Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Trump and the Danger of American Ignorance

What follows is my most recent Op-Ed in the Orlando Sentinel.  Thanks for reading and sharing!

In 1944, Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek published his landmark book, The Road to Serfdom.   Written during the height of World War II, it was meant as a warning to the United States and Great Britain that the flawed economic policies being pursued by each nation would eventually lead to an outcome that had befallen the German people living under the tyranny of Adolf Hitler.

Hayek, in a chapter on why the worst types of people often end up on top of political movements argued that:

“…. in general the higher the education and intelligence of individuals becomes, the more their views and tastes are differentiated and the less likely they are to agree on a particular hierarchy of values. It is a corollary of this that if we wish to find a high degree of uniformity and similarity of outlook, we have to descend to the regions of lower moral and intellectual standards where the more primitive and "common" instincts and tastes prevail. This does not mean that the majority of people have low moral standards; it merely means that the largest group of people whose values are very similar are the people with low standards.

If, however, a potential dictator had to rely entirely on those whose uncomplicated and primitive instincts happen to be very similar, their number would scarcely give sufficient weight to their endeavors. He will have to increase their numbers by converting more to the same simple creed.

Here comes in the second negative principle of selection: he will be able to obtain the support of all the docile and gullible, who have no strong convictions of their own but are prepared to accept a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently. It will be those whose vague and imperfectly formed ideas are easily swayed and whose passions and emotions are readily aroused who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party.”

Could there be a more prophetic statement to encapsulate the Republican party in 2016? 

The Republicans, once a party that stood for Constitutional rights, free trade, pro-business immigration policies and economic freedom has devolved, under the “leadership” of Donald Trump.  It has gone through a bizarre metamorphosis that is driven by economic ignorance, bigotry and the art of blaming others for the ills that have come upon our nation.

Hayek would argue that Trump has successfully descended into the lower regions of conservative “thought” by insisting that Mexican immigrants, Muslim refugees and trade deals with China are at the root of our country’s problems.  Of course no Trump supporter seems interested in the economic facts concerning the benefits immigration; the low probability of refugee-generated terrorist attacks and the historical merits of international trade.  They simply see in Trump a savior who vulgarly and bombastically speaks for them.  Even when detractors point out the fact that Trump has been a champion for the use of eminent domain to take away the property rights of other citizens or that he routinely shows virtually no understanding of the checks and balances of the Constitution, his fans simply ignore the evidence and cheer him for “telling it like it is.” 

It is ironic that only three decades ago our nation was led by a Republican who supported amnesty for illegal immigrants; free markets and liberalized trade agreements and managed to assist Soviet dissidents who wanted to flee to America all while showing the world that America could exhibit genuine leadership in the global fight against Communism without bluster, threats or other irresponsible acts.  

If Ronald Reagan were running against Trump today his reasoned and intellectual approach to foreign and economic policy would probably get him booed off the debate stage by angry Americans who are more interested in discussions about hand size and the “beauty” of torture.

I hope Hillary Clinton is watching closely because this fall she is going to have to be the composed adult in the room that keeps our nation from electing a person who is much more like the leader Hayek was warning us about.