The two worst candidates in history

Who’s worst, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?

Greg Dunaway says …

The Atlantic, Politico, the New York Times, and others announced that Hillary Clinton had quietly issued an order to attack Governor Johnson, but the scale and scope of her attack operation was breathtaking. From Clinton surrogate Carl Bernstein’s lies on CNN about Johnson losing his VP to Hillary, to clearly orchestrated Twitter attacks on Johnson by celebrities (Seth MacFarlane, Cher, just to name a few) and op-eds by longtime Clinton shills and lapdogs like Paul Krugman, Judd Ledgum, ThinkProgress and MotherJones, the deluge of panicked finger wagging was mindblowing. “Don’t you dare vote third party, you owe it to Clinton!” they cried. The lies and mischaracterizations flew (and are still flying) in the blogosphere. …

Ardent supporters of Bernie Sanders appreciated his unorthodox honesty and his emphasis on fairness and his repudiation of the current political class. It’s no big mystery why those millennials are now flocking to Gov. Johnson. Sure, economically, Sanders and Johnson differ substantially, but socially, they are nearly identical. And their aims are the same, they want a level playing field. They are sick and disgusted with Clinton’s ilk and their corporate favoritism, their shady foundations, and their backroom deals.

Clinton has used her Hollywood and Wall Street connections to amass a one billion dollar war chest. One billion dollars. And yet, she’s the freedom fighter? She’s the one who will “clean things up?” Please. Hillary Clinton is exactly what’s wrong with politics today. Her decades long track record of smearing opponents is what Bernie Sanders opposed. Her ties to Goldman Sachs, her shifting email stories, her sense of entitlement, her sleazy husband, her corporately funded drone army. It goes on and on and on.

So, no, my generation doesn’t owe Clinton anything.

Damon Linker says …

Donald Trump has never exceeded 50 percent in a reputable national poll. He only rarely comes in above 45 percent. If he somehow manages to prevail in the general election, it will be because Hillary Clinton’s numbers have collapsed, pushing her to even lower levels of popular support and leaving Trump with a plurality of the votes.

Somehow, this hasn’t kept Trump’s intellectual apologists from claiming that Trump’s campaign is championing and channeling the will of “the people.”

In a response to anti-Trump critics, the pseudonymous Publius Decius Mus proclaims that Trump “is asserting the right of the sovereign people to make their government do what they want it to do.” Decius likewise states that Trump “is trying to do something fundamentally constitutional… He wants to assert the right of the sovereign American people to control their government, which is the core constitutional principle.” (Decius elaborates on the point in yet another essay, this one directed specifically at me for my own previous criticisms of his position.)

Pro-Trump international relations scholar Angelo Codevilla goes further (in an essay ominously titled “After the Republic”), asserting that once “the ruling class” chose “raw power over law and persuasion, the American people reasonably concluded that raw power is the only way to counter it, and looked for candidates who would do that,” with Trump ending up as the people’s ultimate choice.

To some extent, all democratic politicians claim the mantle of the people, contending constantly that “the American people agree with me about x, y, and z.” But the Trump apologists go one big step beyond that, to claim that Trump’s supporters express and channel the will or desires of “the sovereign people” as a whole — and this despite the undeniable fact that Trump does not even command the support of 50 percent of the country, that Clinton nearly always comes in ahead of Trump in opinion polls, and that the previous two elections delivered majority victories to Democrat Barack Obama, who now enjoys approval ratings of roughly 55 percent.

How can it be that Trump speaks for “the sovereign people” when more than half of the country withholds its support from him and instead supports his political opponents?

As Princeton political theorist Jan-Werner Müller argues in his indispensible new book What Is Populism? (which I had a hand in publishing), this contradiction runs through the heart of populist politics. Müller writes: “Populists claim that they and they alone represent the people. All other political competitors are essentially illegitimate, and anyone who does not support them is not properly part of the people.”

Trump himself expressed precisely this paradoxical vision of the people at a campaign rally in May, announcing to the roaring crowd that “the only important thing is the unification of the people — because the other people don’t mean anything.”

The founding father of this populist form of politics is not James Madison or Abraham Lincoln but Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the 18th century political philosopher who suggested that politics gains legitimacy, and genuine freedom becomes possible, when a lawgiver taps into and channels “the general will” of the people.

Rousseau was quite explicit that the general will cannot be determined by majority vote or any other quantitative measure, like an opinion poll (however accurate), because the individuals who collectively constitute the people can be wrong about the character and content of the general will. It is therefore up to the lawgiver himself to make that determination on behalf of the people as a whole — to identify the general will, give it expression, and embody it in his words and in his deeds.

In this respect, the lawgiver represents the people more perfectly — more authentically, more absolutely — than any mere legislative representative ever could. If some portion of the people fails to recognize and affirm the general will for what it is, that is a sign that those individuals have failed to overcome their partial and self-interested points of view to embrace the good of all. In doing so, they demonstrate that they no longer properly belong to the people and (in the ultimate paradox) may need to be “forced to be free.”

Whether or not they’re fully aware of it, this is the populist logic that Trump and his intellectual apologists are following in their talk about Trump giving voice to “the sovereign people.”

To which the classically liberal response is to point out that there is no general will, only a common good, the content of which is always provisional, always subject to debate, revision, and dissent. No person or group or party, no lawgiver, is capable of achieving the objectivity — the view from nowhere — that would make it possible to grasp the common good with indisputable certainty and completeness. All we have are competing claims among clashing parties and interests, each of which defines the common good somewhat differently, and no one of which can ever be said to have articulated it completely or expressed it so fully that others can be legitimately excluded from the next round of civic disputation.

Rick Esenberg says …

I am not going to spend time here on the deficiencies of Donald Trump. If you are a conservative and are not embarrassed that he is the nominee of the party that is supposed to be your political champion, we need to talk. Now.But Trump’s flaws are curiously mirrored in Mrs. Clinton’s. While he boasts of what sounds uncomfortably like sexual assault, she fronted for her husband’s own – and apparently worse – predations and coordinated the attack on his victims. If we aren’t bothered today by Trump’s crudity and sexual aggression, it was Mrs. Clinton and her husband who played a major role in our desensitization.

Trump appears to be a self-absorbed narcissist whose greatest commitment is to himself. But even taking the most charitable view of Mrs. Clinton’s treatment of state secrets, she willfully placed our national security at risk for her own convenience. Trump’s silly battle with the Khans reflects a lack of respect for those who have served and sacrificed for our country. But Mrs. Clinton looked into the eyes of the bereaved families of those who were lost at Benghazi and lied about why they died.

Trump has, from time to time, revealed an unsettling authoritarian streak. On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton has made a cornerstone of her campaign the reversal of Citizens United. What she never mentions is that the case was about whether a group of citizens could spend money to promote an internet film that was critical of her. In defending the government’s position in the case, its lawyers actually said that the state could restrict the publication of books critical of candidates for public office. In rejecting that position, the Court merely affirmed the ability of people to band together in the corporate form – just like the ACLU, NAACP and New York Times – and pool their resources to speak. Mrs. Clinton and the Democrats now want to amend the Constitution to effectively repeal the First Amendment.

But that’s not all. I have never heard Mrs. Clinton condemn Democratic attorneys general who are seeking to persecute and prosecute people who are insufficiently committed to the more extreme view of global warming. My idea of democracy does not include allowing the government to decide who can speak and how much they can say.

Trump sees himself as a “strong man” who admires other caudillos like Vladimir Putin. He might well include Barack Obama who has significantly frustrated democracy and eroded the rule of law by using his “phone and pen” to rule by executive fiat. The President has refused to enforce the law and has unilaterally re-written it (most notably the Affordable Care Act) to serve his purposes. He has changed the law through executive orders, aggressive rule-making and “Dear Colleague” letters advising recipients to toe the new federal law or face the wrath of the national government. Mrs. Clinton not only approves, she wants to go further.

As I wrote here yesterday, Mrs. Clinton sees the Supreme Court as a People’s Tribunal charged, not with applying the law, but dedicated to “siding” with one side of contested issues. This is certainly not our Founders’ judiciary. It seems unlikely to uphold the rule of law that divides democracy from mob rule.

Trump’s critics detect a whiff of fascism in the air. Perhaps they are right. But it seems to be emanating from the Democratic nominee as much as the Republican.

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One thought on “The two worst candidates in history

  1. Whoever Damon Linker is, he knows nothing of Angelo Codevilla. To say Codevilla is “pro Trump” after Codevilla has stated that electing Trump would be tantamount to Republicans installing their own Emperor to counter Emperor Obama. Codevilla has indicated that Trump is a total insider and a bought and paid for member of The Ruling Class that includes Hillary, the Bush’s, Harry Reid, Pelosi, etc. Codevilla was if anything, pro Ted Cruz, who Trump fingered as the son of JFKs assassin. Codevilla is all about restoring the Constitution to its former place of primacy, something Trump has zero intention of doing, if he were to be elected.

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