Earlier this week, GOP Congressman Devin Nunes poured new gasoline on the Trump Wiretap saga when he told the press that Donald Trump and his associates were subjected to “incidental” surveillance by the US government during the transition period.
Back during the presidential campaign, Donald Trump was fond of suggesting that cuts in “waste, fraud, and abuse” in the federal government would be sufficient to balance the budget.
After the election of Donald Trump, the American people have been subjected to several different theories to account for the outcome. These theories have been offered by leading political figures and major media outlets. And each time one theory fails to prove sufficiently persuasive, it is either ratcheted up further or replaced–usually by a claim that is more sensational.
To date, the most prominent theories offered to explain the election have been the following, each proceeding in quick succession after the other:
- FBI Director James Comey deliberately threw the election to Donald Trump by announcing new investigations into the Clinton email server were occurring a week prior to the election.
- (Preemptive) debunking here.
- So-called “Fake News” sites, which were either run or duped by Russia, dutifully reprinted and shared false news that cast Clinton in a bad light.
- And finally, Russian President Vladimir Putin directed the Russian government to hack the DNC and John Podesta’s Gmail account and shared embarrassing emails with WikiLeaks in order to help Trump win.
As shown in the links above, there is good reason to be skeptical of each of these claims. True or not, however, I would argue they are also irrelevant. In fact, there is a much simpler explanation for why the Democrats lost the presidential election–namely, they nominated Hillary Clinton.
Now, I have nothing personal against the good Secretary–at least no more than I do against any comparably dangerous warmonger. But she was a very weak candidate for the general election. She brought all the scandal of Bill Clinton with a fraction of the charisma. She also had an active FBI investigation ongoing, which regardless of whether one thinks that was legitimate or not, remained a substantial political liability. This was never going to be a strong political combination.
Of course, it is true as her supporters often noted, that she was qualified–if by qualified we mean that she held many high governmental offices previously. Unfortunately, that doesn’t count for much in US politics. Al Gore had considerably more experience and qualifications than George W. Bush in 2000, and he still lost. The same would be true of John McCain who lost to a first-term senator, Barack Obama, in 2008.
Importantly, it should not be a surprise that Hillary Clinton turned out to be a weak candidate. Polling data throughout the primary season consistently indicated this. Clinton’s main opponent, Bernie Sanders, consistently performed better in hypothetical match-ups against Republicans than Clinton did. Notably, Sanders performed best against Donald Trump. Additionally, Sanders’ favorability ratings grew as the campaign proceeded and more people learned about him while Clinton’s favorability decayed as the public gained more exposure. Over at The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald compiled a helpful summary of this data from February 2016 here, laying out a prescient case that Clinton had an electability problem. I’ve included a few key updated charts through the end of the election below:
From these charts, a few observations emerge. Sanders’ lead against Trump was generally and more consistent than Clinton’s–thus, he was comfortably ahead for all of 2016 as the primaries finished. And unlike Clinton, his favorability ratings grew over time and then held constant.
From these simple observations, it also seems reasonable to conclude that Sanders would have almost certainly won the election if he received the Democratic nomination. Clinton supporters might suggest that Sanders fared better in polls only because he wasn’t victimized by the allegedly Russian-sponsored leaks and Comey’s conduct regarding the private server email investigation. But that’s sort of the point. It should not have been altogether surprising that there was additional fallout from the Clinton Foundation and the private server. The degree of the damage could not have been known, but the risk was certainly there at the beginning of the primary. Democrats nominated her anyway, and lost because of it.
Critically, this suggests the election result was not about policy. Republicans may want to believe the election was a repudiation of Obama’s legacy, but at least in the presidential race, the evidence doesn’t support that. If voters were reacting against Obama’s decisions and policies, why would they be poised to overwhelmingly support a candidate in Sanders who wanted to double-down and expand on those very same policies? Clearly, they would not.
It’s also good news for Democrats and center-left elites in the media that have spent the last two months grasping for an explanation of Trump’s victory. It seems they were afraid that voters really were rejecting Obama’s legacy. So as an alternative, they promoted external factors as the cause instead–eventually settling on Russian hacking as a preferable alternative to believing that US public opinion had shifted dramatically right. In the process, these same officials and pundits have been willing to significantly escalate tensions between the US and Russia, as a political coping mechanism.
In fact, there was no need for this hysteria. The reality being avoided is not worth avoiding. Democrats did not lose because Americans suddenly rejected the Democratic policy agenda; Democrats lost because they nominated a bad candidate.
Once more people understand this, maybe we can all take a step back from the political ledge and start focusing on what matters. Donald Trump becomes president this week. The chance that he might ease tensions with Russia is one of the only things we have to look forward to.
The US election is finally over. And if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, some of the worst outcomes appear to have been averted. I don’t mean Hillary Clinton; I mean everything else. So first, let’s be grateful for some of the awful things that did not happen:
- The election results are not being contested by either candidate. Clinton hasn’t given an official concession speech yet, but according to Donald Trump, she did call him personally to concede.
- On a related note, there probably won’t be a recount. The margin of victory was large enough that the losing candidate couldn’t seriously push for a recount and extend uncertainty through the weeks to come.
- Neither Russia nor the Democratic Party were blamed for rigging the results
- Bonus: We didn’t further escalate tensions with Russia to distract from an unsuccessful campaign
- No major terrorist attacks, despite ISIS’s calls for violence
- The winning candidate didn’t rub salt in the wound with the acceptance speech. Instead of inciting further division, Trump’s acceptance speech focused on unity in the same way a conventional candidate would.
Seen in the context of some even worse scenarios, last night’s election outcome isn’t quite so bad. (Personally, I had my own bar for success set at “Just don’t nuke Russia”, so we passed with flying colors in my book.)
Now, the most important question is what comes next. For libertarians, that means emphasizing common ground with progressives.
An Olive Branch to Progressives
Progressives and libertarians are going to be natural allies against the Trump Administration. The basis for this alliance is intuitive. Principled libertarians have been opposed to the expansion of executive power all along, and Democrats and progressives are now acutely aware of the risks posed by an all-powerful President, even if they weren’t concerned previously.
Many people are about to find religion when it comes to the US Constitution, and libertarians should welcome them into the fold.
The scope of potential collaboration is extensive, but these three areas should be the top priority.
Stopping Intervention in Syria
In the general election, Donald Trump advocated a slightly less terrible approach to Syria than Hillary Clinton. Where she advocated a no-fly zone that would require bombing Syrian government troops (and the Russians that are embedded with them) and would likely lead to regime change, Trump usually* favored collaborating with Russia to defeat the terrorists and rebels. Thus, the choice voters had on Syria was, essentially, whether to intervene against the various terrorist groups (and the few remaining moderates in their midst), or intervene against the Syrian government (and de facto, on the side of said terrorist groups).
It was a depressing set of choices, to be sure. But with Donald Trump’s election, there’s an opening to push for complete nonintervention in Syria. Some folks on the left had acquiesced to Clinton’s version of Syria intervention on the grounds that they would actually be saving civilians from the Russian and Syrian bombardment. That premise was always dubious (and refuted by Clinton herself, privately). Now, it’s also irrelevant. Trump is far more likely to continue push a collaboration with Russia against the terrorist groups. And since Syria’s and Russia’s prosecution of the war is viewed understandably as brutal and inappropriate, it follows that progressives will not support it. Indeed, newly skeptical of Trump’s recklessness as commander-in-chief, progressives are likely to be much more open to opposing intervention altogether, as many did at the end of Bush’s term. This is also the correct position for libertarians.
There is no need to settle for the less awful intervention in Syria; Trump’s election creates an opening to halt the Syria intervention entirely.
*Trump occasionally paid lip-service to a no-fly zone during the campaign. But when his running mate tried to offer a Syria policy that included attacking Assad, Trump rejected it. Thus, his nominal support for a no-fly zone appears to be rooted in ignorance about what it actually entails.
The Drug War
Donald Trump made immigration a central theme of his campaign. And in making his critique of immigration, he would often emphasize drugs as one of the maladies of America’s porous southern border. This, combined with Trump’s common refrain of “law and order” are ominous signs for the Drug War under President Trump.
On the plus side, this is an issue where the Tenth Amendment has been used to great effect. This election alone, four more states voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use, bringing the total to eight states. This means eight states have restored their citizens’ rights to use marijuana, even though it is still illegal at the federal level; in essence, the states are openly defying federal rules and challenging the Feds to actually enforce them. Fortunately, the federal government has dedicated insufficient resources to do so and harassment of marijuana sellers in these legalized states has been limited.
Libertarians and progressives can continue working together to push legalization in even more states. This expands freedom directly in these states, and it is also likely to alleviate much of the drug flow across the border. After all, if it were legal to grow and produce in the US, there would be no incentive to try to smuggle marijuana across the US border, with all the risk that entails. In turn, this could reduce the perceived harm caused by illegal immigration and encourage Trump to pursue less draconian measures to address it.
Additionally, pushing marijuana legalization has the ancillary benefit of further normalizing the use of the Tenth Amendment to effectively fight an unconstitutional federal law. Since Trump is likely to pursue many more such laws, this may prove to be an invaluable tactic.
Immigration and Deportation
Deporting all or most illegal immigrants is a signature campaign issue for Trump. He has dithered on exactly who is on his list for deportations, but it is likely to be an increase over the present.
Whatever level of deportations Trump ultimately decides to push for, libertarians should be opposing the policy at each step. And this is another issue where the Tenth Amendment strategy is likely to be essential.
Here, it’s unlikely that there will be a legislative solution on a federal level that blocks widespread deportations. That would require some form of compromise and a Republican Party that controls both the legislative and executive branches probably won’t be terribly interested in making deals.
State-level legislation probably cannot directly challenge the legality of any deportation plan. But it can make the policy nearly impossible to carry out by prohibiting state-level law enforcement from assisting the federal government with deportations. The reason is that the federal government’s own resources are woefully inadequate for the task. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, for example, has around 20,000 employees total, who would be potentially be charged with rounding up and processing 11 million people in the most extreme case. That can’t really be done, which is why states can sabotage a deportation policy by simply refusing to help. In the process, they would be following in the honorable tradition of northern US states that refused to comply to the Fugitive Slave Acts in the 1800s prior to the abolition of slavery.
The outcome of the US election is not ideal. If you’ve been following the election cycle at all, you knew that was a foregone conclusion, regardless of who won on Tuesday.
Today, many progressives are understandably horrified by the prospect of President Trump, and libertarians will be their natural allies in the effort to finally rein in executive power. As a result, Trump’s election is not a tragedy; it’s an opportunity.
I’m pleased to announce that the Face Palm is undergoing a bit of a transition. The site’s name notwithstanding, we’ll be shifting our focus to publish more stand-alone articles that can be shared with other outlets and fewer article recommendations.
We’re also going to try our hand at satire and potentially make that the focus of our site going forward, if it goes well. For this purpose, we have a new writer, Christian Britschgi, who will be joining our team. Christian currently writes for Reason and brings a sincere journalistic voice that is perfect for discussing the absurdities of our present politics.
Going forward, we plan to publish articles Monday and Wednesday with satirical pieces coming out each Friday.
There are a few reasons for the switch.
Personally, it’s become a bit unsustainable to write full-length every day, as it was taking materially all of my free time outside of my day job. And try as I might to shorten them, it turns out that brevity is one of my weaker suits.
Just as important on the practical front, there’s always a fear of preaching to the choir. It is a wonderful fact that there are a great number of bloggers who write from a libertarian perspective, but I suspect most are primarily read by people that already agree.
This is useful in itself, but it’s not our purpose. Our purpose has been to reach out to people with other viewpoints as well as people that may be apathetic about politics entirely. It’s our hope that the new approach will allow us to do so more effectively.
The FBI’s controversial about-face on the Clinton email scandal shines a bright light on one of the most interesting features of the present election: the destruction of objectivity. Or rather, the destruction of perceived objectivity.
Background on Objectivity
When it comes to politics and government, objectivity doesn’t really exist. This isn’t the fault of corrupt politicians; it’s just the nature of the business. Indeed, the Founding Fathers even took this notion for granted. That’s why they endeavored to design a system of government where ambition was made to check ambition. They understood that government would not always and everywhere be populated by saintly individuals acting dutifully in the public interest.
But while our government is predicated on this idea–that government actors will not always be impartial and objective–we do not always remember it. Many Americans are inclined to believe that US governing institutions really are objective.
This is one way to understand, for example, why a larger segment of the population isn’t outraged by the lack of accountability for police brutality. What ought to be a straightforward question of justice and the rule of law falls along strange tribal lines. On one side, what we might call the Blue Lives Matter side, we have people that are essentially saying, “Trust the process”. These people buy into the idea of government objectivity in this area, and generally believe both that a) cops would not kill someone unless they had a good reason and b) the justice system is generally fair and would hold cops accountable if they deserved it. On the other side of the issue, we find people who no longer buy into the objectivity myth, either because a) they have a personal experience that disproved it or else b) they have just encountered too many stories of senseless injustice being perpetrated to still think the system is working fairly.
While actual progress on the police brutality has been slow in coming, libertarians and progressives are certainly making strides in the realm of public opinion. Of course, issues don’t figure prominently in this election cycle. But among the few issues that do get discussed, police brutality is near the top of the list. The reason this is even on the table is because the myth of objectivity has been substantially dismantled, and it now cries out for a solution.
Back to the Election
What horrifying YouTube videos did for police brutality, the 2016 election is doing for many other aspects of the US government and politics generally. Let’s run down the list:
When FBI Director James Comey announced the findings of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private emails, the response was predictable. Republicans were outraged that such an alleged miscarriage of justice was done, and some even called attention to a questionable meeting Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, shortly before the decision, to cast further doubt on its legitimacy. The Republicans were openly suggesting that the FBI made a deal with the Democrats. Meanwhile, the Democrats were delighted to find their standard-bearer free and clear of any investigations, and hailed the FBI for its professionalism. Of course, they would. Even if they truly believed that, it was also in their partisan interest to do so.
Fast forward to Friday, and the narrative is completely reversed. This time, Comey wrote a letter to Congress to alert them that the Clinton email probe had been reopened in a way, as a result of additional emails being identified as part of an unrelated investigation.
Now it was the Democrats turn to accuse Comey of being a partisan hack.
So wait, the FBI Director’s decisions are only impartial when they agree with you? I don’t think that’s how impartiality works…
The reason this matters is that the FBI isn’t usually called into question quite like this. Depending on your perspective, it marks either a new low or a new high.
Too Big to Jail?
The FBI’s political leanings weren’t the only aspect of significance in the Clinton email case. One of the central questions in the scandal was whether politically powerful people will be held to the same rules and laws as everyone else. Comey’s memorable answer, was a resounding, if reluctant, no. Readers may recall these illuminating lines:
Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.
Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.
He could have scarcely said it any more plainly. Yes, there’s evidence that laws may have been broken, but it doesn’t matter anyway, because no reasonable prosecutor would bring the case. Translation: Hillary Clinton is too powerful for the laws to be applied to her.
This is not without precedent either of course. Not prosecuting the politically-connected is a time-honored American tradition. It’s why Ford pardoned Nixon; it’s why Bush officials didn’t get prosecuted for the torture program, and it’s why Director of National Intelligence James Clapper suffered no repercussions for lying to Congress about the activities of the NSA. That said, it’s still rare that the episode garners this much attention.
The usually obscure Federal Reserve hasn’t escaped accusations of partisanship or corruption this time around either. Though his own preferences on monetary policy are unclear, Donald Trump has made this a recurring talking point, once suggesting the Fed is being “more political than Secretary Clinton”.
Even the elections themselves are being cast in a suspicious light in this election cycle, to a degree not seen in recent memory. Donald Trump’s narrative here focuses on media bias or alleged voting fraud schemes to distort the election outcome. Meanwhile, Clinton’s narrative is that Trump is a pawn of the Russian government, and thus she has alleged the Russian hacking apparatus has been trying to throw the election in his favor. The Obama Administration has also come out to offer a degree of legitimacy to the Clinton narrative by making direct, if oddly tentative, accusations of hacking.
Indeed, we face the very real possibility that, in one week’s time, the official election results will be contested. And either candidate might be willing to try this strategy based on the rhetoric we’ve heard to date.
Consequences for Liberty
What all of this means is that the 2016 election has offered a systematic assault on faith in government and the idea that the government is an objective, impartial actor.
For lovers of liberty, this circumstance represents an incredible opportunity. We already know that the proper attitude towards government is one of deep skepticism. Come November 9th, nearly half of the American electorate is going to agree.
In this election cycle, it’s been difficult to escape fawning pieces over President Obama and his legacy. They range from this lovely gusher from David Brooks from earlier this year, lauding President Obama’s character and leadership, to lamentations that Obama won’t be seeking a third term.
Continue reading Don’t Forget President Obama’s Scandals
Voting in the presidential election is irrational, but voting for the lesser of two evils is the most irrational.
At least until the election is over, major news outlets seem more like PR firms than, well, news outlets. Continue reading Why Don’t People Trust the Media?
Donald Trump achieved the unthinkable at the first presidential debate. He was boring. Continue reading Presidential Race to the Bottom Takes Center Stage