Gotta Vote Sometime

Election Day arrives. What to do? Here’s my thinking.

1. Like Peggy Noonan, I’m all for Sane Donald Trump (for the reasons she gives).  But Real Donald Trump is a little crazy, no? He’s had a whole campaign to convince us otherwise — it’s really all he had to do! — and he’s been at best semi-successful. If he’s actually not crazy — if the calmer Trump we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks is the real man — this failure is even more inexplicable.  If he loses, that will obviously be the main reason. Sane Trump would win in a landslide (as Noonan notes).

2. What about the alternative to Trump? The big problem with Hillary Clinton isn’t that she promises a dreary and unimaginative continuation of our current course (“Inertia“), though she does. Or that, undeterred by her disastrous judgment on Libya, she seems almost W-like in her eagerness to prosecute an idealistic-but-unnecessary confrontation with Russia. Or that she may be a “crook.”** I don’t care about her damn emails. There are bigger things at stake.

Presidential terms tend to get measured — rightly — by large pieces of legislation. The Social Security Act. The Wagner Act. The Civil Rights Act.  Medicare. NAFTA. Obamacare. The Constitution makes it hard to pass these bills; when we do it’s a big deal. The main problem with Hillary, then, remains that she’s committed to her party’s highly irresponsible legislative push regarding who gets to become an American, a push that threatens to over time dissolve our national project through what will effectively be “open trade and open borders.”  One of Hillary’s first acts — if not the first — will be to run to Congress to get them to pass an amnesty-first-enforcement-maybe immigration law that, in practice, will commit the U.S. to serial amnesties of people who come here illegally — people whose numbers are likely to increase as succeeding generations abroad realize that if they can just reach U.S. soil they’ll qualify for the next amnesty.*** Maybe this legislation can be stopped in a Republican House currently led by a pro-amnesty Speaker. Maybe it can’t. But the prospect of losing effective control of our borders is an “existential threat” far greater than any posed when a blustering Trump suggests he’ll protest losing the election or sue his enemies.

You can look at what is happening in Europe now for a taste of what uncontrolled borders would mean. Most significantly, they’d make it virtually impossible to maintain the kind of tight labor market that would reliably boost incomes of Americans who perform basic labor (the very people who’ve done the worst in recent decades) and force American capitalists to draw those wavering near the margins of society into the work force.

I don’t doubt ‘free movement of goods and people’ would  produce a higher GDP. But it would also pull our country apart and make the traditional American idea of social equality near-impossible. We’d move to a (high growth!) Hong-Kongish, beehive-like meritocracy in which richer, smarter people can’t help but look down on a poor, dispensable low-paid (and increasingly subsidy-dependent) unskilled work force. Those invidious attitudes are already in evidence.

Trump opens up a different path, where we are willing give up a few points of GDP — slowing trade, controlling the influx of eager new workers — in order to have the kind of society we want, where communities are displaced more slowly and “we are equal in the eyes of each other.”**** We could still let in plenty of newcomers, of course. But we would democratically choose to do so.

Add to this Trump’s seeming intention to protect entitlements from Ryanesque plans that subject them to market-like uncertainty, and his resistance to regime-changing military adventures, and you’ve beneficially transformed the Republican party along four major axes.

3. If Trump were clearly going to lose, I’d definitely vote for him! An actual Trump victory (as Ann Coulter says) is the clearest way to send both parties a definitive message: ‘Stop trying to cram uncontrolled trade and immigration down our throats.’ A big, almost-winning Trump vote is the next best way to send that message.

But Trump’s not doomed. He might win. I don’t have that out.

4. He’s doomed in California, though!  And I live in Los Angeles. So I will vote for him without further agonizing, secure in the knowledge that it can’t possibly affect who is actually elected.  It will, however, help send the message that even in a one-party blue state (blued by immigration) there are dissenters.

5. Is that a cop-out? Well, yes, it is.  When people ask me whom I’ll vote for they really want to know if I’d rather Trump be President than Clinton. My thinking on this, alas, hasn’t much changed since I tried to answer the question last year. Trump is a candidate of high risks ***** (including the foreign policy risk described by Ross Douthat here) and high potential rewards (see #2, above). But — domestically, at least — the courts and Congress will have a fine old time keeping him under control. Clinton’s risks are substantial too — including the risk of war with Russia — but more limited, as are the potential rewards (and even those, like fixing Obamacare, seem remote if Republicans retain Congress).

It’s one of those lifeboat questions you ask yourself when you aren’t being ‘mindful’ — whom do you throw overboard, your sister or a prize-winning scientist? — and then learn not to ask yourself. I don’t think anyone can honestly answer it without knowing their own, individual appetite for risk, including serious risks (like war). I’d take the Trump risk. You may choose otherwise.


**–The nation might be well-enough served by “a crook who knows her business,” as Jackie Mason might put it.

*** — Do political consultants say we have to have an amnesty to avoid alarming Latino and Asian voters? If that’s true, then the next time around there will only be more voters to placate. Hence, amnesty after amnesty.

**** — Preserving social equality won’t solve the problem of atomization — loneliness and lack of  community. It won’t tell us what to do when more and more unskilled (and skilled) work is taken over by robots. But I’d hope it’s a feature of whatever solutions we might come up with. And the principle of tempering the pursuit of maximum GDP — in the name of other values –seems important.

***** — Yes, this Includes a very small but not completely nonexistent risk of stumbling into a use of  nuclear weaponry.  I urge you to read this underpublicized piece by Ron Rosenbaum — on Trump’s nuclear arms-control obsession in the late 80s — before you get too worried, though.