11 Jan 2018

David R. Henderson on Trump’s First Year

David R. Henderson, Trump 34 Comments

I liked this piece by David, especially since I used the following two passages in the latest Contra Krugman (which hasn’t dropped yet):

[A]lthough many Washington wags are shocked that Vladimir Putin may have cared enough about the U.S. election outcome to spend one hundred thousand dollars on Facebook ads, between 1946 and 2000, the U.S. government tried to influence over 80 foreign elections with nary a peep from that establishment. The Bush administration spent $65 million trying to influence the outcome of Ukraine’s 2004 election. 


Trump does not do nuance. When he is upset about what someone says about him, he tweets his anger and publicly threatens lawsuits and censorship. The lawsuits have gone nowhere. And if Trump really wanted to follow through on his threatened censorship of television networks, he chose the wrong chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Ajit Pai  is one of the most deregulatory officials in the Trump administration.

Consider, by contrast, someone who effectively quashed radio criticism of his policies: Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1934, as University of Alabama historian David Beito has noted, President Roosevelt’s FCC put radio stations on a short leash by reducing the license-renewal period from three years to six months. He appointed Herbert L. Pettey as head of the commission. Pettey had been FDR’s radio adviser during his 1932 presidential campaign. Shortly after this licensing change, NBC announced that it would limit broadcasts “contrary to the policies of the United States government.” CBS went further, announcing an end to broadcasts “in any way” critical of “any policy of the Administration.” Who was more effective—the unsophisticated Trump threatening in public, or the warm and fuzzy (but ruthless and strategic) operator behind the scenes, Roosevelt? The record speaks for itself.

34 Responses to “David R. Henderson on Trump’s First Year”

  1. Rory says:

    I agree with the vast majority of this but I had to laugh at how quickly I imagine this piece accelerated from “even-handed” to “conniption-inducing” according to the perception of a wide American audience, thanks to this passage in the closing paragraphs:

    “Although, as I noted above, some of Trump’s tweets are disgusting and counterproductive, some of his unconservative manner has been refreshing. Probably millions of Americans will never think of Hillary Clinton without the phrase ‘crooked Hillary’ coming to mind. Is it bad to affix the ‘crooked’ label on someone who is, in fact, crooked?”

    And just in case any left-leaning folks got past that, we got a (correct, IMO) takedown of Ted Kennedy.

    Not a bad thing, but funny nonetheless.

  2. Harold says:

    here is much not to like in that article. Most of the arguments are blatant examples of “whataboutism”.

    Russia interfered in USA elections. Argument – what about USA interfering in other countries?

    “Whereas in the campaign Trump made some non interventionist noises”. I think he was a bit more definite about it than making some noises. Someone here made a point that they could never support Clinton because she supported Saudi Arabia, I presume they no longer support Trump.

    Trump threatens to censor the media. Argument – what about FDR?

    Trump is degrading the office of president. Argument – what about Kennedy?

    • Richie says:

      “Whataboutism” – the new leftist term to dismiss the pointing out of their hypocrisy when criticizing Trump, when their leftist heroes did far worse.

      • Harold says:

        Tel, I don’t think it was you that I had that particular discussion about. I

      • Harold says:

        Got my replies in the wrong place. I think you can follow.

        ““Whataboutism” – the new leftist term to dismiss the pointing out of their hypocrisy when criticizing Trump, when their leftist heroes did far worse.”

        It is not new. From wikipedia:
        “The term originated in the 1960s as an ironic description of “the Soviet Union’s efforts at countering Western criticism,” according to Konstantin von Eggert.”

        It is:
        ” is a variant of the tu quoque logical fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent’s position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument.”

        I think that you said it is to dismiss pointing out their hypocrisy pretty much confirms my point.

        • baconbacon says:

          “What aboutism”, as described, would only b e a fallacy when used by the inferior side. If you were ranking presidents and had FDR above Trump, and a Trump supporter complained about FDR’s restrictions on speech arguing that Trump did something similar, but to a lesser scale would be such a fallacy.

          The Soviet Union would say something like “How dare you complain about X, you do Y which is similar”, the retort here would be “X is 100 times worse than Y, there is a clear difference in scale. Barring DRH arguing that Trump was the greatest president, whataboutism is completely fine for establishing the effectiveness or damage that the Trump presidency has shown compared to previous administrations.

          • Harold says:

            boconbacon, you are wrong.
            ” If you were ranking presidents and had FDR above Trump, …”

            If you were ranking presidents on a very specific thing this may be the case, but that is not what is being argued. You are saying if the argument was who was worse, then comparisons are valid. But that is not the argument.

            Trump is saying things that threaten press freedom. Whether or not Trump is the very worst president in this specific regard is not the important aspect of the argument and the things he is saying are still a threat to press freedom, even if FDR was worse.

            Look at this this way. Suppose we had say Clinton as president and she was second worst in absolutely every measure of presidential success. That would make her overall the worst president ever. Yes, you could say FDR was a bit worse on Press freedom, and president X was a bit worse on something else, and president Y was a bit worse on a third thing. She would still be the worst president.

            Take the three things I mentioned. Russia interfering in elections in the USA. Because USA interfered in elections in other countries does than mean we can ignore foreign interference in USA elections? The answer is clearly no.

            Trump threatens to censor the media. If FDR also tried to censor the media does that mean we can ignore current threats? Clearly no.

            Trump is degrading the office of the president. Should we ignore this because other presidents have behaved less than perfectly? No, of course not.

            There may be arguments against all of these points, but saying that someone else did it worse sometime and somewhere is not one of them.

            • Dan says:

              My God, man. Showing that FDR did X which was worse than Trump doing Y isn’t an excuse for Trump. It simply puts things in perspective. Perfectly normal thing to do when you’re evaluating someone.

              • Harold says:

                Yes, in exactly the same way the USSR was just putting things in perspective when they employed the same tactic.

                That is not an example of “whataboutism” because I am not saying the current example are any less serious or worthy of attention because it has been done before by others. I am saying the current examples are just as bad and just as worthy of attention as the previous examples which are used as illustrations.

                Here is an example of whataboutism in this context. I say this article uses whataboutism. Someone responds that the USSR did it much more. When put like this it is fairly clear that this is a fallacy.

    • Tel says:

      I’ve never been opposed to the Arabian Peninsula, because it would be stupid to hate a patch of land.

      The reason I have consistently disliked the Saudi Arabian regime is their continual export of Wahhabism which IMHO is an extremist philosophy. Had you been paying any attention whatsoever you would already know there’s a new power structure forming in Saudi Arabia with the promise of dismantling the religious extremist base that exists there.

      If this promise is fulfilled then I’m completely OK with that, and if it happens during the Trump Presidency I don’t even have a problem giving Trump some credit as well.

      Yes, there’s reason to be skeptical. Of course, it may never happen, and we might end up pretty much back where we started. No one ever expected Trump to suddenly turn into Ron Paul.

      On that topic though, Trump has begun the process of ruthlessly cutting foreign aid. Sure, he hasn’t been particularly even handed about it, but he is staunching the money flow. Trump is also doing his best to audit the Pentagon, which takes a lot of guts when you think of the type of people who will get scrutinized in the process and what those people do for a living.

      • Anonymous says:

        According to the Global Slavery Index, an estimated 0.29% of the Saudi Arabian population is enslaved.

        Saudi princess Amira Bint Aidan Bin Nayef has spoken out against it.

        Like a number of other Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia has a kafala system, which often turns out to be slavery in practice.

        If one wanted to dismantle the Saudi Arabian regime, a good start might be to stop buying their oil

        • Tel says:

          The USA recently became economically self-sufficient in terms of oil imports and exports, largely thanks to the use of fracking.

          However, since there are different grades of oil, the USA both imports and exports oil at the same time… oil is mostly fungible but not perfectly fungible.

          Thus some Saudi oil would be used in the USA although in theory it would be possible for the USA to close all borders for oil and still consume roughly the same (slightly less efficiently). But if the USA did that it would not make much difference to the Saudis who would sell to someone else instead. Very difficult to organize all the world’s oil buyers, but what the USA normally does is apply banking sanctions (see what was done to Iran for example) to make it difficult to exchange payments. This works because the US dollar is so dominant.

          At any rate, trying to avoid buying Saudi oil is a complete waste of time.

          There are more useful points of leverage, for example the USA supplies a lot of weapons to the Saudi regime (such as F15 jets) which would be difficult to substitute. The Russians might offer something roughly equivalent, but overall there are not too many suppliers for this equipment, perhaps asking the Russians nicely might work. Personally I’d be happy for the USA to restrict the Saudi weapons at least until they stop bombing Yemen, and hopefully put an end to the extremism. The USA offers additional military services such as refueling and naval assistance. The Saudis would be left in a very weak position if the US military shut them out.

          Problem is that the USA is one of the biggest weapon exporters in the world, and it makes a lot of foreign exchange. Trump wants to win the 2020 election… if he creates manufacturing jobs in the USA and beefs up the economy then he will win for sure. The majority of American voters don’t care about Yemen, nor are they interested in Middle East politics.

          The other problem is that the USA wants to balance Saudi Arabia against Iran, so the Pentagon wants to keep the Saudi military strong for this purpose. We could argue whether the Iranian regime is better or worse, but you can understand why it’s convenient to keep one against the other.

          Anyway, as I said, there’s been something of a promise the Saudis will improve. At this stage we might as well wait and see what the new Prince is going to deliver.

    • Andrew_FL says:

      It’s actually totally legitimate to make a whatabout argument about the last point, though. You can’t degrade an office that’s already degraded.

      • Harold says:

        “You can’t degrade an office that’s already degraded.”
        Yes, you can further degrade it. Degradation is a matter if degree, not an absolute.

        • Andrew_FL says:

          Not in any actually meaningful sense more than it already has been, in this actual case.

          It may be painful for you to realize it, but the office of the Presidency as been a big fat disgrace for over a hundred years now at least.

          • Harold says:

            I think you have a funny view of the world if you think there is nothing that could degrade the office further. That literally (in the old sense) the worst thing that presidents could do has already been done.

            • Andrew_FL says:

              You misunderstand, Harold. I am saying further degradation is irrelevant, not impossible. It is irrelevant because Presidents have already done things bad enough that the reverence the average person holds for the office is totally undeserved. Contempt is what the office deserves. Just the things Presidents *routinely* do, now.

            • Harold says:

              OK, that at least makes sense, even if I disagree.

              • Dan says:

                Out of curiosity, what do you think is worse than dropping bombs on children?

              • Harold says:

                Dropping bombs on children with a smile on your face.

    • Andrew Keen says:

      Step 1: Claim something you don’t like is the worst ever.

      Step 2: Wait for a counterexample.

      Step 3: Screech, “WHATABOUTISM!!!”

      • Tel says:

        Regarding the “WHATABOUTISM”, if a group starts to bang on about the principle of the matter, and you can point out the exact same group don’t actually follow this principle they feel inclined to espouse, then I think it’s a pretty good demonstration that they are opportunists whose cries about principle can be safely ignored.

        Any action anyone does might (very slightly) influence the outcome of an election, in some indirect manner. However, it is ridiculous to freak out about small things, and besides that the whole point of an election is that it SHOULD be influenced by what’s going on in the world, else there’s no point.

        We then have a generally established standard as to some certain level of effect that might be considered quite legitimate, and we have a threshold where beyond that it might be considered “interference” or unacceptable. So if the behavior of the USA establishes a standard of what is reasonable (in terms of election influence), then Russia fell way, way beneath that threshold and there is nothing whatsoever to complain about.

        Since in global politics there is no other way to establish a standard other than looking at what people do and what they get away with, this is the reference available to use, so we use it. If at some future stage the “Progressives” want to work hard and clean up their own game, show self-improvement, and live to a higher standard, then that’s great… but in the meantime since they are unable to achieve that, they will be rightly treated as hypocrites when they point the finger at anyone else.

        • Harold says:

          ” So if the behavior of the USA establishes a standard of what is reasonable…
          Since in global politics there is no other way to establish a standard other than looking at what people do and what they get away with,”

          This is not a standard that would be accepted by anyone.

          If you are suggesting that what is acceptable should be the worst things that the USA has ever done and “got away with” we are on a very dangerous path.

          • Andrew Keen says:

            Would you agree that no one has any right to be more outraged by Russian interference than by US interference in foreign elections?


            Jesus: First cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

            Harold: Whataboutism!

            • Harold says:

              If Russia used drones to assassinate Americans in the USA, would you say “That is OK, USA does the same in other countries.”?

              • Bob Murphy says:

                Harold wrote: If Russia used drones to assassinate Americans in the USA, would you say “That is OK, USA does the same in other countries.”?

                Harold, of course it wouldn’t be OK. But if the warhawks who had cheerleading drone bombing of Middle East then went nuts, and used rhetoric that exactly condemned the earlier policies they had cheerleaded, then I certainly wouldn’t take them seriously.

              • Andrew Keen says:

                Certainly not. Why would I say something like that?

                But Putin would probably say, “The US are hypocrites to complain. They have been doing the same thing to our allies for decades.”

                Shouting “Whataboutism!” at Putin would hardly resolve the issue.

              • Harold says:

                Lets be clear what this particular segment is about.

                This is a response to the claim that
                ” So if the behavior of the USA establishes a standard of what is reasonable…
                Since in global politics there is no other way to establish a standard other than looking at what people do and what they get away with,”

                Andrew and Bob both agree with me that this is not a reasonable standard.

          • Tel says:

            If it really is such a dangerous path then why are so many American officials quite confident to go ahead and do it over and over?

            I don’t see a whole lot of protest over it. Sure a few (largely irrelevant, sorry Bob but it’s true) libertarians have an occasional hand wringing session, but other than that the media just shrugs, the politicians go about their business, the voters don’t appear to react. Can’t be quite as “dangerous” as you are making out, else someone would have spoken up long ago.

            Until the confected “Russiagate” thing comes along, then they all start displaying their hypocrisy… but can you explain exactly why that makes anything less “dangerous” ? Are the CIA likely to think that the standards set by “Russiagate” somehow apply to them?

      • Harold says:

        You may have had a point is the claim was principally about the “worst ever” part of the claims. Russia interfered in the USA election. The claim is not that this interference was the worst ever electoral interference by a foreign power anywhere in the world. Therefore your logic fails.

        It might be about this being the worst ever interference in USA election by a foreign power, but that just support the “whataboutism” argument.

        The claim is “Trump is threatening to censor the media” or words to that effect. It is not that this is the worst ever case of media threatening ever. Therefore comparison to historical threats is whataboutism.

        Put it another way. If we fully acknowledge that these comparisons were worse examples, does that mean that we should no longer be concerned about the current ones? I think not, so they are not refutations of the arguments, but a fallacy.

        • Andrew Keen says:

          You can’t argue principles with a moral relativist. Exposing your opponents hypocrisy is useful rhetoric, even if it doesn’t meet the standards of dialectic. Whataboutism simply means “I don’t want to have to defend my heroes while attacking yours.” That ship has sailed. Rhetoric may be a dirty game, but it’s the only one in town.

          • Harold says:

            It can certainly be effective. That does not make it any less of a fallacy.

  3. Darien says:

    In re: censorship: I may be charmingly naïve, but I’ve never gotten the sense that Trump actually *wants* to silence his critics. He’s a blowhard from Queens; he loves the attention. He gets attention when they attack him, then he blows them up and gets more attention, then he talks lawsuit and gets perceived as powerful, plus he fires up his diehards.

    After all, the only thing worse than being talked about is *not* being talked about.

    • Harold says:

      You see, it is possible to address the issue without saying what about…

      I am not sure though. I am sure he does not want to stop them writing about him, but if he could strengthen the libel laws to make it easier to sue them, I am not sure he would not do that.

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