Friday, December 11, 2015

Trump and Bernie: Business as usual

I think one of the things that makes me most pessimistic about the future of freedom (and by extension, humanity itself) is the enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump as the U.S. presidential election machine kicks into gear again.

In the first place, it worries me that people apparently have either very little understanding of, or very little regard for, actual freedom.  I'm not sure whether that worries me more or less than the fact that poeple seem to believe that either Sanders or Trump offers anything radically different from what we've been getting since at least the beginning of the twentieth century.

The appeal of both Sanders and Trump depends not on cool-headed reason, but purely on emotion, especially negative emotion.

Trump panders to fear, especially xenophobia.  His anti-immigrant rhetoric is rife with both racist undertones and economic ignorance.  (Economic theory and empirical evidence both strongly refute the idea that immigrants are a drag on economic prosperity, but siphoning away the enormous amount of resources from productive enterprise that enforcing Trump's vision of immigration control would require certainly would be.)  Likewise, his anti-Muslim rantings play to the wildly overblown fear of Islamic terrorism - a real thing, to be sure, but far less a threat than, say, being struck by lightning...or being killed by a cop.  (Both are statistically more likely than being a victim of Islamic terrorism within U.S. borders, even including the death toll of 9/11.)

Sanders, on the other hand, appeals to our sense of envy and entitlement, stoking resentment of "the 1%" and promising free stuff (paid for by looting "the rich") like there's no tomorrow.  There is no evidence at all, either from the man himself or from his supporters, of any real understanding of the science of economics.  His proposed treatment of a very real problem is neither insightful nor revolutionary, but simply doubling down on the same well-worn policies of economic central planning that have been with us at least since Wilson, Hoover, and FDR.

Trump, to be sure, has taken some heavy criticism, but that seems to owe much more to his pompous persona and abrasive rhetoric than to his policies being more obectionable than Sanders's.  Sanders, for all that he comes across as a fairly mild-mannered eccentric, is every bit as virulently authoritarian in his policies as is Trump, and every bit as ignorant of reality.  Both of them, wittingly or unwittingly, represent an acceleration of the erosion of liberty and the tightening of government control over the lives of American citizens.  It is perhaps obvious how the Trumpian vision of national "security" will necessarily grow the surveillance and police powers of government.  Less obvious, but no less disturbing, is the expansion of the police state which the Sanders economy would require.  The more revenue the state means to take, the less it can tolerate any economic activity out of its watchful eye.  The case of Eric Garner, the New York man strangled to death by police, is often cited as an example of police brutality and racism, but the fact that the incident was precipitated by his selling of untaxed cigarettes ought to be seen as a chilling reminder that control of economic activity cannot occur without the will to enforce it - lethally, if need be.

I don't believe that either Sanders or Trump will win his respective party's nomination, nor do I think that the candidates the establishment will eventually vomit onto our electoral plates will be much better.  Trump and Sanders supporters are justified in being fed up with endless retreads of fascist-lite candidates, different talking heads spouting the same old platitudes and enacting the same old policies.  It's just disheartening to see that they're falling for it again even as they think they're rebelling against it, because their "revolt" is an emotional reaction only, not an intellectual one.  More government control is what we've been getting for ages, and being led around by the emotions like dogs on a leash is far from new or novel, either.  What we need is a revolution of reason, which leads inexorably toward less fear and more freedom.

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