The Coming of Trump

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Donald Trump is president of the United States.

Few foresaw the Donald’s electoral triumph. Mavens from Nate Silver to veteran Republican strategist Mike Murphy to little old me (actually, I’m over six feet tall) were certain Clinton would win. With the exception of Allan Lichtman, no major American political scientist predicted a Trump victory. (I should mention that Doug Casey, whose name is on the masthead here, also predicted that Trump would win.) Even Trump and his people seemed, on election eve, prepared to face the agony of defeat.

How did most prognosticators get it so wrong? We simply didn’t foresee that Trump would break through to win the Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. That was the difference in the election; almost everything else went pretty much as expected. Trump did win Florida, which Obama had carried twice. This was something of a surprise, particularly since many of us believed that Hispanic voters (15% of the Florida electorate) would go overwhelmingly for Clinton. Yet Trump actually did better among Hispanics than Romney in 2012. He won almost 30% of the Hispanic vote, even though pre-election polls showed him with less than half that much support among Hispanics. Clearly there were some hidden Trump voters among this population — “good hombres,” from the Donald’s point of view.

Even Trump and his people seemed, on election eve, prepared to face the agony of defeat.

But hidden supporters weren’t the main reason why Trump outperformed Romney among minorities. More important was the fact that Trump wasn’t running against Barack Obama. A lot of minority voters who got off the couch twice for Barry couldn’t be bothered to vote for a white female Democrat, even though it probably would’ve been in their best interest to do so.

Conversely, the forgotten white voter — the working class whites in the upper Midwest and elsewhere who’ve been left behind in the post-industrial economy and feel threatened by the rise of women and people of color — turned out in unexpectedly high numbers. Economic, racial, and gender ressentiment motivated them enough to put down that can of Bud and drive the pickup over to the polling place.

In the summer of 2016 I had a conversation about the election with a prominent libertarian intellectual. I offered the opinion that the Trump movement represented a revolt of the lower middle class — of the people caught between the nouveau riche of the technology and information economy on the one side, and “coddled” minorities on the other. For years these white working class folks have seen themselves (rightly) as being taken for granted by the Republican establishment, and largely ignored by the Democrats.

A lot of minority voters who got off the couch twice for Obama couldn’t be bothered to vote for a white female Democrat.

A little later I discovered just how many white males without a college degree there are in the voting age population. I don’t recall the exact number offhand, but I do remember being surprised at how large it was. I also remember thinking that if a lot of those guys actually showed up at the polls, Trump could win. But I immediately dismissed that notion from my mind. A high percentage of those folks don’t vote, I said to myself. I believed they would simply continue to accept their fate. But these people, the American lumpenproletariat, saw in Trump a candidate who truly seemed to feel as they do about many issues. They believed that he could be a savior who would improve their lives and preserve their values. And on November 8 they came out to vote for him. Whether they will still support him in four years’ time, or even a year from now, may be another matter, but as of now their support remains pretty firm.

The effect of the Libertarian Party on the election is hard to quantify. Gary Johnson probably took more votes away from Trump, but I don’t see that he gave Clinton any states that Trump would otherwise have won. The Green Party, on the other hand, arguably cost Clinton the election.

I had expected that leftists would hold their noses and vote for Hillary. Given how scary Trump appears from their perspective, and given the example of 2000, when Nader and the Greens handed the election to George W. Bush, voting for Hillary would have been the Left’s best option. But I guess the far Left is as irrational about politics as it is about economics, social policy, human nature, etc. Had Jill Stein’s voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin cast their votes for Clinton, she and not Trump would have been elected. If the Trump administration crushes the hopes and dreams of American leftists, Jill Stein and her wooly-minded supporters will bear a good part of the blame.

An electoral upset of epic proportions was produced by a combination of apathy among many minority voters, enthusiasm for Trump among working class whites, and a few thousand votes cast by clueless leftists. There were in addition two other factors in Trump’s triumph. Two prominent Americans, a man and a woman, played outsized roles in the Donald’s march to victory.

The American lumpenproletariat saw in Trump a candidate who truly seemed to feel as they do about many issues.

The man in question is the late Antonin Scalia. The dead may not vote (outside of Chicago and a few other places), but Justice Scalia exercised, from the grave, a considerable influence over the outcome of the election. A lot of people in places such as the suburbs of Philadelphia were wary of having Hillary Clinton fill not just Scalia’s empty seat on the Supreme Court, but the next two or more vacancies as well. That’s a big reason why a majority of white women were willing to vote for a p***y-grabbing lech like Trump.

The woman, of course, is Hillary Clinton. Some of the hate for her is doubtless based on pure misogyny, or fake news stories swallowed whole by the ignoramuses of America (such as the absurd claim that she was involved in child sex trafficking). But of course it goes well beyond that. Her Kennedyesque penchant for making up her own rules, her money-grubbing, her patronizing style and blatant ambition are all deeply unsympathetic traits. Of course, Trump personifies the same character flaws, on top of which he has no grasp of policy. But it turned out that the voters preferred an uninformed, boorish man to a fairly clever but calculating woman.

What effect Russian hacking had on the election is still unclear, and it’s by no means certain that the investigations now underway will throw real light on the matter. That Putin directed his minions to work against Clinton (and therefore on Trump’s behalf) is pretty obvious, but did the hacking actually change votes, or keep Clinton supporters away from the polls? I find it hard to believe that Russians decided the election. Russian intervention in our politics is certainly something Americans should be upset about. On the other hand, we’ve interfered in so many other countries’ elections during the post-World War II era that the karmic bill had to come due at some point.

The dead may not vote, but Justice Scalia exercised, from the grave, a considerable influence over the outcome of the election.

I happen to favor a friendlier US-Russia relationship. Putin is a gangster, but a friendly Russia would be very helpful in dealing with the two biggest geopolitical threats that we face in the early 21st century, namely Sunni jihadism and Chinese imperialism. The Russian annexation of Crimea (equivalent to the United States taking back Florida if we somehow lost it) and Putin’s little war in eastern Ukraine are not critical to the survival and prosperity of the American people. Russia’s friendship would allow us to make our way in the world with far fewer headaches. That appeared to be candidate Trump’s view, but President Trump has been far more circumspect. Certainly the members of his national security team, now that General Michael Flynn has been removed as national security advisor, are hardly pro-Russian.

We can’t simply ignore Putin’s interference in our election — which, far from being a one-off, was part of a larger, ongoing Russian effort to disrupt the Western alliance. So the future of US-Russia relations remains murky, given the division of opinion on the subject among US elites. Of course, if Russia really has compromising information on Trump, then we face a very different situation, one that could even lead to a constitutional crisis.

To sum up the election: Trump stunned the world. Hillary won the popular vote, but this was due entirely to her lopsided majority in California. In the other 49 states Trump outpolled her by nearly a million and a half votes. He garnered two million more votes than Romney received in 2012. He won 30 states. It was a fairly close election, but a clear victory for the Donald. Like it or not, the result was comparable to John F. Kennedy’s 1960 win.

* * *

As Trump entered office the Republican Party appeared triumphant. Republicans controlled the presidency, both houses of Congress, and more than half of the governorships and state legislatures. But the GOP is in fact in serious crisis. The Republican candidate for president has lost the popular vote in six of the last seven elections. Republican majorities in Congress are magnified by the ruthless gerrymandering carried out by Republican-controlled state legislatures. The core constituency of the GOP, non-Hispanic whites, is shrinking as a percentage of the total population. The party itself is riven by profound ideological divisions. The man who led them to victory in 2016 is probably best characterized as a conservative Democrat (he is of course a ruthless opportunist above all, and better at it than anybody else on the contemporary political scene). Personally and ideologically Trump has little in common with either the Paul Ryan wing of the party or the evangelical-social conservative faction. If he can hold the party together over the next four years, he will go down as the greatest political genius-manipulator since FDR.

Hillary won the popular vote, but this was due entirely to her lopsided majority in California. In the other 49 states Trump outpolled her by nearly a million and a half votes.

Some analysts see this as a real possibility. The creation of such a grand coalition would require that the GOP establishment embrace much of the economic agenda of Trump’s working-class supporters. This is simply not going to happen, as the fights over the repeal of Obamacare and the imposition of a border adjustment tax have shown. The Republican Party has been Balkanized; economic nationalists such as Trump and Steve Bannon are bitterly opposed by economic libertarians such as the Koch brothers and members of the Freedom Caucus in Congress, with Speaker Paul Ryan falling between the two camps (Ryan’s heart is with the libertarians, but he supports the border tax). At the same time, devotees of Wall Street crony capitalism control the main centers of economic policymaking in the administration.

The fact that Grover Norquist supports the border tax sums up the state of flux — or perhaps one should say the schizophrenia — that marks the GOP’s attitude toward economic matters these days. Where it will all lead in terms of policy implementation is anybody’s guess. Confusion or stalemate (or both) seem, at this time, the most likely outcomes.

Meanwhile the social conservatives (some of whom are economic nationalists, while others align with the libertarians) have been thrown a few bones by Trump, such as the abandonment of Obama rules protecting transgender schoolchildren, and the push to defund Planned Parenthood. But social conservatives are toxic in two ways. First, they tend to be absolutist; they despise compromise when it comes to certain issues. Yet in a country as big and diverse as America, compromise is usually necessary. Second, they turn off a lot of people, and not just secularists, when they begin to get their way. Nobody likes moralizing hypocrites (and hypocrites they are — imagine their reaction if Obama’s voice had been heard on the p***y-grabbing tape, yet Trump was given a pass) except perhaps others of their ilk, and the majority of Americans are not moralizing hypocrites. For Trump to keep the social conservatives on board without alienating the rest of us will require a very fine balancing act. And in 70-plus years of life, Donald Trump has not displayed the acumen and tact that such a balancing requires.

At the moment the party is so dependent on Trump, or rather his white working-class supporters, that there’s little it can do but tolerate his personal and policy eccentricities. Nevertheless, many (indeed, most) Republican politicians would much prefer to have Mike Pence sitting in the big seat. The congressional leadership, the people who ran against Trump in the Republican primaries, the internationalists and free traders, and many social conservatives loathe Trump the man, though very few of them have so far dared to say so openly. For the moment they are with him; they have little choice but to support him. They know that without Trump’s working-class support the GOP is doomed to become a minority party nationally, even given the disarray among the Democrats. But if Trump should falter, the party will dispense with him and turn the presidency over to Pence. Trump’s many ethical and legal conflicts, simmering on the political backburner, can be used to ruin him. If his core supporters should abandon him, a scandal or scandals will be brought before the public, followed by congressional and other investigations, ending in resignation or impeachment.

For Trump to keep the social conservatives on board without alienating the rest of us will require a very fine balancing act. And in 70-plus years of life, Donald Trump has not displayed the acumen and tact that such a balancing requires.

Last year I published an essay in Liberty that discussed the existence of “Deep Politics” in post-World War II America. The Trump period, however long it lasts, will be a time of deep political intrigue on a scale unseen since the Nixon years. Only political and policy success — and perhaps not even that — can keep Trump in office for a full term.

* * *

Will Trump’s policies succeed, will his popularity with his core supporters remain high? There are plausible scenarios under which a Trump administration does in fact “succeed.” Yet it’s clear that Trump is the least qualified person to be elevated to the position of leader of the Western world since Elagabalus was made Emperor of Rome in 218 CE. And then there’s the coterie of advisors who surround him.

The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was rejected for a federal judgeship by the Republican-majority Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 because there were indications that he might be a bigot. Bigoted or not, he supports policies that are for the most part reactionary and bound to excite opposition. We may see a new front opened in the War on Drugs, specifically against states that have legalized marijuana (ironic in that this administration will otherwise appeal to “states’ rights” in order to shift policy). Sessions also wants to imprison more nonviolent criminals, even though we already have the highest incarceration rate of any country on earth. He would have made a good attorney general for Woodrow Wilson in 1917, when that president was trampling on the rights of Americans in the name of winning World War I. But Sessions is probably not the man for the America of 2017.

The secretary of defense, retired Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, was a good fighting general in the Patton mold. He’s a scholar, too, with an extensive private library. But he’s no administrator. He will find it difficult, and perhaps impossible, to master the vast bureaucratic complex he’s been called upon to oversee. Nor is it clear that his intellect and forceful personality will wear well over time with the Ignoramus-in-Chief. His tenure as defense secretary may well end before 2020.

Trump is the least qualified person to be elevated to the position of leader of the Western world since Elagabalus was made Emperor of Rome in 218 CE.

The new secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was CEO of ExxonMobil for a decade before becoming our nation’s top diplomat. Many readers of Liberty will be pleased to learn (if they don’t already know) that he’s a devotee of Ayn Rand. Others may agree with Steve Coll that Tillerson’s appointment confirms “the assumption of many people around the world that American power is best understood as a raw, neocolonial exercise in securing resources.” Tillerson, a former Eagle Scout, does not appear well-equipped to perform the duties of the nation’s top diplomat. During his confirmation hearings he created an international incident by threatening China with war in the South China Sea.

Now, I’m very much in favor of taking a stronger line with China, but I don’t believe that a hot war in the South China Sea or the Taiwan Straits is in our interest. Tillerson, with the rich oil and gas resources of the South China Sea in mind, may think otherwise. Additionally, Tillerson has complicated connections to Putin and Russia that may leave him open to charges of conflict of interest as he seeks to manage that very important bilateral relationship.

I am happy to say that Trump’s initial choice as national security advisor, retired Army general Michael Flynn, has disappeared from the scene as a result of ethical lapses and conflicts. His successor, Army general H.R. McMaster, is superbly qualified for the job. A man of courage and integrity, with a fine record of combat leadership in Iraq, he’s also probably the foremost intellect among currently serving general officers. Together with Mattis he should be able to keep Trump’s foreign policy on an even keel.

The most problematic of Trump’s appointments may be those to his economic team. Steve Mnuchin as secretary of the treasury and Gary Cohn as director of the National Economic Council should disturb many of Trump’s most devoted followers. You will perhaps recall how some of those followers berated Ted Cruz on national TV, simply because the senator’s wife worked for Goldman Sachs. Well, the new treasury secretary and the head of the NEA are both Goldman alumni. Until his appointment, Cohn had for many years been Goldman’s second-in-command. Of course, since many of Trump’s most devoted supporters are, objectively speaking, intellectually deficient, the Goldman connection may cause nary a ripple — at least at first.

Rex Tillerson does not appear well-equipped to perform the duties of the nation’s top diplomat.

Trump will need to deliver on his populist promises of more and better jobs, better and cheaper health care, and no cuts to Social Security and Medicare, or he is almost certain to lose the support of the working-class whites who put him in the White House. If he fails, then the cry of “Down with the plutocracy!” will be heard across the land, and none will be shouting it louder than the working class.

Perhaps even more important than the Cabinet members are the councilors who will surround the new president. Of these the most important are White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist and senior counselor Steve Bannon, and Trump’s son-in-law and “senior advisor,” 36-year-old Jared Kushner.

Priebus is the link to Paul Ryan and the Republican leadership in Congress, and to the Republican establishment. A modest man who has much to be modest about, he is likely to be a coordinator rather than a maker of policy. How well he can control, or rather restrain, the Donald remains to be seen. The initial returns are not promising. I would not be surprised if Priebus becomes little more than a cypher, with Bannon and Kushner, more forceful personalities, monopolizing the boss’s ear.

Bannon needs to pick up his game, and soon, or he’ll be back at Breitbart News, writing screeds attacking his former colleagues and boss.

Bannon has been widely castigated as a racist, a fascist, an anti-Semite, etc. He is in fact none of these things. Though a bomb-thrower to be sure, he nevertheless has a great deal of worldly experience and the capacity to look at issues with a fresh (and sometimes withering) eye. He should not be underestimated by his opponents on the left (or the right). He probably sees the best way forward to achieving a successful first term. Like Mattis, McMaster, and Kushner, he should be a very important actor in the unfolding of the Trump administration.

On the other hand, the botched attempt to ban entry to the US by Muslims from seven designated countries, which not only endangered the lives of people who had been of great help to us in Iraq but is still tied up in the courts, and the failure of the badly written bill designed to repeal and replace Obamacare, were largely Bannon’s fault. He needs to pick up his game, and soon, or he’ll be back at Breitbart News, writing screeds attacking his former colleagues and boss.

By all accounts Kushner was a key player in the Trump campaign. Being married to Ivanka Trump further fortifies his position. Yet he’s clearly untested when it comes to both domestic and world affairs. As with many young people, what he knows, he knows well. But what he doesn’t know he hasn’t yet begun to suspect exists. This could be a recipe for trouble, particularly should he come into conflict with more seasoned advisors to the president.

* * *

A successful Trump presidency could provide some satisfaction to libertarians. Lower corporate and individual taxes and less regulation are bedrock principles for most libertarians. But beyond that. . . . Remember, Trump’s margin of victory was provided by white working-class voters. These voters expect certain things from a Trump presidency that are not on the libertarian agenda.

For these folks a successful Trump first term will require that he indeed passes a trillion-dollar infrastructure program that provides millions of $20-$30 per hour jobs in construction and related fields. It will require that some manufacturing jobs come back to America from Mexico and elsewhere (although we know that any major return of such jobs to the United States is, for several reasons, an economic impossibility). It will require that he replace Obamacare with something that gives average Americans the same or better coverage, and at lower cost. It will require that not a cent of Social Security or Medicare benefits be cut, now or in the future. Can Trump do this?

Trump may get his trillion-dollar infrastructure program passed, and given the fact that interest rates are still very low, now would indeed be a good time to borrow that money and do the work. But the rest of what Trump needs to do to secure his presidency and build a new, nationalist Republican Party based on the working class is not only anathema to most libertarians and mainstream Republicans but pure pie-in-the-sky economically.

He is, in short, likely to fail. And if he fails his working-class base will disappear like snow in an oven. And then the knives will come out, and all the people the Donald has traduced and humiliated will have their revenge. The investigations will begin, dirt will be found, and the huckster and showman will no longer have an audience to applaud and bay at his every rich slander and outrageous lie.

Should this scenario become reality, how the final act will play out is far from certain. It’s not likely that Trump will go quietly, as Nixon did. On the contrary, Trump appears to know no limits when it comes to preserving his self-image as a conquering hero. What this may portend for America’s future is difficult to contemplate.




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Working-Class Libertarianism

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I would like to begin with a personal story about my encounters with what I call liberaltarianism, and then use logic to analyze the experience.

A number of years ago, I had a heated debate with a libertarian in the New York State Libertarian Party discussion group on Facebook. I argued that the public education system is unfair to children from working-class families because they are trapped in failing schools, and that privatizing K-12 education would lead to the development of private schools seeking customers among working class youth, schools that would free them for better career opportunities. My argument was clearly that government is bad for the poor, especially because it destroys opportunities for poor kids. The villain here is the government, and the victims are the poor.

But the person with whom I was debating believed my argument was that public schools are unfair to poor children because the rich can afford private schools and the poor can’t. He believed I was saying that the rich should not be allowed to have private schools, and that the rich are the perpetrators of the problems of poor children; in other words, that the rich are the villains and the poor are their victims. I was never able to make this person understand what my argument actually was, and he did not choose to understand it; so we did not address each other’s arguments, never having been able to agree on what proposition was actually being debated. He came away from the debate calling me a socialist. I replied that socialists do not advocate privatization of primary education; but even in the end, he seemed not to grasp what I was saying.

The villain here is the government, and the victims are the poor.

Now I would like to analyze this anecdotal evidence. I consider myself a libertarian. I am not a socialist. I am not even a liberal, or a leftist, or left of center. Yet when I make arguments in which I argue that capitalism is good for the poor and good for the working class, or equivalent arguments that government control helps the well-connected rich exploit the political system and that libertarianism would be bad for some rich people, I somehow give the impression that I am a socialist. I believe there is a missing concept, the concept of the liberaltarian, that would clear up this confusion. And I believe that logic is the correct tool for understanding this crucial missing concept.

What is a liberaltarian? Thinking back as far as Cato Institute scholar Brink Lindsey’s original efforts to create a liberaltarian movement, I cannot recall a great answer to that question. In respect to definitions, we are in uncharted territory. A liberaltarian is a type of libertarian, so we must first ask the question, what is a libertarian? There is also no one answer to this perplexing question, but let me suggest one: a “libertarian” is “someone who advocates extremely free capitalism.” Along these lines, I would extend the definition to say that a “liberaltarian” is “someone who advocates extremely free capitalism because it will be good for the poor and the working class.”

In math and logic, one often begins with a set of definitions and then uses mathematical or logical deduction to analyze them and see where they lead. Also, in logic, when one encounters an entity that meets all the necessary and sufficient conditions in a definition, one says that the thing meets the definition as a result of logical necessity. Phrased differently, logic says “if P then Q, P, therefore Q,” with P being the necessary and sufficient conditions and Q being the entity that is identified. In other words, if it walks like a duck, and it talks like a duck, it’s a duck. Let’s use that approach here.

I am not a libertarian for the sake of the rich. Most millionaires and billionaires are neither libertarians nor Objectivists.

Logically, we can see that, if these definitions are true, then a liberaltarian is a type of libertarian. A liberaltarian does advocate extreme capitalism, which puts him or her within the area covered by the definition of libertarian. However, on the flip side, we can see that not all libertarians are liberaltarians; some, perhaps most, libertarians will be opposed to liberaltarianism. For example, we could define a “right-wing libertarian” as “a libertarian who advocates extremely free capitalism because it will be good for the rich.” A right-wing libertarian, then, would have a completely different mindset than a liberaltarian, although, according to the logic of my definitions, they are obviously both legitimate varieties of the broader category “libertarian,” since they satisfy the necessary and sufficient condition to meet the definition, namely, they both advocate extremely free capitalism. In this sense, some Tea Partiers and self-described “conservatarians” would be types of libertarians, although libertarians with restrictive views on social issues that may be opposed to the “free” part of “extremely free capitalism.”

Let me clarify that I do not intend to imply that all members of the left really care about the poor, or that no members of the right care about the poor, or that all of them love the rich; I use the terms “left” and “right” here only to define differing attitudes towards the justification for capitalism.

Note something else about the definitions and what they imply. I have not said that a liberaltarian advocates capitalism “because it will be bad for the rich.” Instead, I have only said “because it will be good for the poor and the working class.” Here, I think, is where much of the confusion about liberaltarianism comes from. Are the interests of the poor opposed to the interests of the rich? Logically, one could be a liberaltarian, or a right-wing libertarian, and come out on either side of this debate.

For example, if I said that “I am a libertarian who advocates extremely free capitalism because it will be good for the poor but won’t generally be bad for the rich and won’t hurt anyone at all, other than those few rich people who unfairly exploit government favors from their politician friends,” I would fit the definitions of both liberaltarian and libertarian. But if I said “I am a libertarian who advocates extremely free capitalism because it will be good for the poor and will actually be very bad for most rich people, who have learned to thrive in our heavily regulated world and usually exploit the state and government funding to milk the taxpaying middle class and to oppress the general public,” I would also fit the definitions of both liberaltarian and (somewhat counterintuitively, but nonetheless logically) libertarian.

Thus, within liberaltarianism, there can be two further subcategories, the liberaltarians who don’t want to hurt anyone and want to help everyone, and the liberaltarians who hate the rich and want laissez faire capitalism in order to tear down privilege and power and hurt the rich. We might call the former pure liberaltarians and call the latter left-libertarians. Similarly, a right-wing libertarian might not want to hurt the poor, or he might favor extreme capitalism because he wants to hurt the poor (and yes, there really are some psychologically crazy people who could be like this).

it is unclear why we would identify with the wealthy, other than for delusions of grandeur.

Let’s do a clearer logical demonstration. Call the advocacy of extremely free capitalism P. Now call a motivating concern for the poor and the working class Q. And then call being OK with the rich A, and a hatred of the rich B. We can say that every libertarian has P, and every liberaltarian has P and Q, by definition. But the libertarian movement in general, and the right-wing libertarians, seem confused about A and B. They believe something that is incorrect as a matter of deductive logic, that a liberaltarian is, by definition, P and Q and B, thereby ruling out A. If this is true, then anyone who cares about the working class must necessarily hate the rich. But as I have shown, there is a logical analysis according to which a liberaltarian is merely P and Q, so that you can add A.

Let me be crystal clear. I do not hate the rich, nor am I opposed to the rich as such. But I am not a libertarian for the sake of the rich. Most millionaires and billionaires are neither libertarians nor Objectivists. Still more obviously, most libertarians and Objectivists are not millionaires or billionaires, and lack the productive moneymaking ability to become such. So it is unclear why we would identify with the wealthy, other than for delusions of grandeur. On the other hand, if we stop focusing on the people who are already rich, and instead focus on the freedom of the poor and the middle class to become rich — in other words, the freedom to make money — then we see precisely what I mean by the interests of the poor being served by capitalism.

According to deductive logic, one can be a liberaltarian and not hate the rich or oppose the interests of the rich (if there is such a thing as “the rich” or “the interests of the rich” in the sense of a cohesive group), so long as one’s primary concern is that capitalism is good for humanity as a whole, and will lift all kinds of people into prosperity. This seems to me a position that is worth not only defining but also adopting.

rdquo; A right-wing libertarian, then, would have a completely different mindset than a liberaltarian, although, according to the logic of my definitions, they are obviously both legitimate varieties of the broader category For example, if I said that




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99 to 1

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I am sick of hearing about the “99%.” I am in the 99%, but you won't see me marching on Wall Street and making signs about my worthless college education. That’s because I’m working my ass off trying to get into the 1%.

My husband and I have a small business. We do software testing. We have some employees, and we use a lot of temps. We've probably created or saved as many jobs as President Obama has. Probably more.

Nevertheless, almost all the people we hire are in their early twenties, just out of college, with a useless "Game Design degree." Just the kind of people you see marching on Wall Street.

I just heard that one of our workers was complaining about some other company "being cheap" because they didn't want to pay for someone's health insurance.

Damn.

Why can't companies not be "cheap"? Why can't they just pay you more?

First of all, why can't you pay more? Well, why don't you pay $300 for a videogame? Because it’s not worth it to you. But if you paid that much, then maybe videogame testers would make more money. But you won't pay $300 for a game, and neither will anyone else. So companies who make games need to control their costs.

Testers do not make a ton of money. It's true. But the companies that employ you don't make much off of you. We charge our clients your hourly rate plus $X. And X ain't a big number. Believe me, we would like to charge more per hour for your services, but we can't. If we charged a reasonable markup on your rate, then the companies that hire us might just decide to take their business elsewhere, like Bangalore or Hyderabad. We need to keep our profit margin mighty slim, or we'll be paying you zero — because you won't have a job.

So, yes. We are all "cheap.” But you have a job.

By the way, the competition has testers in foreign lands. Their daily take-home pay is a little bit more than what you make for one hour. And they aren't complaining.

But even so, you think, we must charge our clients some kind of markup on your hourly rate, don't you? Where does all of that money go?

Well, it goes all over the place. We have to pay the rent for the offices you are sitting in. We have to buy power strips, chairs, desks, lamps, cabinets, tape dispensers, paper, pens, pencils, notebooks, toner for the printer, and paper for the toner to go on. It adds up.

We also have to pay for the people who clean up after you when you spill coffee on the carpet or you use the bathroom and leave a mess.

Believe it or not, we have to pay the electric bill. We have to pay for the water, the coffee, the cream and sugar, the Red Vines, the occasional well-deserved doughnut feast.

We have to pay for the very fast internet connection that we need to do business. We have to pay for the phones. We have to buy computers and the hardware that you are testing on. Even if we only use it for three weeks, we have to buy every Microsoft test kit, every Sony test kit, every Nintendo test kit, etc., etc. They aren't cheap. And we have to buy a lot of them.

We have to buy software so you can do your work — bug tracking software, operating systems, secure instant messaging systems, general office software. We have to pay to have the network installed at the office, so that we can do our jobs.

But to return to you yourself. We have to buy workers' comp insurance, because one day, you may get a hangnail and sue us. Who cares, you think, it's the insurance company that’s going to pay for it. Yes. And we pay for the insurance. And if there’s a hangnail lawsuit, we’ll have to pay more and more for that insurance.

Lawsuits have made it more expensive to do business. If we have a client with deep pockets, and you’re trying to be crafty and so sneaky, you'll sue the client for that hangnail, too. But our clients are crafty and sneaky, too, so they require that we have certain supplementary insurance as well. Meanwhile, we need lawyers to read, write, and review our contracts so we don't get sued by you or by our clients. Lawyers are not cheap.

In addition, we have to pay for alarm systems, just in case you've told your ne'er-do-well brother-in-law who just got out of jail that you work at this cool company that has a bunch of computers.

We have to pay for those silly little taxes that cities decide to place on businesses, just for the pleasure of existing in them, and employing their citizens.

Naturally, we need to pay interest on the large amount of money we borrowed to pay for all of the above.

Oh, yeah. I almost forgot. We need to eat, too.

One day, we will finally pay off our debt — if we manage to stay in business, despite the lackadaisical, whining employees who do poor work because they are lazy, or maybe no work at all because they really couldn’t care less about their low-paying jobs.

At the end of it all, after years of stress and lack of sleep and no vacations and strained family life, we just might end up wealthy.

On that day, I will happily tell the rest of you 99%-ers to screw off.




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The Cliché Crisis

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I don’t know about you, but for me the worst thing about this year’s budget “crisis” was the gross overspending of clichés.

No, I’m not crying wolf. I am not holding America hostage. Neither am I rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Nor am I gleefully informing my close friends and colleagues that their favorite proposals will be dead on arrival when they hit my desk. Hopefully, I am acting more responsibly than anyone in the nation’s capital. I hold no brief for revenue enhancements (i.e., taxes), or for throwing grandma under the bus. I consider myself the adult in the room.

Nevertheless, I can’t claim that I cared very much about the budget emergency. I knew that I wouldn’t get what I wanted — even a small attempt to reform the federal government’s fiscal racket — so I couldn’t be disappointed by the spectacle that took place during the last week of July.

You can’t feel very bad because some Nigerian spam artist didn’t send you the $15 million he promised “in the name of God.” In the same way, you can’t feel very bad about the two political parties for failing to fulfill their promise and impart economic health to the country. But you can feel bad about how everyone with a microphone kept insisting, night and day, that we cannot keep kicking the can down the road.

An older cliché informs us that actions speak louder than words. I deny it. Often words speak much louder than actions. We all do a lot of impulsive things that don’t say much about who we usually are. But the words we carefully marshal to impress people in argument: those words are us. If not, what are they?

Here’s a way to measure a mind. Does it invent interesting means of saying things, or does it just repeat what others have been saying, thousands of times over? Does it use words, or do words use it? Is it working with words, or is it just . . . kicking the can down the road?

By this standard, nobody in Washington turned out to be very smart during the great budget embarrassment. Nobody said anything original or interesting. It was too much trouble. Take the cliché I just mentioned. The political geniuses thought about it for a while, then decided to picture themselves standing like idle boys on a country road, gazing balefully at a can that was begging to be kicked — and refusing, in an access of self-righteousness, to kick it. Dennis the Democrat was itching to give it a boot. So was Randy the Republican. But they controlled themselves. They did nothing — a very complicated nothing, but nothing nonetheless. Unfortunately, the can had a life of its own. It vaulted down the road and lodged in weeds from which it will be very hard to extract it.

Well, so much for that cliché. It didn’t work. But the horrible thing was that all these people thought they were being extraordinarily clever when they talked about the can.

This shows you what is so awful about clichés. They stay with us because people keep thinking that these are the words that make them clever. President Obama smiled at his cleverness when he urged Americans to sacrifice some never-specified largesse of the federal government. “Eat your peas,” he said, and smiled. He was being clever, he thought.

An older cliché informs us that actions speak louder than words. I deny it. Often words speak much louder than actions.

Today, it is considered very clever, when responding to some request for a serious opinion, to say, “It is what it is.” That’s what one of the Casey Anthony jurors said, when asked about the possibility that, although he voted “not guilty,” in the legal sense, Anthony might not have been “innocent,” in the moral sense. He wasn’t interested in reflecting on the question. “It is what it is,” he replied. Is that what John Galt meant to say when he suggested that A equals A? Or was the juror paraphrasing some dictum of Jean-Paul Sartre? In any case, I’ve heard that expression four times today, and it’s barely past noon. Last night, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), said in support of the budget compromise, the provisions of which she had not yet read, “it is what it is.”

Daring souls who venture beyond it is what it is have many other choices of clichés. One of them is to emphasize the idea that, no matter what idiotic decisions they make, they have done their due diligence, just by showing up. A whiff of legalese makes any choice legitimate. Sheer laziness, as we know, can always be justified as an abundance of caution, or a pious respect for what will emerge at the end of the day. At the end of the day the jury may reject the obvious and irrefutable evidence. At the end of the day the Republicans may (and probably will) sell out their voters. At the end of the day we’re all dead. Such things are, apparently, good, because they happen at the end of the day.

That’s a lax, supine, virtually inert locution. Somewhere toward the opposite end of the spectrum is a cliché as old, and as batty, as the House of Ussher. The expression is raves, as in “The New York Times raves.” Have you ever seen a movie trailer that didn’t use that cliché? It’s possible that the thing has become a self-reflexive joke among the producers of these silly ads — a reflection of their knowing superiority over the audience they are hired to manipulate. That’s us, the boobs in the theater — the mindless herd that is supposed to be taken in by the image of the newspaper of record screaming and frothing at the mouth. Of course, that’s what the Times actually does, every day, on almost every page; but why imply that there’s something special about its movie notices?

Speaking of clichéd images, how about the face of? This is another advertising cliché, closely related to poster boy for. Every time I turn to a cable news channel, I see the same old codger in the same ad for the same ambulance-chasing law firm, proclaiming, as if in answer to outraged objections, “I am not an actor. I am the face of mesothelioma.” Who could doubt it? And who could doubt that Casey Anthony is the face of jury imbecility? So what? I am the face of Word Watch. So, again, what? Advertising is intended to convince you to feel something extra about the obvious (or the nonexistent). That doesn’t mean that it’s clever.

Well, let’s escape. Let’s refuse to cast ourselves as the faces of anything other than ourselves. Let’s be individuals. But even then, clichés will pursue us. If we’re successful, we will probably be regarded as a breath of fresh air. And that’s not a good thing. The prevalence of this expression shows how easy it is to turn individualism into something quite the opposite.

Let me put it this way: have you ever met a breath of fresh air who wasn’t either a lunatic or a bore of Jurassic proportions? Or both? And no wonder, because the people who look for breaths of air are usually the stuffiest people around — the biggest conformists, dominators, and fools, in whatever group or institution you encounter them. In my experience, they tend to be people who think that Marxism is the newest idea in town. They are always people who welcome change because they’ve got theirs and know they will keep it, whatever damage their radical protégés may inflict on others. (Recall the late Senator Edward Moore Kennedy.) With the aid of progressive clichés, establishments maintain their existence.

Let’s escape. Let’s refuse to cast ourselves as the faces of anything other than ourselves. Let’s be individuals.

Here’s another one: “she [or he] is a very private person.” We hear that constantly. I heard it the other day on CNN, in reference to Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s chief aide, and wife of the disgraced Congressman Weiner. The expression evokes the whole range of faux-individualist dogmas about privacy and the right to privacy (a cliché invented by a Supreme Court impatient with the stately and accurate language of individual rights provided by the constitution). The implication is that there’s something good about being “private,” meaning “sheltered,” as opposed to being a real person and not giving a damn what the rest of us think of you, or whether we think enough about you to want to take your picture. A sheltered person is someone who cares very much what you think about him, and what the picture looks like; therefore he becomes very private, until he thinks the camera may offer a flattering angle. The people acclaimed as private are almost always celebrities and politicians — creatures of the media, who then resent (or pretend to resent) the media’s incursions into their affairs. Private person is a particularly dangerous cliché, a cliché that distorts reality, a cliché that turns American values upside down.

Someone out there is counseling straightforward thieves and murderers to portray themselves as the compassionate Buddha. But why would you want to be the Buddha’s penpal?

The same kind of expression, though one that generally appeals to a different social group, is compassionate. A couple of years ago, when I was writing The Big House, my book about prisons, I looked at a lot of convict penpal sites. Almost without exception, the prisoners seeking correspondents described themselves as compassionate. Now, I’m not one to shy away from convicts. All the convicts and ex-convicts I interviewed treated me very well. I’m grateful to them. And I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world to have a prison record. But compassionate shows all too clearly that the televised clichés of the middle class are seeping even into the prisons, polluting and corrupting everything they touch. Someone out there is counseling straightforward thieves and murderers to portray themselves as the compassionate Buddha. But why would you want to be the Buddha’s penpal?

One of the worst things about clichés is that they establish themselves as immortal statements of values. No matter how skewed the values are, the antiquity of the clichés attached to them implies that they are worthy of grave respect. This is a major problem with the insufferable clichés of the 1960s, which now, half a century years later, are reverently prescribed to hapless youth, as if they were the cadences of the Latin Vulgate. Hence the young denounce apathy, long to speak truth to power, idolize movements, embrace social justice, declare themselves for peace and global cooperation, commit themselves to the environment, the balance of nature, and (something quite different) change, and haven’t a clue that they are using the cunning vocabulary of the Old Left, c. 1935, and the birdbrain lingo of spirituality, c. 1900. Like a breath of fresh air, long-discredited phrases were transmitted by the Old Left to the New Left of the 1960s, to people (of the whom I am one of which) who had no idea that the words in their mouths had been put there by generations of silly old fuds. They (we) had no idea that even empty clichés can be repulsive and dangerous.

The other night I finally got a chance to see The Spanish Earth (1937), a famous movie that almost nobody who talks about it has ever seen. It was cowritten by the crypto-communist Lillian Hellman; Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos also participated (before they learned better). The film is a “documentary” about the Spanish Civil War, presented from the communist point of view, and it has about as much to do with the truth about that war as Triumph of the Will, from which it freely borrows, has to do with the truth about Hitler. I got a special kick out of the movie and its communist heroes constantly denouncing their enemies as rebels. Take that, you ring-in-the-nose college Marxist! You never realized it before, but the mission of the working class is to quell the rebels.

The most wonderful thing was the survival of so many wretchedly misleading political clichés, the kind of phrases that have soldiered on from Marx to Hellman to Rigoberta Menchú to the presidential aspirations of John Edwards and Barack Obama.

“Why do they fight?” the narrator asks about the Spanish people. Most of them didn’t fight, of course; and those who did took many sides, from Stalinist to anarcho-syndicalist. But never mind; a clichéd question deserves a clichéd answer: “They fight to be allowed to live as human beings.”

Human beings. How many times have we heard that, since? It’s an “argument” for every political program you can imagine.

“How ya doin’ today, Mr. Voter?”

“Uh, I dunno. Not so good, I guess. I think I’d feel more, like, more human if I owned a house. I’d feel more like I was living the American dream. Too bad I come from a working family.

“But that’s good for you — very good indeed! Working families are the meaning of America. So how much do you make?”

“Well . . . nothin’, right now. I been on disability these past few years. Ya know, this acne’s really actin’ up . . .”

“No problem! That’s why there’s a government! No reason why you can’t get a loan. As a working man, it’s your right.

“Damn! Really? Thanks, Congressman!”

“So, anything else I can do for you?”

“Well, uh, I guess I’d feel more human if I could retire at 60 . . .”

Most clichés aren’t deployed to answer questions; they’re meant to anesthetize them. So, if you say, in regard to The Spanish Earth, “Wait — I’m confused. Exactly who are these people who fight to be allowed to live as human beings?”, the film will tell you that they are “the men who were not trained in arms, who only wanted work and food.” These are the people who, we are told, “fight on.”

So at the end of the day, it’s the pacifists who inherit the earth — the pacifists who take up arms. Are you confused? I am. I’d like to know more about these people who are fighters because they don’t want to fight. But what I’m given is another cliché. I’m told that they are people who only want work and food.

Most clichés aren’t deployed to answer questions; they’re meant to anesthetize them.

It sounds good. Modesty is becoming. But one thinks of succeeding clichés, logically deduced from wanting only work and food: “It’s the economy, stupid.” “This election isabout one thing: putting America back to work.” “They work all day long, many of them scraping by, just to put food on the table. And . . . they see leaders who can't seem to come together and do what it takes to make lifejust a little bit better for ordinary Americans. They are offended by that. And they should be.”

That last remark is President Obama’s. The first remark is James Carville’s, back in the election of 1992. The one in the middle is sadly common at all times and everywhere, left, right, and center. Each remark suggests that ordinary Americans want only one thing — work and food. And that is why they vote the way they do.

Consider this the received wisdom, the grand cliché.

I’m offended by that. And ordinary Americans should be too.




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