30 Jan 2017

An Invitation for the Topic: “How Should Libertarians Conduct Themselves As Progressives Freak Out Over Trump?”

Trump 36 Comments

I am going to be discussing this issue on a podcast, and I’m trying to collect my thoughts beforehand. Do not be fooled by my steady resolve and iron will; I take outside complaints seriously on such important things. In particular, I have been thinking about a post from Radley Balko in which he says something along the lines of, “Yes, progressives ignored Obama when he violated civil liberties and engaged in foreign aggression. But the clear and present danger now is Trump and his policies, and we should applaud those who are now speaking out–not mocking them for their hypocrisy.” (That’s just a very loose paraphrase from memory; I give two more recent tweets for a concrete reference.)


On the other hand, I have to also agree wholeheartedly with Kevin D. Williamson at National Review when he writes:

You’ll remember “whatabout-ism,” which was the Democratic talking point of the day a few weeks back. And they’d have a point if the argument were: “It is acceptable for President Trump to do things that are wrong, illegal, or unconstitutional, because President Obama did those things, too, or similar things.” But that isn’t the argument at all. The argument is: Democrats are fundamentally unserious, opportunistic, and dishonest in their assessment of what is happening…

Anyway, I’m bouncing all of this around in my mind until the podcast taping. Feel free to chime in.

36 Responses to “An Invitation for the Topic: “How Should Libertarians Conduct Themselves As Progressives Freak Out Over Trump?””

  1. Daniel Kuehn says:

    These Obama comparisons are pretty weak and lead me to discount the people I see making them more than anything else. Any progressive that didn’t like drones was complaining about them under Obama so mentioning the drone strike with Trump as a continuation of Obama doesn’t demonstrate they’re hypocrites. On other things like the refugee ban the comparison makes no sense because what Obama did was quite different. The takeaway is that most libertarians hate progressives more than they love liberalism – which isn’t exactly news of course.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Daniel wrote:

      Any progressive that didn’t like drones was complaining about them under Obama…

      Hang on Daniel, were there thousands of people marching? Is it because they didn’t object, period, or because blowing up foreigners wasn’t as big a deal as blocking entry to them at JFK?

      • Mike Finn says:

        Bob, I think they could make an argument that drone strikes are essentially a foregone conclusion when you consider the unflinching bipartisan support for them. They could argue that they did what they could by electing Obama, but anything beyond that was futile. With Trump’s executive order though, that was somewhat unprecedented and it gave them the opportunity to strike while the iron was hot.

        I don’t think that’s what was actually going on (I think they just didn’t want to criticize “their guy”), but they could at least make the argument.

    • Richie says:

      “On other things like the refugee ban the comparison makes no sense because what Obama did was quite different.”

      How? Please explain. Or is that just you declaring it so because you’re blinded by your political loyalty?

      “Any progressive that didn’t like drones was complaining about them under Obama…”

      Which progressives? The same ones destroying stuff in protest? When did they do the same thing because of Obama’s drones?

    • Anon says:

      Gee, Dan, I don’t seem to recall any #literallyshaking or #notmypresident or (violent) protests or angry mobs or anything of the sort for the last 8 years when Obama was dropping some 26,000 bombs on 7 countries across the Middle East.

      Weird, isn’t it? It’s almost as if, gasp, leftists only express concern about these things when it allows them maximum virtue signaling.

      Balko is also on the virtue signaling train. It’s not as if there’s some limit on the criticism we can level at people. We can criticize Trump AND hypocritical leftists at the same time! It’s really not hard.

    • Craw says:

      “complaining about them”
      I have no problem with Democrats “complaining about” Trump policies. But what we are seeing is quite different from “complaining about them.” Boycotts, hissy fits, barracking, screams about legitimacy. We are seeing tribalism straight up, and pointing out the hypocrisy is an effective tool against that.

    • pnw says:

      i have exactly 1 left-leaning acquaintance on fb (my friends list is overwhelming liberal) that has ever even acknowledged and explicitly disagreed with expanded air-strikes, torture/illegal holding sites, drones and “fun-sized terrorists”, etc. and the acknowledgement was more of a wrist-slap compared to outrage i am now seeing in my fb feed. i question whether the silent majority of folks i know on the left supported drone tactics, the few face-to-face conversations i pursued yielded a lot of uncomfortable silence and awkward rationalization, very different from the moral certainty the same people are displaying now.

      i think it is worth bringing their attention to this disconnect in a respectful way, trolling generates a negative vibe and gives more emotional justification for backfire effect. if you can keep people engaged over the long-term, and maintain charitable dialogue, you have a better chance of getting them to change their mind.

  2. Daniel Kuehn says:

    But I figure back in the 20s Mises was praising fascists for forming paramilitary groups to wipe out socialists and now libertarians are only fingerwagging at socialists for punching fascists. That’s tremendous progress you guys have made over the last century.

    • Major-Freedom says:

      Well when your definition of “progress” in X is predicated on how much power X has, or how much X is represented, in a governmental capacity, then your definition needs an update when it comes to libertarianism.

    • Anon says:

      So do you have any proof that Mises was praising Nazis? Strange, I thought he was fleeing them. Don’t be ignorant.

      Yes, the only people these crazy antifa sociopaths have been assaulting are literal nazis. Right.

      Good grief you are full of hyperbole.

      • Darien says:

        Uh, guy?

        “It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.”

        Those words came from the pen of Ludwig von Mises in his 1927 book “Liberalism.” But you don’t, as they say, have to take my word for it: https://mises.org/library/liberalism-classical-tradition/html/p/29

        Daniel Kuehn can certainly be smug, but you win yourself no kudos for declaring him “ignorant” on a subject you know nothing about. All you accomplish is compelling intellectually honest libertarians to defend him.

        • Anon says:

          I’m aware of that passage. So how do you reconcile it with him fleeing fascists?

          I mean, if we just want to stack up names of people who praised fascism at one point or another, we could count among them Dan’s bosom buddies FDR and JM Keynes, right? Hell, Keynes wrote glowingly of GERMAN fascism.

          So, was Mises a huge fan of fascism… was it a fundamental aspect of libertarian philosophy… no! Obviously not.

          But yeah, stay on that high horse.

          • Darien says:

            You seem to misunderstand the position you’re in. Allow me to clarify. You have two possible escapes: you can either deny the authenticity of the quote, or you can dispute the accuracy of the translation. If you choose neither path, then Daniel Kuehn’s statement — “back in the 20s Mises was praising fascists for forming paramilitary groups to wipe out socialists” — stands. Anger and abuse will not get you out of the trap they got you into.

            • Rick Hull says:

              Now it cannot be denied that the only way one can offer effective resistance to violent assaults is by violence. Against the weapons of the Bolsheviks, weapons must be used in reprisal, and it would be a mistake to display weakness before murderers. No liberal has ever called this into question. What distinguishes liberal from Fascist political tactics is not a difference of opinion in regard to the necessity of using armed force to resist armed attackers, but a difference in the fundamental estimation of the role of violence in a struggle for power. The great danger threatening domestic policy from the side of Fascism lies in its complete faith in the decisive power of violence.

  3. Josh says:

    I agree with Radley’s take. Certainly Obama can and should be blamed for a lot of things but Trump is president now and is 100% more likely to screw up my life than Obama at this point. I am a dad for two children and millennial. Trumps 20% tariff threats and other similar threats to destroy free trade and our current cheap supply chain in particular has me terrified. We shop at grocery stores like Aldis that thrive on cheap goods made possible through things like NAFTA. Trump threatens to blow up our already tight budget (which has already been so tight thanks to Obamacare jacking up our health care premiums). I want lower taxes and lower regulations but trumps threats to destroying supply chains are an immediate threat to our ability to make ends meet and pay our mortgage. I also look at the disastrous results of strict immigration policies on the economy and how that could harm us. I look at the havoc such policies caused in Alabama or even Japan. A society that rejects the merits of production is one that will limp forward. While the threat of war is always scary, the threat of not making ends meet is often a more imminent clear and present danger. Especially for a dad of young children.

  4. John Dougan says:

    The two positions aren’t completely incompatible: You should take the current administrations (whoever it happens to be) actions seriously, both good and bad. That does not mean you have to take all the “unserious, opportunistic, and dishonest” shouters seriously and it may be a duty to point them out.

    Torturing Balko’s metaphor some, not all of the houses in the neighborhood are on fire but some of them burnt down or were damaged in prior administrations. Did the so-called firemen fight those fires…if not, maybe they aren’t firemen but heavies from a protection racket so they burnt those houses down? Are they blaming the previously burnt houses on the current administration? If the prior administration doused the houses in gasoline and cut the electricity, how much blame does the current administration get when they light a candle so they can see and set the house to burning?

  5. Darien says:

    The issue I have with Balko’s position is that it tacitly assumes some type of fixed pool of “denouncement” that can be spent in one of two ways, and that any libertarian who addresses progressive hypocrisy does so at the expense of addressing dangerous Trump policies. While this is true in a trivial sense — any exact keystrokes can form only one of the two statements — it ignores the fact that denouncement suffers from a massive case of diminishing returns.

    Consider the following. I could spend a given unit of time writing either a tweet critical of Trump’s Yemeni drone strikes, or a tweet pointing out that lefties conplaining about said strikes were conspicuously silent when the last guy was doing the same thing. Assume also that, however we gauge the value of dissent, these two actions each have some non-zero value (else there’s nothing to argue about anyhow). While it’s difficult to say conclusively which if those tweets will have greater overall value to the libertarian cause, we’ll stipulate it’s the former; thee tweet advocating against drone strikes does more good for us than the tweet advocating against progressive hypocrisy.

    Now imagine we’re posting a second tweet shortly after the first. Does the calculus change? I submit that it does. Two consecutive tweets that both say “drone strikes in Yemen are bad” can scarcely be said to accomplish more than one would alone, yes? In this case, it’s likely a better use of time to attack Trumpian drone warfare in one tweet, then go after hypocrites in the next. If this principle didn’t hold in the long run, surely it would be irrational for any of us ever to say anything other than the one statement that best advocates for our goals. As it stands, though, we intuitively understand that the value of the same statement repeated to the same audience diminishes rapidly.

    In short, I agree with Williamson. The argument against denouncing left-wing hypocrisy holds only if we assert that pointing out its eight years of silence somehow justifies Trump’s misdeeds (or, I suppose, in the odd case where we can literally say only one thing).

  6. Julien Couvreur says:

    I look forward to that discussion.
    The reason I hesitate to ally with the left at this point is twofold:

    1. someone who tells you to ignore their past hypocrisy (we must act fast, trust me, no time to reflect on the past) raises all sorts of red flags to me. It seems a clear sign of manipulation.
    This seems apparent to me as few on the left question their faith in democracy, big government, powerful executive, national identity, etc. While I have seen some signs (discussion of CalExit, sanctuary cities, not identifying with government, reconsidering gun ownership, tariffs are extortion, etc) they seem convenient and contingent (ie. I suspect they will go back to their regular program at the first chance).
    On the other hand, I would put more trust in someone who acted consistently, or learnt from his/her mistakes and can articulate them.

    2. as Deist put it in a recent interview, the left is still largely in power. Trump did not change the media, the education system, the unions, the deep State, etc. Much of the time, they still make quite bad arguments and expect people will just get on with the program.

    Overall, this puts me in a difficult position, as Trump’s immigration and protectionist policies are quite bad (although not unusual for statists) and social approval remains a deep instinct.

  7. Major-Freedom says:

    As a libertarian, I think the EO Trump signed that can be paraphrased as “for every new regulation imposed, two regulations must be rescinded” is at least on the right track. As an anarchist, I think it is nowhere near radical enough however.

  8. khodge says:

    I weary of this discussion. It was loads of fun watching the progressives blow their gaskets in the pre-inaugural interim but at some point (like noon on January 20) the kids need to be kicked out of the house to go play in the street while the adults go about the business of governing.

    It is, now, the historian’s job to deal with Obama. Obama (and sycophants) spent 8 years blaming Bush; that is not governing. Trump’s job is to govern as best as he can and he needs to be held to standards other than “what did Obama do?”

  9. Jan Masek says:

    What podcast will this be on? Lara-Murphy, Woods, ContraKrugman?

  10. Giovanni P says:

    Just hear the Tom Woods Show with Jeff Deist. The left runs the country, the left runs the world. Complaining about Trump won’t change his actions, but unmasking and taking power out of the left will do some good to the world, definitely.

    If someone asks you about Trump you can say he is a moron, but if no one asks, please keep criticizing the left and not Trump. He doesn’t matter so much.

  11. Dan says:

    Boxing people into a corner and forcing them to confront their hypocritical views or contradictory positions is the most effective way to get people to change, IMO. Granted, many people will just stick their fingers in their ears and close their eyes, but you were never going to reach them anyway.

  12. Andrew_FL says:

    “Stripping away the constitutional rights of purported terrorism suspects — U.S. citizens who had never even been charged with a crime, much less convicted of one — “isn’t politics, it’s common sense,” declared Representative Ted Deutch (D., Fla.).”

    Good Lord this SOB was my Congressman until he swapped districts for the 2016 election.

  13. Levi Russell says:

    Why not both? It seems there’s a benefit to pointing out hypocrisy; maybe you’ll actually get the progs to change their minds on executive power. I doubt it, but who knows?

    Yes, I’m all in favor of full-on criticism of Trump. The trouble is that a LOT of that criticism is facile. Good criticism is good, facile criticism is, at best, not helpful. At worst, it might keep some who would come to our side on these issues less likely to do so.

  14. RPLong says:

    The most important thing I’ve noticed about Trump criticisms is that they’re absolute: If one opposes Trump, one seems to be completely and totally opposed to everything about Trump. On a personal level, I suppose I can sympathize with that. But one thing I’ve learned over the course of the last few presidencies is that every president is a mixed bag of some good and a whole lot of bad.

    Trump’s critics seem to be playing an easy game of “I told you so.” Trump does something bad, and they immediately respond with, “See? He’s evil. He’s a fascist. He’s a monster.” They might be right, but at the same time, I’m seeing a lot of potential for good in Trump’s presidency – his de-escalation with Russia being a really good example (IMHO).

    So I am forcing myself to be more stoic this time around, and consequently I’m seeing a lot of Trump’s critics come completely unhinged with ridiculous assertions. The other day someone in the Trump administration met with the major opposition party in Austria. I saw this reported in a fashion magazine as “Trump meets with neo-Nazi party.” Come on.

    • Levi Russell says:

      Agreed, RPLong. I remember when the Tea Party went absolutely nuts over Obama’s election. I don’t remember them blocking traffic, beating people, and smashing up property, but there was a lot of silly rhetoric. Obama did a lot of horrid stuff and I’m sure Trump will continue a lot of it. Too early to make a call, though.

      • Craw says:

        Over his election? As I recall the Tea Party formed in reaction to Obamacare. Are you telling me that was named after a sitting democrat senator and passed while Bush was president?

  15. Michel Accad says:

    Libertarians shouldn’t rush in where angels fear to tread. Too early for any pronouncement on DT, but the circus is fun to watch.

  16. Will T says:

    I had a similar discussion recently via text, which I present with minimal editing (feel free to ad-lib the blanks!):

    Most outlets are spinning it as some sort of outright permanent Muslim ban because he is literally Hitler and if you don’t signal that you hate him then you’re literally a Nazi. Every mundanely evil thing Trump does will be made into a humanitarian crisis because the current state of politics is more partisan than ever, meaning rational, dispassionate analysis will always take the backseat to selectively sensationalist outrage.

    So yes, while I agree that the ban is ridiculous, I didn’t see any protests over the bombing of these seven countries and their people over the past eight years, leading me to the conclusion that most people care more about what color hat a person wears than his actions themselves.

    Most of the protesters are not anti-centralized power in any sense. They’re not suddenly allies in peace or even immigration beyond the fact they’ll now oppose anything Trump does. They’re simply political shills.

    You’re right, it is being spun as a Muslim ban. A lot of people probably think that’s what he actually did because nobody cares about nuance when you’re dealing with literally Hitler.

    And I’m not just talking about the 500 some odd drone strikes or the hundreds of civilians killed by them (which IDK how that’s less black and white than immigration). 26,000 bombs on those 7 countries in 2016 alone. Hospitals, weddings, and funerals bombed. Leveling Libya, Syria (WHY are there refugees in the first place <–why is this not a question being asked?). Right now Yemen is being starved by the US supported Saudis. Not a peep.

    But Trump's a _______ and a bunch of _______ like him. Protests fill the streets.

    Selective outrage and politically motivated priorities. These people are like human Onion articles, it almost takes conscious wit to lack as much self-awareness as they do.

    I'd rather all presidents be transparent ________ as opposed to likable SNL hosts so people wouldn't be lured into thinking they should get a pass for killing a bunch of people because they've got a great smile.

  17. Tel says:

    Yes, progressives ignored Obama when he violated civil liberties and engaged in foreign aggression. But the clear and present danger now is Trump and his policies, and we should applaud those who are now speaking out–not mocking them for their hypocrisy.

    If that argument holds sway then Progressives will ALWAYS ignore abuse of power whenever they see it as “in a good cause”, or in other words when it happens to be their guy in power. The only possible way to teach people the meaning of principles is to let them learn the consequences of hypocrisy.

    Having said that, I will be fair and make note Radley Balko did criticize Obama over things like drug policy, and I agree with Balko on that. I would expect Trump’s drug policy to be very similar to Obama’s drug policy and for much the same reasons… because the War on Drugs provides ongoing funding for paramilitary police and provides good profits for big pharma and the prison industry. Neither Trump nor Obama will be able to change that.

    But in the bigger picture, Trump has done some damage to the mainstream media stranglehold on political correctness and prevented them steering the narrative. Trump very likely will break a few plates in the Washington china shop and I’m OK with that. If California leaves the union that’s probably a good thing for all concerned. Hillary would have done everything to keep the rottenness going so given two poor choices, Trump is the least worst.

    As for fire departments, of course they should respect the wishes of private property owners. How is that even an argument?!?

  18. guest says:

    Nah, this is just the Left trying to get away with more fraud.

    “Current president’s bad policies are more important now” unless it’s a president they supported – then it’s not.

  19. Harold says:

    It is important to compare like with like. How have Trump’s drone strikes been covered compared to Obama’s drone strikes? That is a valid measure of comparison.

    How have Trump’s refugee ban been covered compared to Obama’s drone strikes? Not a valid comparison.

    • guest says:

      “How have Trump’s refugee ban been covered compared to Obama’s drone strikes? Not a valid comparison.”

      Unless you’re a lefty, in which case it’s OK to change the subject:

      Howard Dean Deception Boot Camp

      “… don’t let them set the agenda. We always do this on the Left. We’re too damned honest. We think we have to answer their question. You don’t ever have to answer their question.”

      • Harold says:

        Hey – you must have taken that video on board. Look what you just did there – changed the subject! I make a point about valid comparisons and you change the subject to Howard Dean.

        The point I made was about valid comparisons – do you have anything to say about that?

        • Craw says:

          I do. If the outrage had been greater for the greater harm you would have had a point. But as usual all you have is a talking point. The greater outrage — vastly greater — comes for the lesser — greatly lesser — harm.

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