“A philosophy is a view of the universe; it does not back candidates. There can be legitimate differences among people of the same philosophy in regard to political tactics and strategy. So please think the issues over and judge for yourself. I have merely told you how (and why) I propose to vote in November–if I can.” — Leonard Peikoff “Some Notes About Tomorrow,” Part 2, The Intellectual Activist, September 1992.
Two Contrasting Views of the 2016 Election: “The Voice of the Forgotten Man” vs. “Follow-the-Leader Authoritarianism”
Writing on the Trump 2016 election, philosopher Onkar Ghate at the Ayn Rand Institute wrote a lengthy essay on what he believes the election of Donald Trump reveals about the United States:
[M]y argument does not hinge on Trump’s actual character, as awful as that may be. … Nor is my argument that Trump in office will be able constantly to wield dictatorial powers, however much he may desire to do so … The original American structure of government, devised by giants like Madison and designed in part specifically to check the ambitions and powers of an aspiring dictator, will prove a bulwark.
… My argument is that Trump publicly projected the mentality, methods and campaign of a would-be dictator—however much it may have been an act and however difficult it may be to enact specific decrees—and that he won the presidency because of this.
The issue is not Trump the person or what he might do to the country while in office. (Though these are important concerns.) The issue is what the success of his campaign reveals about the country. …
And just as the creeping authoritarianism of the Obama administration helped pave the road for Trump, and as the Republican Party’s embrace of religious fundamentalists encouraged the Democratic Party to also get religion and bring it into politics, so now the Republican Party’s embrace of a demagogue will encourage the Democratic Party to run similar candidates. There were elements of demagoguery in Sanders’s campaign and in the blind infatuation of many of his supporters, and one lesson the Democratic Party is likely to draw is that Sanders had a better chance of defeating Trump than did Hillary.
Writing on the Trump 2016 election, historian C. Bradley Thompson took a somewhat more benign view:
For better or worse, November 8, 2016, will go down in American history as a watershed election. Donald J. Trump’s victory represents a profound realignment in American politics. This much seems certain: the ancien régime is dead.
Our challenge is not to praise Trump’s virtues or to condemn his vices, but to understand why tens of millions of Americans voted for Donald Trump—the unlikeliest of candidates—to become the president of the United States.
In his inaugural address, President Trump voiced a theme that ran throughout his campaign: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.” Trump’s political genius was to find the lost, the forgotten, the dispossessed, and the invisible.
Ironically, the billionaire from Manhattan became the voice of the Forgotten Man—the man who works hard, pays his taxes, supports his family, and volunteers in his community as a soccer coach and a Boy Scout leader. When Trump said, “We will make America great again,” he spoke to the deepest aspirations of ordinary Americans who love their country but see it crumbling all around them. He waged war on their behalf.
And now his supporters have fundamentally altered the traditional left-right political spectrum. A social-political-ideological realignment is underway, transitioning the country to a new party system that has been developing, mostly unseen, for two or three decades. The new political spectrum is less ideological and more cultural. It is divided between the Ruling Elite and the Deplorables. [Donald Trump and the Revolt of the Unseen]
Dr. Thompson also wrote in another article in 2016:
The contours of Trumpism—hitherto only vaguely known—are now evolving at breakneck speed through a series of daily executive orders. Thus far, Trump has simultaneously been the most libertarian president since Thomas Jefferson as well as the greatest proponent of economic nationalism since Theodore Roosevelt. But as Abraham Lincoln noted in 1858, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. . . . It will become all one thing, or all the other.” Only one path, however, can make America truly great again and that is the path to freedom. Let us hope that President Trump follows it.
In reading both essays, note that Dr. Ghate’s and Dr. Thompson’s views are not entirely mutually exclusive: though Ghate focuses on the anti-freedom cultural aspects of the Trump victory, and Thompson on the pro-freedom elements – both recognize the opposite positions. The key difference is the weight offered to the two ends of the spectrum: on a macro scale, Thompson sees a positive in Trump despite his personal failings; whereas Ghate sees a potential positive in Trump’s policies but on a macro perspective sees the Trump victory as a negative compared to the previous Obama Presidency due to Trump’s authoritarianism.
Leading Objectivist Philosopher Leonard Peikoff Publicizes He is Voting for Trump
Another prominent Objectivist, Peter Schwartz, identified the dangers of the “cancel culture” within the Republican Party, brought on by Trump, against those in the Republican party who oppose Trump (see Schwartz’s article “Has The Pro-Capitalist Right Been Eviscerated by President Donald Trump?“ and his more recent Why To Vote Against Trump). Schwartz sees Trump as removing the pro-capitalist elements of the Republican Party.
Dr. Yaron Brook, who runs the leading Objectivist podcast The Yaron Brook Show continues to oppose Trump today. Dr. Brook’s “dream scenario” is Biden as President with the Republicans in control of both houses of Congress. If the Democrats win both houses, Dr. Brook has made no statement whether he would prefer a Trump Presidency.
In 2006, Dr. Leonard Peikoff was against the re-election of George W. Bush for a second term after the Republican’s altruistic, compassionate, war-but-not-war against terrorism. Here is Peikoff’s May 2010 podcast on why he is for Republicans during Obama’s reign. In 2012, Dr. Peikoff reiterated why he opposed Obama for a second term. In 2016, Dr. Peikoff indicated he was for Ted Cruz as the Republican candidate and later said that he would not vote for Trump in the general 2016 Presidential election. On October 15th, 2020, in an online video celebrating his 87th birthday, Dr. Peikoff had this to say:
“I am voting for Trump. That’s it! OK?”
“I’m not arguing but I heard someone say that no Objectivist would vote for Trump and I’m still steaming over that. I’m trying to publicize the fact that whoever said that is crazy.”
America in 2020: State Imposed Lockdowns with State/City Exemptions for Race Riots and The Threat of “Court Packing”
Let us turn to the year 2020, where there are three dominant themes.
1. State-Enforced Economic Lockdowns of the Healthy
The first is selective, hypocritical, state-enforced economic lockdowns allegedly “scientifically” justified by the dangers of the COVID-19 virus imported from Communist China. The science “experts” tell us that those who break curfews, do not socially distance, and do not wear masks, are responsible for COVID-19 deaths, which is why the economy, churches, and schools should remain closed. These same priests of “science” also tell us that if one carries BLM Inc. gear, harasses policeman, and blocks traffic, one is exempted. A proper policy would not be to lockup the healthy, but to have complete population testing to identify and isolate (lockdown) those who are infected. (For the principles involved in the government’s approach to handling pandemics, click here.)
2. Democrat “1619 Project” “BLM” “Anti-Racism” Nationwide Riots and Looting
The second major issue is the ongoing nationwide riots (“peaceful protests” according to some pundits) where screaming mobs destroy property, take over parts of cities, and demand the “defunding” of American institutions like the police, which are condemned as bastions of “white privilege” that are “systematically racist.” These mobs chant “black lives matter” and then remain silent as the greatest threat to black lives — black thugs and gangsters — slaughter black men, women, and children as police are hamstrung by the “peaceful” cultural Marxist protestors. Meanwhile, Hong Kong protestors wave American flags as American “protestors” are burning them! (Perhaps the New York Times needs to open offices in China to “1619 educate” these foreigners who admire the 1776 principles underlying America.)
3. The Call To Turn the U.S. Constitutional Republic into a Democracy of Unlimited Majority Rule
A third recent theme as I edit this is the Democrat’s call to “pack the Supreme Court” making it a branch of Congress, rendering the separation of powers and checks and balances in the U.S. Constitution null and void. Biden and Harris refuse to condemn such a policy. Other calls include for the elimination of the electoral college, in order to turn America with a limited constitutional republic into an unlimited democracy based on majority rule.
Given these themes, other prominent Objectivists who disagree with Trump’s character and many of his policies see Trump as a superior candidate to the present Democrat offering of anti-capitalist policies tied to anti-American tribalism enforced by mob violence masquerading as “anti-racism.“
Trump Remains a Mixed Candidate with Both Vices and Virtues
In such an environment, Trump remains a flawed candidate. As part of his populism, Trump has also adopted many of the same policies that historically have been Democrat positions.
Regarding Trump’s populist rhetoric and nationalist policies (i.e., anti-legal immigration, mercantilism), he must be condemned when appropriate. However, when Trump mouths the correct rhetoric and advocates the proper policies, he should be applauded. An excellent example of the latter is Alex Epstein, who as president and founder of the Center for Industrial Progress, a think tank devoted to exploring how new technology can improve the planet, said in an interview, “What [Trump] has said about energy…is the best of any president since Reagan.”
In evaluating Trump, one needs to look at both the negatives — and the positives; both are necessary for making a proper evaluation. Even on many of Trump’s negatives, Trump is mixed.
Take the claim that Trump is “anti-science.” The Trump administration’s policies are not anti-science in regards to energy or the “settled science” of climate change. For example, in the domain of energy, according to Alex Epstein, Trump is the pro-energy candidate, and Biden “will destroy American industry, impoverish American consumers, and jeopardize American security.” As far as I am aware, Trump also dropped out of any UN/EU climate change programs. As a policy that is “pro-science.”
Take immigration: Trump is morally wrong to carry out the traditional Democrat policy of restricting immigrant visas to “save American jobs,” but he is right to secure the borders (see Amy Peikoff “Immigration, Borders and Screening under Capitalism“), and he is right on the importance of enforcing the law, as Harry Binswanger writes:
Selective enforcement of the law amounts to no law. Hitler could have killed all the Jews by announcing that he would not prosecute anyone who murdered a Jew.
(For the record, Dr. Binswanger is against all controls on immigration and has written against the argument from sovereignty. For Dr. Binswanger’s views on immigration see his article “For Open Immigration”.)
Take trade and IP: One of Trump’s worst policies economically is tariff protectionism, as Raymond Niles correctly points out in President Donald Trump is a Classic Mercantilist:
Trump is a classic mercantilist. A mercantilist favors exporters over importers and the use of government tariffs to promote (or “protect”) less efficient, but politically favored “national champion” companies against their foreign competitors.
Interestingly, one implication of this insight into tariffs is that a country is better off if it unilaterally reduces tariffs on goods even if its trading partners do not equivalently reduce tariffs and instead maintain them at a higher level.
The United Kingdom followed this policy when it unilaterally lowered and eliminated major tariffs in the 19th century even when its trading partners often did not. The result was prosperity across the world as global trade expanded.
Keeping Nile’s arguments in mind, one insight to Trump’s perspective, according to free-trade “supply-side” economist Laffer, is that Trump sees tariffs as the only “bargaining chip” to force Communist China to open its borders to U.S. goods. According to Laffer:
“He’s said to me personally that he has very little leverage except by threatening tariffs and I have to trust him that he’s telling me the truth….I believe deep down that he’s a free trader….Any owner of an international business has to be a free trader if they know how to do business and he does.”
Trump also used this as a bargaining chip to stop the violation of the rights of U.S. patent holders. (One counterpoint argument is that certain national industries need protection for national security in the present context. I think that is a legitimate issue, but I do not believe tariffs are the way to handle it.)
Take the media: According to C. Bradley Thompson, Trump’s attacks on the “Deep State” — which includes the media — are of significant historical importance. Objectivist C. Bradley Thompson, a leading expert on American history, summarized the Trump phenomenon as follows in an interview with talk show host David Rubin:
“First Donald Trump is not a paragon of personal moral virtue, but on the other hand no politician in my lifetime, in fact, I would say of the last 70 years has done a more important job of going after the Deep State. The Deep State is something. I think that is real and the deep state also includes the mainstream media and so Trump has launched a three and a half year assault on all of the certitudes and platitudes of the Deep State and I do think that’s been an extraordinarily and important development in American political life.”
“….I’m not suggesting that Trump is necessarily a defender of freedom, because he’s certainly passed I think a lot of laws that have been antithetical to freedom. But, in the sort of in the macro picture he’s done many things — reducing taxes, massively cutting regulations…I would say the single most important thing that he has done is to literally just simply to have identified the Deep State…and then to be attacking it on a daily basis, which as I’ve said includes the media. That has that itself has been one might say a kind of revolutionary act.”
Another positive “Trumpian” policy is increasing freedom in schools and education. Schools are the Regressive Left’s dominant source of intellectual power — Trump has broadsided them with his support for educational alternatives that increase liberty, ranging from charter schools and school vouchers to tax credits.
As for “save the welfare state for Americans,” opposition to the welfare state politically would be political suicide — unless everyone in America reads and grasps Atlas Shrugged and Don Watkin’s excellent Rooseveltcare: How Social Security Is Sabotaging the Land of Self-Reliance.
And let’s not forget the Supreme Court. Turning to Trump’s supreme court appointments, they have been exceptional, and more importantly, they have not been politically partisan in their rulings.
Justice Kavanaugh for example, who the Democrats viciously painted as an anti-abortion ideologue, sided with liberal justices on an abortion-related case. Justice Gorsuch was painted as a threat to LGBTQ rights; however, he recently sided with liberal justices and made an originalist case for extending the 1964 Civil Rights Act protections to the LGBTQ community.
(This is not to indicate that their rulings were correct, only to show that they do not make their decisions based solely on partisan, political lines.)
Writing in The Ayn Rand Letter, “The American Spirit” on why Ayn Rand supported Nixon:
“There is, however, one promise of his 1968 campaign – perhaps, the most important one – which he has kept: the appointment to the Supreme Court of men who respect the Constitution. It is still too early to tell the exact nature of these men’s views and the direction they will choose to take. But if they live up to their enormous responsibility, we may forgive Mr. Nixon a great many of his faults: the Supreme Court is the last remnant of a philosophical influence in this country.”
Trump’s most recent appointment, that of justice Amy Barrett, also seems like a good pick in terms of what one is looking for in a judge in today’s climate: fidelity to the U.S. constitution. Whatever one thinks about Amy Barrett’s religious beliefs, from what little I saw of the hearings (and I saw but a few highlights), she exuded intelligence, rationality, and a love for the American Constitution.
In President Trump’s 2020 Fourth of July Speech, for all its flaws, these paragraphs stood out:
“1776 represented the culmination of thousands of years of Western civilization and the triumph of not only spirit, but of wisdom, philosophy, and reason. And yet, as we meet here tonight, there is a growing danger that threatens every blessing our ancestors fought so hard for, struggled, they bled to secure. Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children. Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities. Many of these people have no idea why they’re doing this, but some know what they are doing. They think the American people are weak and soft and submissive, but no, the American people are strong and proud and they will not allow our country and all of its values, history, and culture to be taken from them.”
“…In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished. It’s not going to happen to us.”
“Make no mistake. This left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution. In so doing they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress.”
I think that the first sentence quoted in Trump’s speech deserves emphasis:
“1776 represented the culmination of thousands of years of Western civilization and the triumph of not only spirit, but of wisdom, philosophy, and reason.”
Trump is flawed, but in mouthing the above words for that moment, Trump said something rational. Whether we like it or not, at this moment, Trump represents Western Civilization, albeit a flawed version mixed with populism and nationalism, and Biden and the Democrats with their post-modern Marxist “1619 Project” hatred of America represent those who wish to topple it. This is more-or-less the argument made by historian Victor Davis Hanson (who is by no means an Objectivist) in his Case for Trump.
My point is that opposition to Trump’s policies that are anti-capitalist and anti-freedom can be fought and won within the American framework. Trump “barks” a lot, but the American system of government restricts his “bite.” As Ghate correctly observes:
The original American structure of government, devised by giants like Madison and designed in part specifically to check the ambitions and powers of an aspiring dictator, will prove a bulwark.
Can the same be said of the Democrat “court-packing” opposition?
The Democrats Embrace Anti-Americanism and Rewriting the U.S. Constitution
Contrast Trump to the Democrat puppet candidate, Joe “you ain’t black if you don’t vote for me/trust womyn except when they accuse me of Rape” Biden. In winning the Democrat Presidential nomination, Biden has turned “left,” adopting many of the positions of Sanders, Warren, etc. Only since his selection as Kamala Harris as a running mate, and a drop in the polls from the Democrat’s moral sanction of BLM riots, has Biden made an attempt to move toward the “center” and claim to be for law and order.
Trump is a known phenomenon: we know what he does and does not stand for. Trump is an open book – it is not a pretty book. At times it is a horror story, at times, it is not, but it is there. A Biden “If you don’t vote for me you ain’t black” Presidency, on the other hand, is a leaf in the Democrat hurricane – and that intellectual hurricane has been wreaking havoc on America since its founding. It is destroying her from within. It is the Democratic Party and their intellectual leaders in academia, with their near-monopoly control over American schools and colleges and their “Deep State” accomplices that have pushed America towards statism.
The 2020 election should have been a referendum on Trump’s past statements and policies since being elected President. That all changed with the response of Democrats to the three major issues discussed above. What turned me against the Democrats was their 2020 embrace of the post-modern, anti-capitalist, “anti-racism” racists and the “1619 riots” – a term embraced by the founder of the New York Times “1619 project” – in conjunction with their hypocritical embrace of nationwide lockdowns to destroy the American economy. Their call to pack the courts merely adds weight to my initial decision.
The Democrats are the political arm of a full-on movement against reason, individualism, science, capitalism, and civilization. The Democrats have embraced nihilism in law and order (defund police, release criminals, failure to protect property, BLM riots), education (post-modern comprachicos), economy (anti-market regulations, closed shop unions), energy (anti-fossil-fuels), medical care (Obamacare, socialized medicine), taxation (confiscatory/redistribution), free-speech (actual censorship), foreign-policy (anti-Israel, anti-American, pro-U.N.), technology and innovation (net-neutrality, undermining patents, environmentalism), etc.
On many of these issues the Republicans, though far from perfect, are significantly better. A possible long-term danger of the Republicans is their embrace of inserting their religion into politics. But, like the dangers of catastrophic global warming, that is an issue that can be dealt with when the time arises. The post-modern assault on reason by the anti-capitalist Democrats is going on now.
A Non-Optimal Choice Between Two Package Deals
The Trump Presidency does not exist in a vacuum. What Americans have are two package deals. The choice is not Trump or John Galt; it’s Trump or the “Harris Administration with Joe Biden as President.”
Trump is not a laissez-faire capitalist. He may be an ogre. But many Americas do see him as representing the side of Americanism and Capitalism. Trump supporters use the words “Americanism” and “capitalism” as something to aspire to even though many do not fully understand the full impact of their meaning. (See A New Textbook of Americanism: The Politics of Ayn Rand for an excellent examination of the meaning of Americanism). Democrats use “Americanism” and “Capitalism” as curses or at best in apologies.
In the present climate, a Trump loss might only be seen as a broadside for Americanism, individualism, and capitalism by a tiny minority of “Never Trumpers.”
Will it be seen as a broadside against the vices mentioned above?
Will it be seen as a broadside against “foreigners-taking-our-jobs” as Democrats want the union vote?
Will it be seen as “saving the welfare state for Americans,” as Democrats will do the same and double down on it?
Will it be seen as against “spend, spend, spend,” as the Democrats will reward every (mostly Democratic) governor, city, and state that has enforced lockdowns and enabled rioters? (For the record federal spending under Trump declined on the whole up to 2019, though the Federal national debt rose as income from Federal tax receipts during that period dropped. With the rise of the nationwide, COVID pandemic, lockdowns in 2020 imposed not by the Federal Government, but by regional State Governors and City Mayors, Federal spending restraint went out the window).
Will it be seen as defending “Tech companies and the media because they are biased,” but will further strengthen the Democrats’ control of the leash.
Or will it be seen as a win against the policies of Trump that are virtues?
For a large number of people, it will be seen as a victory against Americanism (however poorly understood), individualism (however poorly understood), and Capitalism (however poorly understood).
Many of the better Republicans support Trump not because they approve of the “Trumpism” described above, but for the reasons “Never Trumper” Daniel Pipes states in “A Reluctant but Unhesitating Vote for Donald Trump“:
I signed an open letter committing to “working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted” to the presidency and wrote many articles lambasting Trump. I left the Republican party on his nomination and voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson in the general election. After the election, I hoped for Trump’s impeachment and President Mike Pence.
Nearly four years later, Trump’s character still troubles and repels me. If anything, his egotism, disloyalty, and bombast exceed those vices when he was a mere candidate.
But, to my unending surprise, he has governed as a resolute conservative. His policies in the areas of education, taxes, deregulation, and the environment have been bolder than Ronald Reagan’s. His judicial appointments are the best of the past century (thank you, Leonard Leo). His unprecedented assault on the administrative state proceeds apace, ignoring predictable howls from the Washington establishment. Even his foreign policy has been conservative: demanding that allies contribute their fair share, confronting China and Iran, and singularly supporting Israel. Ironically, as David Harsanyi notes, a potential character flaw actually works to our advantage: “Trump’s obstinacy seems to have made him less susceptible to the pressures that traditionally induce GOP presidents to capitulate.”
(Economic performance drives many voters to support or oppose a sitting president, but not me. Partly, because the president has only limited control; partly, because it’s a transient issue that matters much less than long-term policies.)
Of course, I also disagree with Trump: protectionism, an indifference to public debt, a hostility toward allies, a soft-spot for Turkish strongman Erdoğan, and those dangerous meetings with Kim Jong-un. His unrestrained behavior interferes with proper government functioning. The tweets are a protracted liability.
But we all disagree with some of what every president does; more surprisingly, I agree with about 80 percent of Trump’s actions, a higher number than any of his predecessors’, going back to Lyndon Johnson.
I have come to understand the wisdom in Salena Zito‘s September 2016 witticism about Trump that “the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” Or, as Daniel Larison notes, “We need to judge Trump by his actions and not his words.” I also agree with James Woolsey that Trump would be a much better prime minister than president.
Slowly but inexorably over the past three years, my approval of the policies has outbalanced my distaste for the person. Finally, knowing that Joe Biden will represent the radicalized Democrats in November, I conclude that I will do my small part to help Trump get re-elected by writing, giving, and voting.
I reached this conclusion reluctantly but unhesitatingly. Emotionally, esthetically, and intellectually, I would prefer to keep my distance from Trump and inhabit a neutral space between the parties, as in 2016. But I will vote for him as the politician who represents my conservative views. I urge other reluctant conservatives to do the same.
Whatever the flaws, based on my observations, I think Daniel Pipes’ assessment of how he views the election is viewed is a better representation of how a large segment of the population will interpret the election results.
The Choice Americans Face in 2020
For a comparison of Trump and Biden from two notable Objectivists, watch Yaron Brook’s discussion with Philosopher Andrew Bernstein on Racism, Left vs. Right, and the 2020 Elections.
I can accept Yaron Brook’s election fantasy of Biden winning the Presidential election, but only so long as the Republicans retain the Senate (and ideally end up with control of both Houses of Congress). In sum, I am not pro-Trump, but anti-Democrat.
Dr. Brook’s fantasy is possible but unlikely. I suspect given the tribal orientation in 2020, many of the votes for Congress will follow those of the Presidency. In 2020, the greatest danger politically is that the Democrats win the Presidency, gain control of the Senate, and retain the House of Representatives. (This is because Congress is where the power is. Congress makes the laws that the President must faithfully execute, and which the Supreme Court must monitor.)
My great fear is that the Democrats will sweep everything, and the academics in American Universities and their rioting offspring in the streets will determine policy. Where the U.S. Constitution is designed to withstand a Trump “anti-intellectual, populist” assault, the Democrat trifecta of the Biden “Puppet” Presidency, the House of Representatives, and the Senate would hasten the end of what philosopher Ayn Rand declared in founding principle as the most moral country in the world: the United States of America. If the choice is a Republican sweep or a Democrat sweep, I would be for the Republican sweep at this time.
In 2020, the Democrats are methodically out to destroy the United States of America — from BLM “anti-racism” riots, and the 1619 “America is founded on slavery” project, to lockdowns to destroy the “Trump economy,” and most recently Supreme Court “packing,” and serious calls to eliminate the Electoral College. Despite being “pro-abortion,” “pro-immigrant,” and “pro-science” (albeit on non-rational and non-individualistic grounds), what the intellectual heart of the party represents — from the universities to the newspapers and twitter-mob to the streets — is the quest for power at any price (and that price is the U.S. Constitution) and the hatred of the good for being good. As despicable as Trump’s behavior is at times and as blundering and inept as he is at other times, given the context, his negatives pale in comparison to the nihilism of the Democrats.
Why Objectivists Differ in Their Election Choices
Dr. Peikoff’s comment, quoted at the beginning of this essay, deserves repeating:
“A philosophy is a view of the universe; it does not back candidates. There can be legitimate differences among people of the same philosophy in regard to political tactics and strategy. So please think the issues over and judge for yourself. I have merely told you how (and why) I propose to vote in November–if I can.” — Leonard Peikoff “Some Notes About Tomorrow,” Part 2, The Intellectual Activist, September 1992.
Objectivists, while holding to the same philosophy, have different contexts of knowledge and individual priorities. Some, like Dr. Binswanger and Peter Schwartz, are primarily worried about the long-term culture.
Writes Schwartz on why Trump should be voted out of office:
The Republican Party had been deteriorating for many years, but, prior to Trump, still retained some semblance of an ideology. The party was maddeningly, self-destructively inconsistent, but nonetheless stood vaguely for something in the public’s mind. In contrast to the left, it stood for smaller government. It endorsed relatively free trade, it welcomed immigrants as productive individuals, it wanted fewer controls over business, it wanted less government involvement in medicine. Even as the party lacked much intellectual ammunition, it had a pro-American sense of life, one that rested on the premise that this is a country founded on the value of individual liberty, which gave meaning to the idea of American exceptionalism in the world.
What does it stand for now, under Trump? Mindless, xenophobic nationalism. At political rallies, Trump elicits passionate responses from the people he refers to as “my followers,” not when he calls for reducing the federal budget or cutting back the welfare state, but when he declares that he will “build the wall.” He is cheered when he tells crowds that he will “make America great again”–not by promoting capitalism, but by expanding the power of the state and keeping foreigners and foreign goods out of the country. These are the views that now define the party. Trump has co-opted the Republican Party. And Trump’s influence is such that Republican politicians who fail to embrace him are unable to gain the party’s support.
Consequently, the better Republicans have withdrawn from politics or been driven out by Trump. The ones who remain, many of whom once provided intellectual opposition to Trump, are now his lapdogs.
Writes Dr. Binswanger in his popular Objectivist discussion forum, the Harry Binswanger Letter (HBL) on No moral equivalence of Democrats and Republicans:
….Long-term, the Religious right is powerful, because it has a coherent (though not consistent) framework that provides answers and a sense of personal mission (not just “virtue signaling”). On a historical scale, skepticism, subjectivism, and especially nihilism burn themselves out, but religion can endure for 1,000 years. But a) religion is not an immediate threat, and b) religion could easily be adopted by the Left (as it has been several times in the past). Attila and the Witch Doctor are jealous, suspicious allies, but allies nonetheless.
In the next ten years, the threat is from the Democrats. They control the universities, and thus the media and the culture. They have created two generations of lobotomized, shockingly ignorant “graduates” of the school-prison-indoctrination-camps.
….The Republicans have The Wall Street Journal, the Orange Country Register, and Barron’s. The Democrats and those to their Left have: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The New Yorker, NBC, CBS, CNN, PBS, ABC, MSNBC, all of Hollywood, almost all the high schools, elementary schools, and kindergartens, nearly all the scientists and mathematicians, most of the “business leaders,” the State Department, and now apparently, the FBI.
Their bad equivalents on the Right have . . . nothing. How many “white supremacist” or nationalist-populist organizations have you heard of? Thanks to the Left, we’ve heard of “Proud Boys,” if they are white supremacist and they have some group beginning with a “Q” that was also named by a debate moderator. The Ku Klux Klan? Does that exist any more? I doubt it. I can name perhaps 100 prominent Leftists, beginning with Paul Krugman and Noam Chomsky and extending through small fry like Barbara Streisand and Rachel Maddow. How many supposed prominent bad rightists? Two. David Duke (from decades back) and Steve Bannon.
Finally, consider the strength of the two supposedly counterpoised threats in the halls of government itself. There are no avowed white supremacists in Congress; there are none in the judiciary. In the Executive branch, there are none. But Senator Bernie Sanders is an avowed socialist; AOC and her “squad” are semi-acknowledged socialists, and proud, defiant advocates of shutting down energy companies, Wall Street Financiers, and capitalism generally.
Kamala Harris, who bids fair to be our next President, is far more statist on the Left than any public figure is Rightist (even Peter Navarro seems tame compared to the Sanders-Warren-Harris-AOC phalanx).
During the late Weimar Republic, when the statists of the Right battled the statists of the Left in the streets of Berlin, the Nazis wore the swastika and their brown-shirted uniforms. The communists and Nazis were indeed of approximately equal brutality and mob vendettas. There’s nothing like that between statist Left and statist Right in America, and there cannot be—not for at least a decade. It’s statist Left all the way, with a few dozen neo-Nazis or “militia” individuals trotted out to justify the “need” for huge mass movements like Black Lives Matter.
Since Trump took over, there has been a sea change in the culture. The New York Times is the most obvious manifestation, since they have explicitly dropped the pretense at objectivity to embrace “The Resistance.” There have always been “party newspapers” in Europe. In England, The Guardian is avowedly socialist, and The Telegraph is Tory, whether openly acknowledged or not.
But even though the major media have always “leaned Left,” they were not organs of the Left. Those days are over….
Others are more focused on a particular issue of selfish interest to them, i.e., open immigration (the success of a school requires importing world-class teachers), i.e., low taxes (a billionaire once told me how livid he was over Objectivist intellectuals supporting the Democrat who had cost him tens of millions of dollars), i.e., biotechnology deregulation (based on tissue from aborted fetuses which is opposed by Republicans), etc.
I think the most significant disagreement is not over more concrete personal reasons for voting, but with the abstract long-term cultural reasons for selecting a President. This is because figuring out the long-term trend requires the application of abstract philosophical principles while integrating an enormous quantity of information of various quality.
In regards to information quality, some Objectivists still peddle the myth that Trump refused to condemn White Supremacists in Charlottesville when he said there were “fine people on both sides.” Whereas the New York Times, to their credit, reported on August 16, 2017:
“Good people can go to Charlottesville,” said Michelle Piercy, a night shift worker at a Wichita, Kan., retirement home, who drove all night with a conservative group that opposed the planned removal of a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
After listening to Mr. Trump on Tuesday, she said it was as if he had channeled her and her friends — all gun-loving defenders of free speech, she said, who had no interest in standing with Nazis or white supremacists: “It’s almost like he talked to one of our people.”
Conservatives like Ms. Piercy, who have grown only more emboldened after Charlottesville, believe that the political and media elite hold them and Mr. Trump to a harsh double standard that demands they answer for the sins of a radical, racist fringe. They largely accept Mr. Trump’s contention that these same forces are using Charlottesville as an excuse to undermine his presidency, and by extension, their vote.
Even amongst Objectivist intellectuals, there is disagreement about Trump on the philosophical level. Some see Trump as a nihilist; whereas Dr. Binswager does not see Trump as a nihilist but as an amoralist. Writes Dr. Binswanger in a post in the popular Objectivist online forum, HB Letter:
Trump is not a nihilist. He’s an amoralist. A nihilist relishes destruction for its own sake. Trump is a touchy, vain, and vengeful bully, but he is not a destruction-worshiper.
Trump is not “tear-it-down,” but “make it great, again.” He doesn’t go around seething with envy and hatred, like Sanders does (you can practically see the bile drooling down the corners of Sanders’ mouth), but if you slight Trump, he will hate you and try to punish you.
And it’s not exactly exculpatory to be an amoralist. I’m not letting Trump off the hook. See “Selfishness Without a Self” in Philosophy: Who Needs It for [Ayn Rand’s] discussion of amoralism.
Sometimes for a given individual, their decision is a spiraling blend of the long-term philosophical views and personal reasons (which can be looked upon as mutually reinforcing), which further complicates understanding their individual decision. The point is that those holding the same philosophical principles can disagree as Yaron Brook makes clear in his podcast where he discusses Dr. Peikoff’s declaration that he is voting for Trump:
In 1972 philosopher Ayn Rand made these comments on the 1972 presidential race between incumbent Richard Nixon and his opponent Democrat Senator George McGovern:
I am not an admirer of President Nixon, as my readers know. But I urge every able-minded voter, of any race, creed, color, age, sex, or political party, to vote for Nixon–as a matter of national emergency. This is no longer an issue of choosing the lesser of two commensurate evils. The choice is between a flawed candidate representing Western civilization–and the perfect candidate of its primordial enemies. If there were some campaign organization called “Anti-Nixonites for Nixon,” it would name my position. The worst thing said about Nixon is that he cannot be trusted, which is true: he cannot be trusted to save this country. But one thing is certain: McGovern can be trusted to destroy it. [The Ayn Rand Letter]
A similar case can be made for “Anti-Trumpers for Trump” or my position, “Vote Against the Democrats.”
The battle of 2020 is between the alternative of Republican populist-nationalism vs. Democratic racist-nihilism. Nationalism, in its present form, is a mix of deregulatory sugar and populist poison, but nihilism is suicide. This is the fundamental choice Americans face in the 2020 U.S. election.
Many Americans tend to think it is the “end of the world” at election time. They simply lose their minds. Regardless of who wins, the world will not be over.
Politics, though important, isn’t everything.
For all the problems we face, life is pretty good compared to the past – except for the lockdown mania and rioting. There is so much good in the world, and so much progress has been made. See Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg for “how far we have come in tackling the greatest problems facing humanity.”
Regardless of whoever wins, there will be much work to do in the battle for reason, individualism, and capitalism.
Author’s Note: Updates to Dr. Binswanger’s statements were made on November 3rd, 2020 to indicate his total opposition to all immigration restrictions.
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