effect of a seriously degraded civic culture. The basic institutions that protect freedom (property rights, rule of law, the nuclear family, free speech and civility to name a few) have been under unrelenting attack for years by the left. The weakening of these and related institutions has paved the way for an authoritarian ignoramus like Trump. It is not sufficient to merely stop Trump. There will always be more like him waiting in the wings. The civic culture has to be rebuilt. Libertarians and conservatives should be able to make common cause here. Before it’s too late.


Joe Benning