I woke up Wednesday morning feeling a little bleak that our two main choices are two really awful candidates: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Many of my libertarian and conservative friends have denounced Trump continuously, both on his policy views and on his disgusting behavior. But, as readers of my posts know, I often look for the glass half full, or, in this case, 10 percent full.
So consider what follows on Trump's style a speculative quest. Scott Alexander, over at slatestarcodex.com, often puts probabilities on things. That's what I'm doing here. So the probability I'll put on my reasoning about his style compared to that of others being correct is only about 0.5.
First, Trump's policy views. This is the most disorganized, random set of views I've ever seen in a presidential election, and I have been following them since 1968, and very closely since 1972. Trump is clearly a nationalist who, I think very sincerely, does not understand trade. How can he say we're not "winning" in trade? Every trade is a win--for both sides. (See my Fourth Pillar of Economic Wisdom.) My Hoover colleague Tim Kane has dealt nicely with Trump's views on trade.
But, because Trump's views are random, they're like the weather in New England as seen by Mark Twain (although Twain probably didn't say that, as this site shows): If you don't like them, wait a minute.
Specifically, mixed in his foreign policy views is one of the nicest and most-succinct takedowns of the interventionist foreign policy practiced for many years by two Bushes, a Clinton, and, less so, Obama. How's this for a nice statement:
We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed. Civil war, religious fanaticism; thousands of American lives, and many trillions of dollars, were lost as a result. The vacuum was created that ISIS would fill. Iran, too, would rush in and fill the void, much to their unjust enrichment.
Our foreign policy is a complete and total disaster.
Within the same speech, though, one can find statements, especially on ISIS, that are just as bad as this is good.
But here's what I wonder: is he that different from other politicians? The obvious answer is yes. What other major politician on a national stage have we seen act in a disgusting manner so often. I can't think of anyone.
So why the difference? It could be that he grew up as a spoiled rich kid who didn't get reined in by those around him and found that in his world, where he didn't depend on votes, he didn't have to restrain himself. The other politicians he competed against, by contrast, learned early that they did have to worry about voters' reactions to them. But underneath, some of them might be just as bad. The way you would know is by seeing them in unguarded moments when they think the microphone is off. And we don't see them that way very often.
But while we're on the issue of disgusting behavior, would anyone care to claim that Donald Trump's making fun of a disabled reporter was worse than Ted Kennedy's leaving Mary Jo Kopechne in his car and not telling the authorities about it for hours but not after, first, talking to a lawyer. Here's an excerpt from Kennedy's speech about the incident:
In the morning, with my mind somewhat more lucid, I made an effort to call a family legal advisor, Burke Marshall, from a public telephone on the Chappaquiddick side of the ferry and then belatedly reported the accident to the Martha['s] Vineyard police.
Today, as I mentioned, I felt morally obligated to plead guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident. No words on my part can possibly express the terrible pain and suffering I feel over this tragic incident. This last week has been an agonizing one for me and for the members of my family. And the grief we feel over the loss of a wonderful friend will remain with us the rest of our lives.
Do you notice which family Ted Kennedy left out, a family that might have had a wee bit more agonizing to do?
There is one other way to tell how disgusting they are: that is to see how they talk about foreigners who are on the outs. So Hillary Clinton gave us a little window into her soul, when announcing Muammar Gadaffi's fate, she said, with a laugh, "We came, we saw, he died."