What I Vote For
Every election season, anywhere in the global arena of election-based politics, we are invited to reconsider our basic democratic principles, by which I mean the premises and purposes according to which we determine our own voting preferences. Thus, as the two or three hundred American voters who have not already cast their ballots prepare to head to their polling stations on November 3rd, I, a non-American, nevertheless take this moment to reflect on my own democratic needs. In other words, what do I vote for?
First of all, to clear the field of all obscuring debris, let us dismiss all those things that most people vote for, but which in my view are entirely outside the realm of proper electoral decision-making. I do not vote for my party, for the lesser of two evils, for new ideas, for economic growth, for social programs, for the guy who gives me the best gut feeling, for the outsider, for the most compassionate candidate, the most educated candidate, the most experienced candidate, the candidate I would most like to have a beer with, or the candidate who really seems to love his country.
I vote — in speech and in deed — for principled liberty. I vote for a candidate who seems to embody and at least moderately understand limited government, republicanism, the rule of law, and the nexus between the civility in civil society and the liberalism in liberal democracy. I vote for a candidate who would have been recognizable as a decent statesman by Tocqueville and Jefferson, by Aristotle and Locke. I vote for those who have the courage to stand against the progressive authoritarian wave, not with vacuous rhetoric or clever careerist machinations, but with moral and intellectual clarity in defense of freedom.
In short…in short, I do not vote in this century.
[Disclaimer: I am not telling anyone else how to vote, or condemning anyone for approaching the question differently. I am merely describing the principles and priorities that I apply to judging election candidates.]
The mainstream media has spent the past six weeks “reporting on polls” — i.e., carefully crafting statistical lies and half-truths — that have no other purpose but to suppress the enthusiasm of potential Trump voters. There is nothing new about this — that is all election polling has ever been about, leaving aside its original historical purpose, namely to sell newspapers, i.e., as marketing.
I see that the fastest-talking used car salesman in the conservative media, Ben Shapiro, after careful soul-searching (i.e., market analysis), has decided to come out hard and enthusiastically for Trump this time around. Four years ago, he was one of those people who wedged himself into a corner during the primaries by throwing his chips in with the Trump skeptics. When his gambit lost, he found himself trapped in his own previous arguments: apparently lacking the absolute shamelessness of Dennis Prager, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, and the rest of his conservative media millionaire shyster comrades, Shapiro tried to hang onto his audience and media empire by surrounding himself with Trumpster-fire sellouts, while cleverly evolving his personal “good Trump, bad Trump” schtick, pretending not to have changed his views by regularly objecting to Trump’s personality foibles (safe, since even many Trump cultists admit he is a bit too vulgar sometimes), while embracing his presidential agenda and policies.
Now, finally having survived the commercial awkwardness of Trump’s first term without entirely sacrificing the audience members who used to believe he was principled, Shapiro is taking advantage of the election to hit the reset button on his public position. In a rapid-fire spew of platitudes, the clever salesman builds his case for voting for Trump this year on three legs:
First, I was simply wrong about Donald Trump on policy. Second, I wasn’t really wrong about Donald Trump on character, but whatever damage he was gonna do has already been done — it’s not gonna help if I don’t vote for him this time. And third, most importantly, the Democrats have lost their f—ing minds.
If you slow that down to half-speed, as I did in order to transcribe it — and as is always advisable when listening to Shapiro, a high school debate champion who never graduated to actual thinking, as is obvious when you listen to him at adult speed — you will hear this:
First, Donald Trump is more conservative than Ronald Reagan. Second, sure he’s not a perfect human, but politics is a rough sport, and at least he has courage and principles and loves America. And third — “most importantly” — But Hillary!
In other words, Shapiro is now spouting exactly the case that the cultists were spouting at him four years ago, but which he rejected — until it became the winning position, in the sense of being the financially prudent position from the point of view of a salesman whose product is pop star conservatism, i.e., ersatz principles.
That final idea — which Shapiro specifically cites as the most important reason to vote for Trump — that the Democrats have evolved into something so much more dangerous and disturbing than they were in 2016, is the surest sign we are looking at a compromised man-child, a businessman seeking an angle to help him reduce the appearance of hypocrisy in contradicting last year’s marketing strategy.
My view on Trump, by contrast, is just as it was four years ago, with no substantial changes on any important points. I said then (I would wager that Shapiro did too) that Trump would do many things in office that Republican voters would like, since after all he is a GOP establishment puppet. I said then that the Democrats were dangerous and corrupt — which was all the more reason not to support a man who, if elected, would effectively kill any sort of principled opposition to the Democrats for a generation. And I said then that Trump’s utter lack of intelligence or curiosity, his deficiency in character, and his emotional infantilism and volatility, would make him a wrecking ball to rational political discourse and hence the end of any hope of reviving the disarming effects of Reaganesque principled civility on the American political scene.
I was right then, and I am right now. To say, as Shapiro says, that “whatever damage he was gonna do has already been done,” is tantamount to saying “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” That is an acceptance-obsessed little boy talking, or a cynical businessman, or both. If you believed it was wrong to stand with an amoral vulgarian four years ago, then it is wrong to stand with one now — if principles matter, that is. As for the damage Trump was “gonna do,” Shapiro’s shift, including his public use of the f-word to punctuate his argument, is evidence in favor of his own concerns from four years ago. That sort of “damage” just doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore, does it Ben? This evolving perspective — the softening on stupidity — is evidence of exactly the concern some of us had in 2016. It is also evidence of the effects of money and material vested interests on thought. The practical difference between philosophy and sophistry, education and sophistry, political principles and sophistry, is more often than not the presence of money.