While Trump claimed that he would help the forgotten people of America, his rural and small town supporters will most likely be harmed by the implementation of his agenda. Trump also ran hard on repealing Obamacare and engaging in what some would characterize as trade wars. If the administration makes good on these promises, many of his supporters will be harmed. Some have gone as far as asserting that Trump’s presidency will prove to be a disaster for the white working class.
Since these are factual claims, they can be countered by evidence to the contrary and it is worth considering that the predictions of woe might prove to be in error. That is, the Trump administration will lead the working class and forgotten people to a new age of prosperity, health and wellbeing. While not logically impossible, this does seem unlikely. As such, the most reasonable bet is that the Trump administration will prove to be good for Trump and his fellow economic elites but not so good for everyone else.
After Trump won, a cottage industry of writing articles explaining why people supported him when doing so seemed contrary to their interests. It is, of course, tempting to liberal intellectuals to explain this support in terms of such things as racism. It is also tempting to think that people were willfully ignorant of Trump’s long history of misdeeds (such as how students were exploited by Trump University), that many of his supporters were pathologically delusional in believing that he would truly act in their interests or that they were simply stupid. I will, however, advance a different account, that the Trump supporters who will be hurt by Trump and the other Republicans are moral heroes.
While there are many ways to be a moral hero, one standard way is for a person to willingly suffer harm for the sake of the good of others. The stock philosophy 101 example is, of course, the soldier who throws themselves upon a grenade to save their fellows. This is often presented in utilitarian terms: the willing suffering of the few is outweighed by the good this generates for the many. If the Trump supporters knew they would be hurt by his policies, but believed that their suffering would make America great again, then they could be regarded as moral heroes for their sacrifice. If, however, they thought they would benefit from Trump’s policies and got it wrong, then they would not be moral heroes, but merely have been acting from self-interest.
While a noble sacrifice for the good of the many would be heroic, it does not seem that Trump’s policies will be good for the many Americans. Rather, it seems that Trump and his fellow Republicans will be crafting policies that benefit the rich at the expense of the many. For example, his tax plan will be amazing for the rich but harmful to those who are not well off. As such, without an assumption of ignorance, those who supported Trump and will be harmed by his policies cannot be considered moral heroes. At least in the context of utilitarianism. However, there are other moral theories and one of these might make them moral heroes.
Trump, like most people, does not seem to operate based on a considered moral theory. This is no more surprising than the fact that most people do not operate based on considering theories in physics, biology, medicine or engineering. However, these theories still apply to what people do and it is reasonable to consider what sort of moral theory Trump and his fellows would fit into.
The way Trump has treated contractors, students at Trump University, women and others indicates that Trump operates from selfishness. This would suggest that the most likely moral theory to apply to Trump would be ethical egoism. This is the view that a person should act to maximize value for themselves. Alternatively, that each person should act entirely in their own interest. This is in contrast with altruistic ethics, which include the view that each person should not always act solely in their own self-interest, but should consider others.
Ethical egoism seems to fit many Republicans and hence it is no surprise that the frat-bro Republican philosopher Paul Ryan has embraced the ethical egoism of Ayn Rand. To be fair, after John Oliver critiqued Rand, Ryan did assert that he does not embrace her objectivism. However, consideration of Rand’s policies show that they are consistent with the ethics of Rand as expressed in her view that selfishness is a virtue.
While Trump would seem to fit within ethical egoism, this moral theory would make the Trump supporters who will be hurt by Trump chumps and not heroes. After all, a moral hero in ethical egoism would be a person who acts to maximize their self-interest. This will typically be at the expense of others. A moral hero of an ethical egoist would not back Trump if they believed that doing so would be contrary to their interests and would not maximize value for them. However, there is still a chance for moral heroism.
While Trump certainly has the selfishness part of ethical egoism down, classical ethical egoism enjoins everyone to maximize their self-interest. In the ideal laid out by Adam Smith, this would result in competition that is supposed to benefit everyone by the magic of the invisible hand of the market.
It is true that Trump, Ryan and their ilk are presenting polices that do not just benefit themselves. Many of these polices do benefit others, but it is a select group of others, namely the economic elites. While this could be explained in terms of ethical egoism, that Trump and Ryan are doing the right thing because benefiting these elites benefits them (Ryan, for example, enjoys the financial backing of these elites and this enables him to get re-elected) there is also an alternative. This could be called “ethical oligarchism.” This is the moral view that people should act to maximize value (or in the interest of) the oligarchs. This can, of course, be a nationalistic ethics—that people of a country should act in the interest of their oligarchs. It could also be a general view that transcends borders—that everyone should act in according with the interests of the oligarchs of the world.
On this view, the Trump supporters who will harmed by Trump’s policies are moral heroes—they have sacrificed their own good for the good of the oligarchs.
The upcoming election will be, in part, about who voters believe (correctly or not) will be able to restore the economy. Laying aside the matter of perceptions, there is also the question of whether or not the president actually has a significant impact on the economy. However, this question goes beyond the intended scope of this essay.
Obama has, of course, had his first term to create (or destroy) the perception that he can succeed over the next four years. Supporters of Obama point towards the fact that the free-falling economy did not hit the bottom and eventually started recovering. They also claim that the Republican’s main argument is that Obama should be replaced because he failed to clean up their mess fast enough. They add to this that the Republican plan is to return to the approach taken under the Bush administration. If this were true, there would seem to be little reason to believe that the Republicans could achieve something different by doing the same things.
Ryan and Romney were somewhat vague about their proposals, although Ryan believes that “the secret to economic growth is lower tax rates for families and successful small businesses by plugging loopholes.” Ryan seems to claim that closing the loopholes will impact high-income earners the most since they use the majority of loopholes. Under the current system, this allows them to use the loopholes to shelter their income from taxation. Ryan has also made the point that lowering the tax rates and plugging loopholes will be revenue neutral. That is, the government will receive the same amount of money. This, of course, would seem to require that the loopholes that are closed will generate revenue equivalent to the tax cuts (although one might argue that the economic growth alleged to arise from the tax cuts would also be a factor-this would generate more tax income).
In theory, this could be done-it is, after all, a matter of math as to whether the tax cuts would be offset by the loophole closings. Of course, a proper calculation would require knowing the nature of the tax cuts as well as the loopholes that will supposedly be closed. However, Ryan has been reluctant to reveal the specifics of this plan. He did say that he and Romney intend to “show the framework, show the outlines of these plans, and then to work with Congress to do this.”
Not surprisingly, some critics have accused Romney and Ryan of having a secret plan. Given that critics made a similar point against Obamacare (noting that the idea that we would find out what is in it after it passed seemed problematic), this would certainly have some bite against the Republicans, assuming a consistent stance was taken against not knowing what was in it until it was rather late in the day, so to speak.
Ryan’s counter is that the plan is not a secret one because he wants to resolve the details “with the consent of the elected representatives of the people and figure out what loopholes should stay or go and who should or should not get them.” On one hand, this would not be a secret plan, at least not in the sense of having the hashing out of the actual details in secret (assuming, of course, that the elected officials do not do things in secret-which is often business as usual in political matters). On the other hand, it can be seen as a secret plan in the sense that we will not know what loopholes will be plugged until after the election. This is somewhat like saying that the contents of a wrapped present are not secret on the grounds that the present will eventually be opened in front of people. In this case, all we need to do to see the mystery present opened is to vote for Romney and Ryan. At this point, what might be under the wrapping paper is a matter of speculation.
While Ryan claims that the majority of loopholes are used by higher income people, without knowing what loopholes will be plugged it is not clear that the majority (or any) of the plugged loopholes will be those that are used primarily by those with higher incomes. After all, there are numerous loopholes that are also used by people with lesser incomes, such as the tax deduction for mortgages. Plugging that loophole would impact more than just higher income people. For all that is known now, the result might be that a significant number of the loopholes that end up being plugged are those that are used by people with lesser incomes. As such, the tax cuts mentioned by Ryan might be balanced by increasing the tax burden of those with lesser incomes. While this would technically not be a tax increase in the sense of an increase in the tax rate, it would be an increase in the amount of taxes that would be paid. After all, in terms of the money a person has to send in to the IRS it matters little whether that increase was due to a tax rate increase or the removal of a previous loophole. Thus, while Ryan seems to be indicating that the tax decrease will be compensated by closing loopholes that are mostly used by the higher income folks, there seems to be no reason to believe that will be the case.
Naturally, it can be predicted that those who will pick the loopholes to close will endeavor to steer clear of closing popular loopholes (since closing them would be politically damaging). It also seems likely that they will avoid the loopholes dear to those with influence over the deciders. This would seem to leave only unpopular loopholes that benefit people with little or no influence. It is somewhat hard to imagine that closing such loopholes would be enough to offset a significant tax decrease. But perhaps such loopholes exist. Or perhaps the deciders would be able to cut popular loopholes and those used by the influential. Looking at the track record, this seems somewhat unlikely.
Another point worth considering is whether or not this approach would have any effect. After all, if the plan is supposed to be revenue neutral, then the only meaningful impact would seem to be to shift the burden. While Ryan seems to be indicating the shift will be upwards, there is not clear evidence that this will actually be the case. There is also the obvious concern that keeping revenue the same will not, by itself, have any impact on the deficit. If revenues are not increased, this would mean that spending would have to be cut in order to reduce the deficit. Naturally, Ryan has already proposed a budget-one that was condemned by religious leaders as immoral and unpatriotic. While I sometimes differ with the Catholic church on matters, I do find their moral arguments against this proposed budget compelling. This might, however, be due to the influence of my Catholic friends and family.
Since I do not actually know what loopholes would be closed under a Romney-Ryan administration, I cannot say with any confidence that this would lead to good or bad results. I do agree with Ryan that there are loopholes that should be closed, although we might differ in the specifics. My inclination is, however, to see the Romney-Ryan plan regarding loopholes for what it is-something I mainly cannot see.
While the Democrats have provided more in terms of specifics, there are still questions about exactly what Obama would do in his second term. More importantly, there is the question of whether or not his plans will work. At this point, however, Obama has a significant edge in terms of details. Also, the new Republican plan that has been revealed seems to be rather similar to the old Republican plan, namely the one in effect when the economy slid into ruin. Romney and Ryan need to offer more if they wish to provide reasons to think that they can do a better job. After all, while the economy is still weak, it is improving. Going on with Obama would thus seem to lead to a continuance of improvement, although perhaps at a slow rate. Going back to the old Republican plan would presumably have the same results as before, namely ruin. As far as the new Republican plan, the details, if not secret, remain ahead in some possible future.
As I have noted in other posts, both the Democrats and the Republicans seem to be somewhat truth averse. Or, at the very least, willing to take a flexible approach to matters of fact. A quick look at Politifacts shows this to be the case.
While some non-truths can be attributed to honest errors or ignorance (especially ones that occur in spontaneous or otherwise unprepared remarks), this surely cannot be the explanation for all cases. Unless, of course, politicians are to be attributed sweeping incompetence and broad ignorance.
In some cases, politicians no doubt fall victims to their own narratives and cognitive biases and they no doubt feel that what they are saying is true, even when it is not. While this is still a problem, it can be somewhat forgiven on the grounds that these biases are difficult to counter, we are all subject to them and they are typically not intentional deceits (unless the person is also intentionally deceiving himself/herself).
In other cases, the politicians are no doubt aware that they are saying things that are not true and they are doing so with an intent to mislead. That is, they are lying. As noted in an earlier post, Paul Ryan’s speech contained numerous untruths and distortions. Not surprisingly, some of his fellow Republicans came to his defense and said that what mattered were his broader points and larger message.
On the one hand, they do make a reasonable general point: when considering a matter it is rather critical to sort out what is important and what is a minor point. After all, pointing out errors or defects in some of the minor points need not show that the whole is defective in significant ways. For example, if Ryan had said that Obama had cut $771 million from a program and he had actually cut $717 million, then pointing out this error would hardly show that Ryan’s overall narrative was flawed.
On the other hand, Ryan’s overall narrative seemed to be supported by critical claims that were untrue or distortions. That is, his evidence for his main claim turned out to be mostly defective. While this does not prove that his main claim is not true, it does show that his defective evidence should not be accepted as evidence for his claims. Obviously enough, if Obama is as bad as Ryan claims, then he should have been able to present true and un-distorted evidence for his view. After all, why lie and bend the truth if the facts would suffice?
One possibility is that the facts would not suffice-that is, in reality Obama is not as bad as Ryan claims. In short, Ryan needed to support his straw man and alternative reality with fictional “evidence.” This, obviously, is rather unethical.
Another possibility is that Ryan and other politicians are f@cking with us. That is, they think that they have no real need to tell the truth, that they can spin a narrative with impunity and that there is nothing the critics can do about it. This might well be the case. After all, I infer that Ryan knows that he was making false and misleading claims (the alternative is that he is willfully ignorant or detached from reality) yet he does not seem to think it matters. He might be right. After all, many folks in the Republican party defended him, essentially saying that the facts do not matter, just the narrative (which they, oddly enough, claim is true). Other folks just accept what he says and if questioned attribute the criticism to the biased media. As such, he can just lie to these people and not worry about any consequences. The Democrats who reject the narrative are note going to vote for Ryan and Romney so he probably does not care what they think. In fact, it might be sort of funny to lie blatantly and get away with it just because he can. As far as the independents go, perhaps he figures that they will not bother to check the facts, they will just forget about the deceit when the election arrives or that they will not care.
As might be imagined, this sort of lying and distortion bothers me. First, there are the ethical concerns about lying. Second, there is the damage it does to the democratic process. Third, there is the practical concern: if Paul Ryan will lie about matters that can easily be checked, how can he be trusted as vice president?
Naturally some folks will accuse me of bashing Republicans and giving Democrats a pass. While I do contend that the Republicans lie and distort more (check out Politifacts), the Democrats also lie and distort. This is not to say the Democrats are as bad-they are not. However, they are still bad and that is still a problem.
When the DNC rolls around, I will be critical of their lies and distortions as well.
Sorry, I simply could not help using that title. I tried to type in something else, but it just would not appear as anything other than “Newtered.” But, to business.
With Trump and Huckabee out of the race, the herd of Republican presidential candidates has thinned. In Trump’s case, he seems to have milked the media coverage as much as he could. If he declared his candidacy, this would both limit and expose him in ways he probably would not like. In the case of Huckabee, he is probably content with his sweet deal on Fox.
Newt, well known for his multiple marriages and being one of the intellectual powerhouses of the Republican party, seems to have gotten off on a very bad start. Since someone put my email on the CFACT mailing list, I received their scathing attack on Newt for his appearing with Nancy Pelosi to talk about climate change. To even consider the possibility that human activity has had any impact on climate conditions seems to be regarded by some conservatives as a vile heresy.
The impact of those past appearances will probably be minimal, however. In fact, it might be dismissed as a youthful indiscretion: he was young(er) and everyone was doing it back then. In any case, Newt does not seem terribly worried about this matter.
What does seem to be bothering him is the reaction to his criticism, made on Meet the Press, of House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan’s proposal regarding health care. While Newt was critical of Obamacare, he went beyond criticizing the left and claimed he “would be against a conservative imposing radical change.” Newt also seemed to present what would appear to be a consistent position: he noted that he is against social engineering from the left and the right. I actually agree with Newt: engineering from the extremes generally seems to have negative consequences for everyone in the middle.
When I saw the original clip, I briefly hoped that Newt was redefining himself as a candidate who would take a principled stand based on a reasonable assessment of an issue. That would indeed be a refreshing change and I would like to think that it could actually be a viable path for a candidate.
I was not, however, surprised when it quickly turned out that this miniscule flicker of hope was unfounded. After being savagely attacked by his fellow Republicans, Newt quickly repudiated his words and presented a response that managed to get beyond even the sort of double talk presented by politicians:”any ad which quotes what I said Sunday is a falsehood and because I have said publicly, those words were inaccurate and unfortunate.”
To quote Newt out of context and incompletely would, of course, be the fallacy of accent (or incomplete evidence). However, he has not been damned for a quote pulled out of context, but for his full remarks in full context. As such, an ad that includes what he said (in full and in context) would not seem to be a falsehood: it would report what he actually said, without any deceit by omission.
Newt has tried to blame the media for hitting him with questions calculated to get the answers they wanted (perhaps loaded or complex questions). However, Newt is an experienced politician and has appeared on Meet the Press numerous times. As such, to claim that he was cleverly tricked by, as Palin would say, the “lamestream” media seems unlikely. While it is possible that Newt was led like a lamb to the slaughter, that would certainly raise doubts about his chops. After all, a candidate who cannot stand up to a TV show host might reasonably be regarded as not having what it takes to be the leader of the free world.There is also the concern that if he says what he does not mean and says that he does not mean it, then the voters might be forgiven for having doubts about anything he says. While we do not have much faith in politicians, we generally prefer that they do not say that they say things they do not mean. We’d rather have them say things they do not mean and leave it at that. But, to be fair to Newt, everyone does have bad days and it is worth considering the possibility that he did not really mean what he said.