My First Election
The first election I remember was that of 2008. Raised by Democrats, I eagerly researched Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards. I watched the primary debates. I remember talking to my parents the day after they met Edwards at an event. I printed and read a large stack of summaries of the California ballot propositions (which notably included Prop 8), highlighting details I found important and deciding my hypothetical votes. After much consideration, I threw all of my 10 year old support behind then-Senator Barrack Obama. I wore a campaign shirt, cheered him on during the debates with McCain, and even shook his hand and got his autograph at a rally in San Fransisco. That was eight years ago. Since then, my politics and values have become completely rewritten as I became disillusioned with the Left and have found intellectual rigor and moral principle in conservatism, but I continued to follow politics.
Going into this presidential election cycle, I was incredibly excited about the field of candidates. In 2012, I had reservations about Mitt Romney, who I do think I underestimated in retrospect. But 2016 would be a good year. I was proud of what Senator Rand Paul had done for civil liberties and crime. While weary about him because of Bridgegate, Chris Christi seemed promising. Scott Walker had an impressive record with taking on his state's unions. Senator Cruz seemed to have electability problems, but he has made incredibly intelligent comments during Federal Reserve hearings from a market monetarist perspective. Marco Rubio seemed incredibly competent on foreign policy. John Kasich's work on budgets and governorship of Ohio made him seem promising. And ole' "Jeb!" Seemed like an all-around intelligent choice. Pundits everywhere agreed with my assessment — that the GOP had their strongest potential candidates in cycles.
But here we are — against the expectations of our best pollsters, betting markets, and television pundits — with The Donald. Someone who, as cliche as the criticism has become, is not a conservative. Someone who has historically low approval ratings, and polls poorly against Clinton. With Trump, the Right succumbed to identity politics, making us as bad as the Left. We gave up universal values for personal grievances. We sacrificed Conservatism for Political Incorrectness. I would have been been happy to throw some Political Incorrectness in to Establishment Conservatism, so as to not allow the Left to push us around with weak, unreplicated sociology research, but that is only if we retained the Conservatism.
Trump's Political Incorrectness has done a remarkable job in rallying previously unknown parts of the Young Right, what could be called the Breitbart movement, or the related alt-Right. This is a group that suffers not from the tyranny of taxes and overregulation, but the whining of their Social Justice Warrior peers. Conservatives should have embraced a responsible Political Incorrectness years ago to rally this group. This means instead of just saying "Political Correctness hurts America," actually being Politically Incorrect, unafraid to say, "If you can't go through life without Trigger Warnings on everything you are absolutely useless to society." This means not kowtowing to specious cliches about being "On The Wrong Side Of History" and "It's [Current Year]". Moreover, this means not just being a bigot.
Liberals love to say that Political Correctness is "just being polite." If that was true, it wouldn't be a problem. As Conservatives, we need to push back hard when Political Correctness goes beyond this and begins to stifle discourse, like banning argument against affirmative action or research into neurological gender differences, not when it actually means a standard of civility. Without Republican politicians doing this, we are left with Trump.
Trump doesn't have a problem with welfare, he just thinks it should be going to Whites. Now instead of a principled argument about incentives and hard work, discourse becomes which interest group gets what. Republicanism, at least until someone saves it, no longer means small-C conservatism, and I won't be able to introduce myself as one until the terms become reconnected.
And yet I'm also not remotely ready to sign up as a Democrat. Senator Sanders will lose the primary, but not by reassuring margins. If half of Democrats are ready to support a Socialist, and more may be soon, I see this as virtually no better than the Party of Trump.
So for whom do I cast my first vote?
I am not "#probablynotTrump", I am thoroughly "#neverTrump." Apologists who make claims like, "When elected he will probably rely on good experts" or, "His temperament will mellow if he is elected" provide no convincing evidence for their beliefs, let alone strong enough evidence on which to gamble America's future. In a recent podcast, Ezra Klien said when looking for an intellectual or expert to write a case for Trump on his website, Vox, he found that essentially no one is making cases beyond "He will change" or "He is waking up the establishment." There has been no serious case that Trump governing in the manner in which he campaigns will be a good thing.
Trump has shown empathy for enemies of America, like Vladimir Putin and the KKK, among other hate groups. He has but two semi-consistent issues of his campaign (a wall with Mexico and banning Muslims), but has even contradicted himself on these. He is blatantly wrong about trade. And while I actually believes he correctly attacks PC culture and demands America toughen up, he manages to mess these issues up. Instead of being Politically Incorrect to challenge the dogma of Third Wave Feminism and the host of ridiculous ideas that plague our nation's campuses, he uses it as guise for actual racism and sexism. Instead of demanding America toughen up and challenge an overly litigious legal culture or elementary schools banning imaginary guns (or something), he asks his fans to attack people at rallies. I can't cast my vote for him.
I don't think I will vote for Ms. Clinton either though. She has sacrificed her best qualities, being strong on free trade and her Liberal Internationalism to pander to the Democratic far left. I would expect her VP choice will do the same. She has proven herself a slave to opinion polls, shamelessly following the Democratic talking points. One day the TPP is the "Gold Standard," the next she can no longer support it. Ms. Clinton's policy is the same as Democratic Party's majority, and I don't trust their priorities.
There is also still the possibility of a third party candidate. Reportedly, Bill Kristol met with Mitt Romney to discuss this possibility. While the possibility is exciting to someone like me, getting Mr. Romney into the White House would be a hard sell. He would have to win a few states, and neither Ms. Clinton or Mr. Trump would receive the minimum electoral college votes to win. Then Speaker Paul Ryan would have to be convinced that electing Romney was worth completely subverting the democratic process. Given that the idea of a contested convention was rejected within the Republican Party, no one seems keen to do this.
I would not mind not voting. I think "civic duty" zealots are somewhere between destructive and silly in general. Bryan Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter makes a strong case the majority of people consistently vote against everyone's interest, so encouraging participation for only the sake of participation seems like a poor idea. Mr. Caplan identifies four prevalent biases: Make-Work, Anti-Foreign, Anti-Market, and Over-Pessimistic, which lead voters to systematically wrong votes. So instead of a randomized ignorant public (voting 49% for candidate A and 49% for candidate B with the informed 2% making the decision), the public is consistently mislead, swinging the election. Caplan observes that it is a miracle democracy's policies aren't worse. Even if this is a smaller problem than Mr. Caplan believes, voting advocates seem to demonstrate no understanding of the Paradox of Voting. In California, or virtually any uncontested state, voting in the presidential election is useless. Mathematically, the minuscule time saved skipping the first question on the ballot could still produce more utility virtually anywhere.
I don't know who, if anyone, I will vote for, but this is not how I hoped my first election would go. I can't think of a presidential election in the last 50 years where we were presented with worse options. It is truly a failure of this primary season. If Mr. Trump had not won the primary, Ms. Clinton would have the lowest approval ratings of a candidate in history. Since he did, he has the lowest. It is a truly disappointing first election.
Photo Credit: SisterMaryEris via Flickr