Donald Trump

Why Trump's Words Matter

Trump's awful rhetoric is a menace to liberty - even when it does not lead to any immediate action.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

President Donald Trump.

Relatively few defend Donald Trump's awful statements and Tweets. But many—including some libertarians—tend to dismiss them as mere "talk." In a world where there are many horrible and unjust government policies that undermine liberty and inflict great harm, why worry about mere rhetoric? It is certainly true that rhetoric, in and of itself, is not as bad as actual injustice. But Trump's rhetoric is nonetheless a more serious problem than those inclined to dismiss its significance are willing to admit.

The significance of Trump's words is well-captured in recent articles by libertarian political theorist Jacob Levy and law professor Bob Bauer. I don't agree with all of the points they make. But they are right about the bottom line. Political rhetoric matters because, among other things, it can expand the boundaries of what is politically feasible. As Levy puts it:

This seems to be part of a broader developing idea: ignore the tweets. Ignore Trump's inflammatory language. Ignore the words. What counts is the policy outcomes. People took Trump's "American carnage" inaugural address seriously, but after an exhausting year, it's tempting to find an excuse to stop listening….

I have a hard time believing that anyone really thinks like this as a general proposition. Certainly conservatives who spent the postwar era reciting the mantra "ideas have consequences" didn't think the words that carried political ideas were impotent. The longstanding view among conservatives was that Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech and Reagan's call to "tear down this wall" were important events, words that helped to mobilize western resistance to Communism and to provide moral clarity about the stakes of that resistance…..

Politics is persuasion as well as coercion. Immediate policy outcomes mainly have to do with coercion: who is taxed, regulated, expropriated, imprisoned, deported, conscripted, what wars are fought, who is kept out of the country by force of arms. This can't be neglected, of course… But many… underestimate the importance and power of political speech, often under cover of seeming hard-headed and practical…

Within the electorate, the speech of elites matters in a couple of different ways. A large part of the population begins with a tribal sense of what team they're on, which side they support, but relatively little information about the substantive policy views associated with that. Thanks to Trump's Twitter feed and Fox News (and the strange reciprocal relationship between them) the Republican and conservative rank and file now have an unusually direct, unusually constant source of information about the things that people like us are supposed to believe and support. I think that we can see the effect of this in the rapid and dramatic swings in reported Republican opinion on questions from free trade to Russia policy. Trump's stump speeches and unhinged tweets, and Fox News' amplification of them, are changing what Republican voters think it means to be a Republican. He doesn't speak for them… He speaks to them, and it matters.

When Trump claims it is "treason" to refuse to applaud his State of the Union, denounces "so-called judges" for ruling against his policies, and threatens to use the regulatory powers of government against his critics, he may not (yet) be able to act on these sentiments. But the fact that he says such things makes these ideas and others like them more thinkable than before. That, in turn, increases the likelihood that Trump or a future president will act on them. Anything supported by the leader of one of the two major parties (especially one who wins the presidency) is likely to enter "mainstream" politics, and thereby get on the list of politically plausible outcomes.

This might not be the case in a world where voters have carefully considered political views and follow policy closely. But, as Levy points out, most voters are ignorant about a wide range of policy issues. And, as extensively documented in an important recent book by political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels, committed partisans often adopt positions based on whether their party is perceived as supporting them, rather than vice versa. Rather than objectively evaluating policy, many voters act as "political fans" cheering on whatever Team Red or Team Blue advocates. That is especially true in an era of severe polarization and partisan bias, where fear of the opposing party makes partisans reluctant to criticize their own party leaders, so long as those leaders continue to lead the struggle against the hated partisan enemy. The rise of Trump has already led Republican partisans to shift their views on free trade, and take a more favorable view of Vladimir Putin, the Trump-supporting authoritarian ruler of Russia. Trump has also contributed to the GOP's massive shift away from fiscal conservatism towards spending even more money than Hillary Clinton envisioned in her 2016 campaign policy agenda.

Libertarians, in particular, should not doubt that words can matter. To the extent we have been successful in influencing policy, it is by advocating ideas that were once politically unthinkable and facilitating their entry into the mainstream. That is how libertarian economists played a key role in putting an end to the draft, and how other libertarians helped make the idea of drug legalization mainstream. But if it is possible for libertarians (and others) to use words to change the political environment for the better, it is also obviously possible for Trump to use them to make it worse—particularly when his rhetoric commands such a vast audience.

It is also worth noting that Trump's rhetoric has already helped facilitate a policy agenda that seeks to undermine federalism, separation of powers, and other important constitutional constraints on his authority. Some of these initiatives have been—or are likely to be—invalidated by the courts. But many important constraints on government power rest at least in part on norms, not judicial decisions. Numerous questions cannot even get to court because of procedural constraints, such as the doctrines of political questions, ripeness, and "standing."

Moreover, executive acquiescence to court decisions is itself a political norm, one that Trump seeks to weaken. In many nations, judicial review is not an effective constraint on rulers, in part because the latter know they can get away with violating judicial rulings that go against them. At times, that has even been true in American history, as when Southern states were often able to effectively nullify federal court decisions against their Jim Crow segregation policies. If GOP partisans come to believe that adverse court decisions are the product of illegitimate "so-called judges," such disobedience becomes more feasible—and more likely.

It is fair to point out that some of the norms and institutions Trump threatens have already been weakened by previous presidents, including his predecessor Barack Obama. But that is no reason to ignore the threat posed by Trump. To the contrary: the more institutional harm has already been inflicted by Trump's predecessors, the more urgent it is to prevent further erosion. The worse you think Obama was, the more you should be alarmed by Trump.

The fact that Trump's rhetoric could cause much greater harm than it already has is not a guarantee that it actually will do so. But the way to minimize that harm is not to ignore the rhetoric, but to ensure that he pays as high a political price for it as possible. If Trump is forced to resign in disgrace, loses reelection, or is otherwise perceived as a political failure, that makes it less likely that other political leaders will imitate him. By contrast, if his rhetoric is seen as effective (or at least not an impediment to success), it is likely to attract imitators. And some of them may well be more disciplined than Trump, and more effective at transforming awful words into awful deeds.

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  2. This needs to be analyzed in two dimensions, rhetoric AND action. They vary independently.

    On the one hand, Trump’s rhetoric is sometimes deplorable, (And I wear a “Basket of Deplorables” T shirt to the gym, so I’m not exactly a TDS sufferer!) though I think the extent of this is exaggerated by people who had hoped that some common political views, like restrictive immigration policy, had been banished from public discourse, and that they’d never have to debate them again.

    On the other hand, his actual conduct has been fairly admirable. If some judge off in Hawaii enjoins his immigration policy nation-wide, he complains and complies with the injunction. Contrast that to the previous administration’s response to the Gulf drilling moratorium being enjoined; Obama didn’t personally attack the judge, so far as I can recall… He simply quietly violated the injunction!

    In an ideal world, of course, both rhetoric and conduct would be admirable. But, given a choice between admirable rhetoric coupled with deplorable conduct, and deplorable rhetoric coupled with admirable conduct, I have to chose the latter.

    I can’t help but wonder if you chose differently because you don’t feel confident you can win the policy debate, and so don’t want certain views aired.

    1. I don’t expect this information to shake the faith of birthers, but it seems relevant.

      1. I’ll be interested to see it when it leaks.

      2. I think Brett meant to say,

        “Oops. That linked article is not a good sign. If the article turns out to be correct, then I might need to change my opinion about Trump’s willingness to follow court orders, which will possibly change my opinion about Trump as president.

        On the other hand; if the linked article turns out to be inaccurate, it will only reinforce my opinion that various media do not treat Trump fairly and report on him falsely–or, at least, incompetently.”

        (I, too, wonder when it will leak. I think many of us were a bit surprised that, to date, nothing in the Democrats’ response memo to Nunes has leaked. Same goes for the Mueller investigation.)

  3. It amazes me how much time and effort are wasted by people arguing essentially that Trump is an idiot. We get it. Everybody gets it. You’re preaching to the choir. For me, at least, its just getting old and tiresome. There’s got to be something else out there worth writing about that would be halfway interesting to read.

    1. Not so much preaching to the choir, as that intensely annoying song that They Just Won’t Stop Playing On The Radio.

      I mean, seriously, just how much do you have to hate somebody, to think that a billionaire married to a supermodel, who got elected President on his first attempt a running for public office, is an “idiot”? You don’t have to like the guy, or agree with him, to recognize that he’s fairly clever.

      1. I have never recognized Mr. Trump as clever, and I have observed him for decades. I do recognize him as cracked, more significantly now than in the past.

        1. That makes you the idiot.

      2. Brett, I don’t think Trump’s cleverness or lack thereof had much to do with his election as president. There are a dozen things that, if any single one of them had broken the other way, would have changed the outcome. The Comey letter, the Democrats’ nomination of a candidate with Hillary’s negatives, the voter suppression in minority communities in Wisconsin and Michigan, just to name a few. A halfway decent Democratic nominee without her issues would have cleaned Trump’s clocks.

        On the other side of the ledger, he’s a fairly awful businessman who went from one bankruptcy to another and pretty much changed everything he touched into shit. He lost most of the money he inherited from his father. Had he not been born to wealth and power, he’d probably be managing a McDonald’s somewhere. So no, I don’t think that he’s fairly clever, and I think he’s in the process of driving the country over a cliff.

        1. Plenty of average people have won lottery tickets, and been poor a few years later.

          But I can see I’m not going to persuade you that idiots don’t tend to get elected President. Trash talk is just too satisfying to abandon in favor of reality.

          1. But idiots have gotten elected president. Millard Fillmore. Warren Harding. It may not happen often, but it certainly has happened. And I don’t see what your lottery ticket example has to do with anything, but whatever.

            Trump got elected because the political stars all aligned in a way that they never had before. Objectively, he’s spent his career going from one failed business to another. He’s barely literate, and doesn’t understand even the basics of how to be president. He may be many things, but clever is not one of them.

            1. I see no evidence that Fillmore or Harding were idiots, either. Less than perfection, sure, but smarter than the average person, almost certainly.

              You’re seeing the product of a huge amount of complex effort as random. I think this is more a commentary on how little you understand politics, than it is on Trump’s brain power.

              1. Random in the same sense that evolution is random: Once certain conditions exist, the results are predictable, but the fact that those conditions all lined up that way in the first place was random. In 20/20 hindsight, it was predictable that Trump could be elected in 2016. He could not have been elected in almost any other election year in our nation’s history. And he benefited enormously from the fact that the Democrats put up a hugely unpopular candidate, so it really came down to which candidate was slightly less unpalatable to the voters. I have no doubt that Obama would have won a third term had he not been term limited and had he chosen to run again.

                1. All of that does not combine to permit Trump to have been elected if he’d been an idiot. It took all that, AND careful effort, to be elected President in the teeth of most of the media and 3/4 of the major parties being opposed to him.

                  You fail to explain why it wasn’t Stein or Johnson who the roll of the dice but in office, or how Trump miraculously lucked into the nomination in the first place.

                  1. Most of the media spent 2016 bleating about “both sides” and changing the subject to her emails every time she tried to talk about policy. And you don’t have to take my word for it; there have been objective studies done on how much negative press she versus he got leading up to November. If you can’t find them on google I’ll send you a link.

                    It’s not hard to figure out why it wasn’t Stein or Johnson given no third party candidate has won the White House since Abraham Lincoln. Since Nixon, the GOP has run on resentment, and in 2016 the people who vote their resentments finally reached critical mass and took over the GOP nominating process.

                    1. “Most of the media spent 2016 bleating about “both sides” and changing the subject to her emails every time she tried to talk about policy.”

                      She doubtless could have gotten some coverage about her policy if she’d, oh, I don’t know, held press conferences.

                      For Trump that tactic was unavailing, once the media figured out reporting his policies made him more popular.

        2. “who went from one bankruptcy to another”

          Chapter 11s for specific failed projects. Every real estate developer fails at something, it is impossible to avoid it.

          “He lost most of the money he inherited from his father.”

          No evidence at this. It seems he is far richer than his dad so if this is true, then he is in fact a clever businessman.

          1. I have represented several developers who never stiffed creditors, let alone with the regularity and enthusiasm exhibited by Donald J. Trump. I sense that Donald J. Trump is the unsophisticated person’s vision of what a successful person must be like.

            Before complimenting or admiring Pres. Trump’s business prowess, I recommend investigating what the inheritance would have been worth today had it been invested sensibly rather than used to fund Trump properties, Trump University, Trump Steaks, and the like.

            1. Having dealt with contractors before, any businessman on the scale of Trump who didn’t occasionally stiff a contractor is a chump. They’re not all honest or competent, you understand, except perhaps in their own opinions. Some of them are barely short of crooks, if that.

              That’s why you don’t pay them 100% up front, you realize? So that you can “stiff” them if the work is substandard or incomplete? That it’s going to occasionally be appropriate is built into the process.

              1. How does handling the periodic shoddy contractor relate to becoming a bankrupt?

            2. Occasionally?

              How many times was he sued for nonpayment? Do you seriously believe all that work was shoddy? That those pianos were faulty?

              Oh. Wait. I forgot who I was responding to. You’re Brett Bellmore. Of course you believe all that.

              1. It’s unfair to accuse Mr. Bellmore of believing “all that,” if “all that” includes former Pres. Obama’s birth certificate.

              2. The question is not how often he’s sued for nonpayment. (Less often than he sues for nonpayment, I understand.)

                It’s how often he loses those lawsuits.

                Again, I’ve dealt with contractors. The reason you don’t pay them everything up front, is because sometimes they do a crappy job, and the only way to get them to fix it, or pay somebody to fix their work, is to use the money that was held pending completion.

                That’s WHY you don’t pay them everything up front.

                In the specific case of the pianos, yeah, that stinks. Wonder what Trump’s side of that is?

  4. I was curious about that Obama link, given that I would have thought his legacy was pretty much what you’d expect of a constitutional law professor-president. And it turns out the abstract is indeed odd:

    President Obama leaves behind a mixed legacy on constitutional issues ? one that is likely to remain controversial for a long time to come. Its most dangerous element may be the precedents he set for unilateral presidential initiation of war. More positively, the President played an important role in the establishment of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, and his Administration’s policies unintentionally led to litigation that resulted in stronger judicial protection for federalism, property rights, and religious liberties. Obama’s judicial appointments are notable for their impressive professional qualifications and strong support for liberal judicial ideology. The long-term constitutional impact of the Obama presidency remains to be seen.

    If that’s your summary, how do you end up with “mixed”? (Particularly since unilateral presidential war-making goes back decades.)

    1. I would guess it’s mixed because of a lot of the positive stuff being his trying to do awful things, and getting shot down in court, establishing positive precedents.

      And, of course, “strong support for liberal judicial ideology” is nothing like strong support for liberty.

      1. No, it sure isn’t. Every clown knows liberals hate liberty. Honk honk, dude, honk honk.

    2. Officially deciding to not enforce the law as written and handing out official wavers not authorized by law would be “mixed”. I’m looking at official wavers to ACA requirements and the DACA cards.

      1. But it’s ok, because it’s a law Ilya disapproves of.

  5. “executive acquiescence to court decisions is itself a political norm, one that Trump seeks to weaken”

    Trump has obeyed every adverse ButTrump decision. Some twitter complaining at worse.

    The Courts not being openly political and openly hostile to the executive is also a political norm which they are violating repeatedly.

    1. It’s not complaining to say that this judge’s decision isn’t just dumb or wrong, but illegitimate.

      Hence: The Courts not being openly political and openly hostile to the executive is also a political norm which they are violating repeatedly.

      You are making the very case you are arguing against.

      1. “It’s not complaining to say that this judge’s decision isn’t just dumb or wrong, but illegitimate.”

        I did not realize “complaining” required a specific word choice.

        And of course “illegitimate” is quite accurate regarding the ButTrump courts.

        1. The president is not an infant.
          With his powers, and the way our Republic is set up, ‘You suck’ has a different implication from ‘you have no power over me.’

          And the very fact that you believe there are judges ruling entirely to spite Trump shows his complaining has an effect on our polity.

          Would you support a purge of the disloyal antiTrump factions in the DoJ, Congress, judiciary?

          1. “very fact that you believe there are judges ruling entirely to spite Trump shows his complaining has an effect on our polity.”

            Its like you have never read a comment of mine pre-Trump.

            “Would you support a purge of the disloyal antiTrump factions in the DoJ, Congress, judiciary?”

            The DoJ is a subordinate agency to the President, no such “faction” should exist and should be fired as a matter of course. By any president.

            Its telling that you think of DoJ as a fourth branch of government.

            1. And it’s telling that you think the DOJ is subordinate for any purpose other than a chart.

            2. I wouldn’t go do far as ScottK with respect to DoJ independence, but independent executive oversight of the executive is not a bad idea.

              Certainly, I never heard anyone say it was until quite recently.
              =================
              Accusations of legislating from the bench are not the same as accusations of irrational hostility to all a President does out of spite.

              1. “independent executive oversight of the executive is not a bad idea”

                Perhaps not but our Constitution says otherwise.

                1. Our Constitution doesn’t speak at all to how the executive sets itself up.

                  1. “Article II. Section 1. The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”

                    I don’t see “except independent executive oversight of the executive” there.

                    Maybe your copy?

                    1. I don’t see anything that says the President or Congress doesn’t get to set up stuff to keep him and his successors honest.

                    2. No president made DoJ independent.

                      Congress can set up whatever legislative oversight it wants. Legislative being the key word.

                    3. OK, back up. I’m not saying the DoJ is independent – I’m saying the DoJ investigating the President is not Constitutionally impermissible.

                      Trump can fire Mueller. And pay the price.

                    4. Trump could fire Mueller by finding this generation’s Robert Bork.

                      Rachel Brand has stopped auditioning for that role, figuring her career was more important that getting that part.

          2. ” ‘You suck’ has a different implication from ‘you have no power over me.'”

            Judges have life tenure exactly so that “you suck” won’t have a different implication from “you have no power over me”.

  6. “Just talk”. This from the same people who used to count the “me’s” and “I’s” in Obama’s speeches (after removing all context, of course). And the people who coined the term “Apology Tour.” And the people who declared every action from Obama’s administration would lead to the end of the US, and that we were becoming Greece, and who invented “enhanced interrogation” and….

    They also don’t mind the fact that the man refers to himself as “Trump,” either.

    As for “treason,” no one should need reminding that conservatives have been calling The Left “anti-american” and “treasonous” for decades, if not longer. We’ve just rarely, if ever, heard it from a president directly.

    Most recently, we got to be called traitors because we saw that the Dubya administration was lying us into an unnecessary war of choice (we also don’t “Love the Troops”). Oh how I miss those days of yesteryear when failure to wear an American flag lapel pin was proof positive a candidate was unfit for office. Although, I concede our shift away from that may have less to do with it’s loss of effect, or with patriotism, and more to do with the elections of the various clowns, grifters, conmen, and fervent god-botherers who did wear said pins.

      1. They have their fact checks. Thousands of them, and compiled lists of the many lies told by Republicans (while saying with a straight face that the Obama administration was “scandal free.”)

        For example, Trump said “the level of evil is unbelievable.” They’ll say, actually, the level of evil is totally believable. Four pinnochios!

        1. Calling your countrymen on the other side evil seems like it would rationalize a great deal of Very Bad Things, in the name of ‘preserving liberty.’

          1. You really think Trump is the first politician to call the other side evil?

            Apparently you were in born not just at night but last night.

            1. Let’s try again:

              Apparently you were born not just at night but last night.

              1. Heh, I got your drift.

                It’s telling you need to expand the set to include all ‘politicians,’ not Presidents.

                Also, argument via hypothetical to quoque is extraordinarily weak.

                1. Trump is not the first President to call the other side evil. Not by a long shot.

                  History did not start with Donald Trump.

                  1. Examples, please?

                    1. While noting you are still in to quoque land – the question is academic, not related to the validity of your fallacious argument.

                    2. Ah, good, we’re back to misusing “tu quoque”; I was getting a bit bored with “whataboutism”.

                      Why are you so allergic to context?

                    3. First, it’s not ‘context’ if the example does not actually exist.
                      Second, how is it misusing tu quoque to note that other people doing a bad thing does not absolve Trump of being bad?

                      Calling it context doesn’t make it any less fallacious a way to absolve Trump.

                    4. Because “tu quoque” is reasoning of the form, “X is innocent because Y is guilty”.

                      But Bob isn’t saying Trump is innocent. He’s not “absolving” Trump.

                      That means Bob isn’t engaging in tu quoque. He’s engaging in something called “putting it in context”.

                    5. You have been reduced to literally arguing two wrongs make a right.

                    6. And! BOB PROVIDED NO ACTUAL OTHER EXAMPLE.

                      Nothing could better show how empty and outcome-determined your arguments are than that you’re spinning semantic webs around literally zero substance.

                    7. You have been reduced to literally arguing that one wrong means you can’t mention another.

                    8. While not directly the President, the WH under Obama loved to refer to the GOP as terrorists.

                      Sarcastro will ignore

                      But I’m guessing your next talking point will be that Obama having underlings make the arguments instead of doing it himself is a sign of high honor and moral turpitude or something.

                      But here’s Obama blaming terrorist recruitment on the GOP. Close.. but you’ll handwiave it also.
                      Sarcastro will also ignore

                      Here’s a bunch of Democrats doing it as well.

                      Same as before

                    9. One thing I do not do, Jesse, is ignore people’s posts. Funny you would decide I do. You often seem to have this picture of me that has little bearing to reality.

                      Your examples are not Presidential, and are thus completely irrelevant to Bob’s tossed off ‘Trump is not the first President to call the other side evil.’

                      And anyhow, comparing Congressional floor debates, which have been hyperbolic since before we were a Republic to the President using the bully pulpit is a pretty lame analogy that bespeaks how you distort your perspective to serve your partisanship.

                    10. Bitter Clingers isn’t exactly Presidential woke speak.

                    11. Sure it is. Others are free to wallow in political correctness, but I prefer accuracy. Call a clinger a clinger, a bigot a bigot, and a half-educated, disaffected, intolerant, stale-thinking, superstitious, downscale rube an ardent Trump supporter.

          2. Yeah, evil is totally different from deplorable.

            1. Evil is easily distinguishable from deplorable, which is merely objectionable and pathetic.

            2. Also amusing is I can’t find any quotes of Trump calling stuff evil – this whole thing spun out of my response M.L’s hypothetical.

              But you guys are defending it like Trump did it and it’s OK!

      2. If you can ask that question in 2018, you are not a person who needs to be taken seriously.

  7. If the Trump presidency, with its revelations about Republicans and conservatives, causes you to recognize that you deserve and need better political playmates than the authoritarian right-wing goobers with whom you’ve been sharing a sandbox, Prof. Somin, that will be one of the silver linings.

    Up there with a generation of voters that will think of Republicans as bigoted and backward for five decades, plenty of entertainment, and the point that our children get to compete economically with Trump’s retrograde supporters.

  8. As a Tea Party Republican I actual support many Trump’s policies but I never once considered voting for Trump. So I will admit thinking his behavior towards Jeb! was funny and that his attacking George W Bush and the Iraq War was a necessary enema for the Republican Party but in the end his rhetoric and recklessness with words were just too much for me. That said I do support him on some level because of the overwhelming support he gets from the military. I don’t agree with them but I must respect their collective opinion because we have been at war for so long and they just hated Hillary so much!

  9. Yes, political rhetoric matters. I happen to agree with most of Trump’s, even if I find it uncouth or inadvisable, and even when it is just a sentiment behind a joke. Why don’t more people denounce the absurd propaganda promulgated 24/7 by our mainstream media? This week they are praising North Korea and their murderous leadership appearing at the Olympics.

    1. Do you believe the Democrats in Congress are traitors for not applauding Trump?
      What are your feelings about regulating the media when it’s too critical of our Commander in Chief?
      Do you believe the FBI leadership are in a long-term conspiracy to overthrow Trump, and should be purged of all Democrats?
      What about Obama’s citizenship?

      Somehow, I don’t think you agree with Trump’s rhetoric as much as you think. I don’t think even Trump agrees with it, all at once. But you, as the OP posits, ignore the over the top stuff, and cheer the other stuff.

      1. “Do you believe the FBI leadership are in a long-term conspiracy to overthrow Trump”

        The former leadership [Comey, Mueller, Page, McCabe] yes. And I am sure they still have a fifth column there.

        1. And I presume your evidence is that they’re investigating Trump and you think they shouldn’t be…

          1. No, there is plenty of other evidence.

            The whole investigation, however, is mere sour grapes from the losing side that refuses to accept the results of a fair election.
            .

            1. I’m willing to see your evidence, but your say-so (especially abut what people you disagree with are secretly thinking) doesn’t mean a whole lot…

              1. Doesn’t mean a whole lot? Trump seems to have built an electoral coalition on that type of gullible, uninformed, disaffected thinking.

      2. Personally I believe that treason “shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

        But on a rhetorical level, referring to Democrats not applauding record low black unemployment, or ISIS being slaughtered on the battle field as “treason” is not the stupidest thing to emerge from any President’s mouth. I’m familiar with the concept of hyperbole, are you?

        1. Yeah, I’m familiar with it. Enough to know Trump’s context wasn’t anywhere near that. Go with the ‘joke’ fig leaf. It offers slightly better coverage.

      3. I do not believe not applauding is anymore treasonous than Bush was waging a Taliban like war on the American people prior to 9/11. I find refreshing, a POTUS or anyone really, not inclined to sit back and take whatever an obviously in the tank journalist spews. Nor do I find any reason to nee a fairness doctrine so one side can force opinions in to the airwaves. I do not believe the FBI leadership intends to overthrow Trump, but some did conspire to derail his campaign and should be criminally charged.

        Obama is now a footnote in history, his citizenship is irrelevant.

        As for ignoring the over the top stuff, let’s discuss again, once we determine exactly how many Americans have died so far this month with the tax cuts kicking in.

      4. If you can watch Trump’s comments about the traitors for not applauding and not understand it as a joke, then you are a bigger idiot than I give you credit for.

        1. Jokes have a rhythm, a timing. It is clear to me you didn’t actually listen to it. It’s tossed off, but it isn’t a joke; it’s a child playing with fire.

  10. I agree with the sentiment behind the “treason” joke.
    I very much agree with the sentiment and statements about the media, except for maybe his occasional comment about “libel laws” which as best as I can construe it might constitute a criticism of NYT v. Sullivan.
    I think a handful of intelligence agency officials have been some mixture of astoundingly incompetent, cynically self-interested, politically biased, influenced by severe D.C. groupthink, etc with regard to recent investigations. I don’t have too much objection from what I know regarding Mueller personally.
    I agree with Trump when he held a press conference during the campaign and said very clearly that the Obama birthplace issue is settled.

    1. So by that sentiment, we should be trying Democrats for disloyalty? What about that guy who yelled ‘You Lie’ at Obama?

      That’s some scary stuff, but your other answers are so full of parsing and interpreting what Trump has said, you very much prove the selectivity of your version of Trump.

      1. Sarcastro, you’re not this stupid. He said he agreed with the sentiment behind the joke. Are jokes advocacy of putting people on trial?

        Seriously, you are not this stupid. Don’t pretend you are.

        1. It’s a pretty dumb joke. Also didn’t sound like a joke. Especially since I hear Democrats being called traitors and anti-American by the right all the time. Didn’t Trump have an ad to that effect at some point?

          ‘I was only joking’ is a lame comeback in the best of times. It’s a really thin reed to cling to in this case.
          ===========
          But even assuming it is a joke, what would you say is the ‘sentiment behind the joke?’

          1. Is your hearing only tuned to conservatives? Simple question, and I ask since it seems you’ve never heard a single utterance of the same rhetoric from the left. After all, I am nothing more than a bitter clinger whom is un American for supporting tax cuts that will kill millions, etc. Please forgive the lack of concern toward a left whom have perfected the art of victimhood.

            1. Comparing Trump to some hypothetical rando on ‘the left’ very much misses the point.

  11. More propaganda spewing from the orifaces of the Bull-Cow. I have news for you, Bull-Cow, your propaganda pieces aren’t convincing and they only serve the purpose of ripping off your libertarian mask to show the world your communist and globalist sympathies. I understand that you are emotionally and psychologically devastated by the loss inflicted on your lesbian queen by YOUR President Trump, but you really need to come back to earth. You’ve been nothing but a whiney and pathetic drone for globalists and Democrats since the election. Your credibility is shot. No one takes you seriously. It’s time to step back from the brink and quit allowing YOUR President Trump to live rent free in your head. You’ll feel a lot better when you do. 🙂

    1. This is a lot of words to say ‘pee pee doo doo you are a bad blogger.’

      1. Bull cow is a special case. He’s not just a bad blogger (there are a couple here) he’s contracted TDS to an unprecedented degree. Not to mention he’s been playing a fake libertarian for a long time.

        1. I don’t think he dislikes Trump any more than he did Obama.

    2. I thought Arthur L. was “bull cow”? Did I have that wrong, is Somin “bull cow” or is that the name you feel is so clever you apply it to everyone with whom you disagree? Am I “bull cow”? If I am, I hope you won’t be hurt if I inform you it’s not quite as blistering a nickname as you seem to believe. Actually, that’s true even if I’m not “bull cow,” especially if “bull cow” is anything like “Cat Dog,” who is awesome. Can I be Cat Dog? Cat Dog is awesome.

      1. Wasn’t the voice of CatDog Jason Alexander?

        1. My database of incredible movieknowledge (what I call “IMDb”) says no, that was a fellow named Jim Cummings. Along with a huge volume of voice work, Alexander was one of the co-conspirators, and voices, in the awful-wrapped-in-comeonreally Tom & Jerry remakes of a few years ago. My goodness are those terrible.

          Chuck Jones why have you forsaken us?

      2. When you post a picture of a cat and call it a dog, you can be CatDog. Member when Bull-Cow posted a picture of a Bull and called it a Cow in an article in which he was mocking people with his nose in the air claiming they were “ignorant.” Member that? I do. I member. I’ll never let the “superior intellectual” forget it.

        Arthur L. Is just a run of the mill communist.

        1. I’m a communist.

          You’re a poorly educated, belligerently ignorant bigot.

          This is fun. Difficult to see how it turns out any better for movement conservatism than the most recent half-century of American progress has, however.

          1. Blah, blah, blah, blah. You are a boring communist who only knows how to mindlessly repeat words that you don’t really know the meaning of.

            Generation Z is coming. You should be very afraid.

            1. You figure Generation Z is going to cause America to change course substantially, and to return to backwardness, bigotry, ignorance, superstition, insularity, and dogma?

              I expect (and prefer) more reason, tolerance, science, education, inclusivity, and progress.

              America’s electorate is improving. Less rural, less backward, less religious, less bigoted. Every day. Partly because stale-thinking old losers are dying off, partly because our younger people are better than their predecessors. Toss in the “less white” trend among our electorate, and predictable prospects for Republicans and conservatives explain why right-wingers are so disaffected, cranky, and bitter.

              Carry on, clingers. More pointless ankle-biting and resentment of your betters, please.

              1. You keep saying that, chanting it like a mantra, desperately hoping it to be the truth. You believe your incantations will bring about this reality that simply isn’t appearing.

                Hence, YOUR PRESIDENT TRUMP.

                Generation Z despises people of your ilk & millennial filth. They are far more conservative on most issues, and they tend to hate communists such as yourself.

        2. No, I don’t “member” that. But I have at least a few ideas as to why he thinks you’re ignorant.

          1. Read his article from June of 2017.

            “Public ignorance, brown cows, and the origins of chocolate milk [updated with some additional information].”

            “UPDATE: The photo originally posted with this article actually depicts a brown bull, rather than a cow. I was misled by the lack of horns. But it turns out not all bulls have horns. I have now replaced it with a picture of an actual brown cow.”

            He got called out by posters, whom he was looking down his “intellectually superior” nose at, for this rather idiotic mistake.

            Hence, he forevermore shall be called Bull-cow.

            Bull-cow couldn’t tell a Bull from a Cow.

  12. “But the way to minimize that harm is not to ignore the rhetoric, but to ensure that he pays as high a political price for it as possible. If Trump is forced to resign in disgrace, loses reelection, or is otherwise perceived as a political failure, that makes it less likely that other political leaders will imitate him.”

    I agree for the most part with your thesis “rhetoric matters”, but you don’t go far enough. You limit it to Trump. There are many politicians, on both sides, who are spewing harmful, if not downright false, rhetoric. Should they all pay the same political price?

    1. Based on history, recent and otherwise, I doubt any such political price will be paid. Obama, FDR, keep going back to the 1800s we’ve had the same rhetoric. Nothing special about Trump.

  13. So Trump is bad because slippery slope?

    1. I’d agree with you except I actually believe in the Slippery Slope. An easy example being the income tax which was originally only supposed to “soak the rich”.

      1. In my experience people who deny the validity of slippery slopes are generally doing so because they wouldn’t mind sliding some distance down the slope, and don’t want you driving in pitons and starting back up the slope.

    2. If “slippery slope” is any one of the reasons Trump is bad, it’s a very minor one.

  14. The OP has misread this moment’s right wing politics. It makes Trump look more influential than facts warrant. At a granular level, issue by issue, it may look like Trump’s wild utterances have been unaccountably influential. But another way to look at it may make more sense?whether or not it is more reassuring.

    What if Trump is not saying stuff about issues, which the right wing hears and then follows along, but doing something else instead? I don’t think issues have much to do with it. What matters is that Democratic Party policies and personalities have made themselves so uniformly hated outside their coalition that issue-by-issue consideration went out the right-wing window years ago. Now, neither Trump nor the right wing rank and file have any politics to speak of, except hating liberals.

    Trump’s political genius has been to notice, and take that not as a policy guide, but as a talking points lodestar. Time after time he figures out something liberals would hate, and without regard for other considerations, announces he will do it?build the wall, set policy to deny climate change, stage a military parade, enact a travel ban, bait Korea, trash the environment?it’s all the same issue?one issue, say you will do what liberals hate.

    That’s all the politics the political right has left, but it’s all the politics Trump needs. In letting that happen, the Democratic Party has a lot to answer for. Getting that answering done will not be pleasant for them.

    1. I have problems both with your “Democrats made Republicans embrace post-policy governance,” which is actually baked into the GOP’s alleged “principles,” and with any suggestion that Trump is playing some form of multi-dimensional game. None of what he does requires “genius” or other mastery of manipulation. It only requires his particular brand of solipsism and amorality.

      People I know who can be said to be similar to Trump in personality get away with what they get away with because most people find it easier to let them get away with their nonsense than to fight endless battles with jerks. It has something to do with wrestling pigs and the lack of benefit to anyone but the pig.

      1. For what it’s worth, I try to avoid conflating “genius,” and “virtue.” On his record of astonishing accomplishments during his ascent to power, Hitler seems to me to have been, at that time, a consummate political genius. Later, not so much. But only a fool would suggest Hitler was ever virtuous.

        As for “multi-dimensional game,” etc., another aspect of genius is that it can be both inarticulate and unintentional. It’s a commonplace among art critics that the best artists frequently have no idea what they are achieving, or how they go about it?a point I tend to agree with. You can apply that double to Trump.

        So to summarize, I meant neither to attribute virtue to Trump, nor to suggest I have seen in him even the slightest ability to plan rationally?or to reflect on what he does. My larger point was simply that the Democratic Party is culpable for policies, and for choosing politicians, which had the foreseeable effect of untethering loose canons such as Trump-and-his-base. Now we can expect an interval of uncertain outcomes, during which the nation will pay, while both Republicans and Democrats predictably struggle.

  15. “That’s all the politics the political right has left,”

    Strange, because it seems the Democrats only oppose that which the GOP supports. Why do the Democrats support illegal aliens? Why do the Democrats oppose tax reform? Why did the Democrats only support kneeling football players during the National Anthem only AFTER Trump came out against?

    1. Politics does get tribal, but your examples are really awful.

      You need to get your talking points straight! I thought Dems liked illegals because they were gonna voter fraud the Dems into office?
      And being for tax reform doesn’t mean you need to support everything that calls itself tax reform.
      Trump nationalized the issue and it was both on-brand and tribally natural for Dems to come down on the side of the minority Trump as angry at.

  16. I’ll take any of Trump’s comments any day in preference to “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” and “you will save $2500 per year in premiums” and “I learned about Hillary’s server in the news” and “Iran will never get nuclear weapons”

    1. I sense you didn’t need anger about Democratic comments to send you into embrace of Trump’s bigoted, backward comments.

    2. Helluva thing that so many people’s answer to ‘Trump bad’ is ‘Dems worse’ and their examples are overdone rhetoric in service of a policy, butter e-mails, and something that hasn’t yet happened.

      1. You know what’s worse? That it’s a reasonable answer.

        Look, we hold an election, somebody wins. Sometimes given the selection that’s a tragedy, but it’s a fact.

        That makes the assessment of politicians inherently relative. You ask not whether X is bad, but, whether X is worse than Y.

        Why, then, do you want Trump to be assessed apart from the alternative to Trump? Because you know the alternative is unpleasant enough to enough people that the comparison doesn’t come out the way you like. While you know few people affirmatively like Trump.

        So you want them to reject Trump and end up with the alternative by default, without having compared the alternative to Trump.

        Not. Gonna. Happen.

        1. You don’t get to argue that originalism is the only properly limited form of jurisprudence and engage in uncabined logic like this.

          By always looking at Dems and never at your side, you allow your side to get away with literally anything.

          1. And how does being attached to actually reading the law instead of pulling it out of your ass imply that I can’t note that elections have TWO candidates, and you can’t consider one apart from the other?

            1. Because the problem you identify (wrongly IMO) in non-originalism is the same as the problem with this defense of Trump – both result in unlimited flexibility in what you will allow.

        2. So you want them to reject Trump

          Not me. I want Republicans to ride Trump all the way to decades of electoral impotence.

  17. People scoof at Oprah 2020, but I think she might be the only hope for getting through to partisans that, if they want to consider themselves “good people”, they have to respect manners and politeness in the public square,

    1. Yes, give a speech everyone enjoys and boom!, you get to be president. It worked so well the last time…

      https://youtu.be/qYVtB-33aNg

    2. Given regular politicians have proven unable to reign in the hysterics, a new approach is required. Note Reagan’s positive effect on publicity decency, as a good example.

      1. If your solution to “hysterics” in politics is to combat it with a hateful, paranoid egomaniac, you’re doing solutions wrong.

      2. This is the first I’ve heard of Reagan’s positive effect on public decency.

        1. Reagan made America more decent.

          In wingnut fantasies, apparently.

          1. I guess one could consider bankrupting the USSR as slightly less decent than teaching an entire generation about stained blue dresses, what is not sexual relations and is isn’t really is. Of course, in today’s woke leftist circles, all of the above is really bad and women should be believed, until their not, all depends on who stands to win the election.

            1. You could, if you didn’t understand that the USSR was basically a Nazi Germany that understood the need to pace itself, and thus was a greater threat to the world. Bankrupting them was better than obliterating them.

          2. When Reagan died, he was hailed left and right as “the great communicator”. It has been said, when one heard him speak, no matter the subject, one was left with the irrepressible conviction that things will only get better for America. I wasn’t there, but the recordings prove this out. He spoke with decency and kindness.

            1. Reagan spoke decently. That’s a pretty different thing from making America more decent.

              1. You may or may not agree with my method here, but I would suspect congressional approval over time could be used as a proxy for how negative or positively charged the the overall rhetoric was.
                Gallup polls

                Here you can spot upward trends in public sentiment during both the Reagan and Clinton years. I would suspect this might have something to do with positive presidential rhetoric shaping party rhetoric, which is to say, keeping out of insult politics.

        2. Question: who said this?

          “I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think that people… he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

          1. What in the above quote (Obama?) do you think I would disagree with?

  18. If political words matter, and if in fact true racism (i.e., the belief that certain races are inferior to others) is an evil, then why no mention of the fact that Democratic politicians have been calling Republicans racists for years and years? Trumps petty insults are juvenile, and few take them seriously. Isn’t being seriously accused of being a racist worse than Trump half-joking about being treasonous?

    What attracts people to Trump is he is the first Republican to do to Democrats what Democrats have done to Republicans.

    1. It’s almost as if, even taking your pinched definition of racism, the people you are complaining about aren’t the President of the United States.

      1. Where does the idea that the President has to use genteel language come from?

        1. I can’t speak for Sarcastro, but I get that idea based off the concepts of professionalism, common decency, and the responsibilities that go with being in charge of a nation of 320 million people, the largest military and the second largest nuclear armory on earth. Where do you get your idea that the President can be a loud-mouthed jackass who knows little and cares to know even less about the job he has taken on?

          1. I’m personally satisfied that he’s a lout-mouthed jackass who knows quite a bit, and cares even more, about the job he’s taken on.

            1. You just rest easy, Brett, no one thought otherwise.

          2. “Where do you get your idea that the President can be a loud-mouthed jackass who knows little and cares to know even less about the job he has taken on?”

            From 306 electoral votes.

            1. The President CAN be a jackass, but we can still call the President a jackass, and note that while jackasses are common, Presidential jackasses are not something to be embraced.

              Or do you think all the criticism of Obama was illegitimate because he won a couple of elections?

              1. Criticism and thinking Trump is uniquely bad are two different things.

                “Malafactors of Great Wealth”

                Malafactor means a criminal. Teddy R. called his opponents criminals. Difference from “evil”?

                or

                “I have read your lousy review of Margaret’s concert. I’ve come to the conclusion that you are an eight ulcer man on a four ulcer job Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes and perhaps a supporter below.” ? Harry S. Truman

                I guess actual threats are fine. Missed a similar Trump tweet.

                1. Haha, if the best you have is a weak attempt to work the thesaurus, and a personal, non-political letter Truman caught a lot of heat for.

            2. Leaving aside the fact it was 304 electoral votes, the 3 million fewer voters that 304 represents is telling you to get bent.

          3. His predecessor did a fairly decent job of preparing us as it relates to your last sentence. Not so much in your face as Trump is, but the tactile jackassery combined with the thinly veiled racism and perpetual victimhood preached from the pulpit by Trump’s predecessor gave us the idea.

            1. What are you even saying? ‘you hate Trump and you are wrong, because we hated Obama just as much, but we weren’t crazy he was the bad one’

  19. “When Trump claims it is “treason” to refuse to applaud his State of the Union”

    If you think Trump did this outside of a mere jest, then you’re an idiot.

    1. Because surely the Trump you know wouldn’t call those treasonous Democrats treasonous?

    2. If you think some degree of alleged jestiness makes the comment ok you really are an idiot.

  20. Trump is really stupid . . . defeated over a dozen professional politicians, including some who spent more money and who had the fanatical support of the media propaganda pumps, i.e., the NYTs, WP, NPR etc.

    1. This is as dumb a conversation as whether Obama’s stupid, only with less racism.

  21. Trump is certainly changing norms of behavior for the President….and his electoral success…albeit against a weak opponent with high negatives….may encourage some level of copy-catting. A segment of the electorate…as shown by Ron Paul voters who then went for Trump….are just looking for the most outrageous…or in their perception entertaining…candidate possible. President Oprah next? To me, the language of Trump is usually just juvenile or under-informed….though I can understand how the wall, Muslim ban, and inner city rhetoric can be especially bothersome. His vision of bringing people together typically requires him to find a convenient enemy and a simplistic solution. Still, he hasn’t done anything (yet) that suggests that he is weaponizing the IRS, State department, FBI, or DoD or broadly ignoring laws….the day is young and Mueller may still find a smoking gun. Fairly or unfairly, the Obama administration seems to be accused of more substantive actions that suggest abuse of power. Two wrongs don’t make a right but they should encourage some introspection and consistency. In general, I’m glad that Trump has picked some good people to handle “the details”…and though he remains fixated on walls, country bans, trade protectionism, and busting the budget…the train is still on the track. Hopefully he gets bored and stops after one term, then we get back to talking more policy and less personality…

    1. For two wrongs not making a right, you sure did dwell a lot on disputed understandings of Democratic tyranny.

      Also, did you read the OP? First, it more or less directly debunks your discussion of deeds being OK so we let the words slide. Second, you have highlighted the wrong words.
      The racial resentment-stoking you so easily forgive is taking a second seat to attacking any institution that might hold him accountable, from media to the DoJ to any in Congress interested in actual investigation to the very idea of a legitimate election.

  22. What if Trump hand picked a portrait artist who made a practice of depicting white people triumphantly beheading black people?

    Would this be noted on the MSM’s front pages, and furiously commented on by David Post and many others like him?

    Why yes, yes it would. But when Obama did it? Nah.

    1. Personally, I’m more concerned that Obama hand picked an incompetent portrait artist who made a practice of depicting black people triumphantly beheading white people.

      Heck, I had a better sense of proportion in high school art class, and I never got much beyond painting comic book characters.

      A ghastly triumph of race and ideology over taste.

    2. “Made a practice.” It’s hysteric hyperbole, so M.L. must be a liberal.

  23. The comments here are exactly what I expected. When the name-calling and attribution of evil motives and lack of intelligence and inability to follow a logical argument are the hallmarks of the age among the anonymous folk here (and this website is incredibly well-mannered compared to the typical political comment section) you realize that the standards of discourse have been debased long before Trump’s rise. Trump’s incendiary formulations (particularly when not backed by policy) are simply a reflection of the way we expect people to talk nowadays. Trump’s genius is that he has shattered the theory that grownups with real policy responsibilities and obligation are required to talk like grownups, even as their actions are as down-and-dirty as any 5th grade schoolyard. No they aren’t, we learn. If Internet-style wrangling makes news, says Trump, then I’ll be an Internet-style wrangler, and my critics will be even more outraged because I’m not supposed to act like that. And as long they continue to be outraged, as far as he’s concerned, it’s working… He *needs* Democratic outrage; otherwise he’s just a guy with no sway over his own party. I respectfully disagree with professor Somin: rhetoric used to matter; but there’s no evidence it still does. For all of Obama’s quite good rhetoric, he accomplished very little, and what he accomplished is already eroding. This is because we’ve entered a post-civil-dialogue age, and we have the President we need to lead it.

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