Whatever Happened to Liberal Values?

This is not an article about Donald Trump. It is an article about his victory, but it is not about him, or his supporters. This article is about the death of liberal values brought about by their rejection by the very people who claim to uphold them.

Democracy is the pinnacle of all social liberal values. It represents the unique combination of tolerance, equality, freedom of speech and choice, and all of the other values than social liberals advocate. One cannot have these values and not believe in democracy – even to say that we should live in a society with liberal universalism or a benevolent dictatorship is to take away freedom of choice and the idea that all people are equal and thus entitled to an equal say.

Not all democracies are the same, but all elections are fought under the same basic premises: all candidates fight under the same system, play by the same rules, and accept the result even if they lose. That is why it matters that Donald Trump indicated he was unlikely to accept the result, and that is why it matters that his opponents refuse to accept his victory. It isn’t liberal or democratic to contest an election once you have lost – if you have an issue with the Electoral College system, protest it beforehand and keep protesting it afterwards, but if you would have been happy with your candidate winning the election and losing the popular vote, then your problem is not with the system but with the fact that people voted for your opponent.

Tolerance is another vital liberal value which has been sorely neglected since the election. There has been broad-scale use of ad hominem attacks – words like racist and misogynist have been thrown at anyone who voted for Donald Trump. Cases of assaults on Trump supporters have been reported – even on Americans based abroad who voted for Donald Trump – have soared.

That, however, is not the most worrying sign for liberal values. The number of people who have talked of the need to ‘re-educate’ voters who don’t espouse the same brand of politics as them has been, frankly, terrifying. Others have stood by and not objected to this call for re-education, and have equally failed the notion of social liberalism – whatever happened to that great tenet of liberal thought: ‘I detest what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’?

Because Trump’s supporters are (accordingly to the ever-reliable opinion polls) predominantly white, working-class men with less education than their Clinton-voting counterparts, there have been people actively and openly discussing introducing intelligence tests for elections. Perhaps, they argue, only those who are educated should be able to vote? After all, they know better what the solutions to the nation’s ills are?

Such a shift in social attitudes is beneath us. Our ancestors fought and died for progress: for the rights of all people to share an equal say in our nation’s future, an equal vote in our ballot boxes, and an equal right in our courts. Disguising illiberalism in the guise of liberal universalism doesn’t make it less illiberal. Democracy, freedom of choice, and tolerance tell us that, even if we disagree with people’s choices, they have a right to make those choices, and in 2016 we must respect the fact that America chose Donald Trump. Trump’s voters deserve to be heard as much as Clinton’s – silencing them, ignoring them, telling them that they are racist or misogynistic, these are not liberal, they are socially authoritarian actions.

The risk we run in a liberal society is that people may disagree with us, and sometimes those people win. True liberalism is about accepting dissenting opinions, challenging and debating them, and ultimately yielding and accepting new realities when we lose the argument. Social authoritarianism is about only allowing one point of view and one opinion, and saying things like (and this is more or less a direct quote from someone during a discussion of Trump last week): ‘our ancestors fought for liberal values and equal rights, and allowing people like Donald Trump to be elected is a betrayal of those values’, as a justification for denying the democracy our forefathers fought for is as much a betrayal of liberal values as anything Donald Trump could possibly do.

Democracy and liberalism go hand-in-hand. To achieve a free, prosperous, democratic, tolerant, liberal society, we must not give in to the temptation to be undemocratic. Sometimes the candidate we don’t like wins (Clinton would have been no better, but that is a debate for another time), but the way to show tolerance and liberalism is to accept the result and make the best of the new reality.

Americans unhappy with Trump’s platform should lobby him and their representatives to implement a more liberal one. People around the world should continue to fight for what they believe in. ‘Re-education’ is never the answer, removing rights is never the answer, calling people names is never the answer.

Let’s return debate to society. If you believe something is an inherent fact in politics, you’ve already lost the debate. Let’s talk about immigration without the name-calling. Let’s talk about issues objectively. To give the people who were shocked by the election of Donald Trump the answer to their question: when you refuse to debate about something, you can’t change anyone’s mind; when you issue an ad hominem attack when someone disagrees with you, undecideds are unlikely to be any more supportive of your position.

The way to be liberal is to debate, to debate, and to debate again until you have won the argument. Stop telling people what to believe, and start telling them why to believe it – because the way to beat populists like Trump is to engage with their voters, and the way to understand why people vote for something is to ask them. If you aren’t willing to talk to people and you can’t make any more argument than a vague assertion that you are right, then can you really be surprised when people disagree with you?

Trump’s victory is not the worst thing to happen to liberalism in the western world. It is the wake-up call it has needed.

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How 2016 Could be Gary Johnson’s Year

His failure to reach the first Presidential debate – polling at an average of around 10% nationally – would seem to have put to rest any chance of Libertarian nominee, Gary Johnson, occupying the White House for the next four years. Certainly the chances of the Libertarian ticket reaching the 270 Electoral College votes required to win the election outright are essentially nil, which leaves a few avenues open for Johnson – which may not be as unlikely as they would seem.

Preventing either candidate from reaching 270 seems plausible. If we take state-by-state data from recent polling then Clinton takes a narrow victory overall – but adding in data from recent state-wide polling in Florida which has put Trump ahead of Clinton changes the picture significantly. Based on that data, Clinton would be on 270 and Trump on 268 – meaning that Johnson would only have to win one state (his home state of New Mexico – with its 5 EC votes, and where he recently polled 25% – would suffice) to prevent Clinton or Trump winning outright.

Johnson has been polling well among independents and young voters, with veterans also polling strongly for the Libertarian ticket. He has also, more crucially, reached 25% in New Mexico (5 EC), 23% in Utah (6), and 19% in Alaska (3), Idaho (4), and South Dakota (3). If he can convert his obvious advantages into a ground campaign (and for a party without nationwide campaigning experience, that will be a significant challenge) with the capacity to win over enough voters to have an impact on the election, then the Libertarian nominee might still be in with a shot of the White House come November 8th.

If, continuing the hypothetical model, Johnson were able to win New Mexico, then the period between election day and the convening of the 2016 Electoral College may well be an important one. With Clinton on 265, Trump on 268 and Johnson on 5, the three candidates would require faithless electors to break with their parties to become President. A Trump victory through faithless electors seems unlikely – particularly given the polarising and incendiary nature of the GOP nominee – and likewise the prospect of at least 5 GOP electors switching to Clinton seems equally unlikely. Johnson winning the White House through faithless electors is, to all intents and purposes, impossible because of the sheer volume of votes required.

In that case then – having discounted the prospect of a tie-break being broken by faithless electors – under the US Constitution if a candidate fails to get the 270 votes required then the Presidential Election goes to a vote of the House of Representatives and the Vice Presidential Election goes to the Senate. The Presidential Election is the interesting one for the Libertarians, as Bill Weld is unlikely to beat either Tim Kaine or Mike Pence into the final two for the VP Election.

When the election goes to the House, the Representatives votes in state blocks (with states discounted in the case of a tie) and a minimum of 26 states must back a candidate for them to be elected President, with the three candidates with the highest Electoral College votes being on the ballot paper. While the GOP would be expected to win such a ballot, it would take just a few Never Trump-ers to leave the House in deadlock for a few rounds. In such a situation, a candidate like Johnson might appeal to Democrats and Republicans as a consolidation candidate – when presented with the choice of an experienced, non-partisan (or essentially non-partisan) candidate over the divisive Trump or Clinton, Johnson may be able to secure the support of enough states to win the House, and the Presidency.

The House route represents the best chance Johnson has at the Presidency – as a compromise candidate to balance off the polarising influences of Clinton and Trump. Experienced, competent, honest and refreshing, Gary Johnson needs and will get more exposure to the American public this campaign. He has been backed by a very significant number of media publications – and, Aleppo incident aside, has generally been received very well by the general public. Polling at 10% as a third party with little exposure is no mean feat – if he can get onto the stage for the final two debates and get a solid ground team together, then he may at the very least achieve his main aim: breaking the two party system. Any President elected by the House – Libertarian nominee or otherwise – will fundamentally undermine the Electoral College system and that will give the Libertarian’s a real chance to influence future elections.

Whatever happens, 2016 could be Gary Johnson’s year.

Why We Shouldn’t Ridicule Trump’s North Korean Endorsement

It seems like an unlikely alliance. One of them is a fanatic totalitarian with awful hair; the other is the ruler of North Korea. One of them hates America with a burning passion; the other wants to make it ‘Great Again’. With North Korea’s news agency – and implicitly, Kim Jong-Un – backing the 70 year old GOP nominee last week, could it prove a positive thing for the future of the world? Or, when combined with the support of Vladimir Putin, is it just another sign that Trump’s game of ‘Dictator Bingo’ seems to be continuing unabated?

The United States and North Korea have been engaged in a Cold War-style stand off since the end of the Korean War – with US forces in South Korea and US support for the government of the South. The North has retaliated by building a nuclear programme which it claims has the capability to launch an attack on North America. The Kim Dynasty have engaged in the suppression of their populace, and under their rule North Korea has become one of the least developed countries in the world – with one of the highest poverty rates. The thing that has united the North Korean populace behind the Kims has been an anti-American rhetoric and instilling both fear of America and pride in the North’s military.

So why would the North decide to back a potential President of their long-standing enemy?

Donald Trump has repeatedly indicated some support for the withdrawal of US troops from the Korean Peninsula and the North perceive this as a positive step for the potential of Korean unification. With the North having indicated their desire to open up talks over the reunification of Korea, and Trump having indicated a desire to engage in dialogue with Kim Jong-Un, it might well be that North Korea perceive their greatest chance of bringing the South to the table is through a Trump Presidency.

The backing of a crushingly totalitarian government with a horrific record on human rights will do nothing to improve Trump’s appeal to most American voters; while the sentiments that the North express over Trump’s desire to withdraw troops from South Korea will not go down well with hard-line Conservatives. More importantly, the endorsement of Kim Jong-Un suggests that Trump’s wielding of American hard power against the North will be significantly less than at present – allowing them the freedom to expand their nuclear arsenal and increasing the risk of a second Korean War.

Yet, could the Kim-Trump alliance actually spell good news for the world? For all his much-criticised domestic policy, could the GOP nominee have actually stumbled across a way to solve an American foreign policy dilemma that has existed since 1953?

With his implicit support for lessening American hard power in Korea, Trump could be in the process of ending a policy approach that has been unsuccessful since it began. American hard power in Korea has served only to increase the divisions between North and South and has given the Kim family a way to cement their control of the Hermit Kingdom. Additionally, despite their best efforts, the United States has been unable to prevent the North from pursuing the development of a nuclear programme.

By suggesting that he could be willing to engage the North in dialogue – a dialogue that the North is willing to open – Trump may be able to take the first steps towards true peace in Korea, and may be able to use soft power to coax the North Koreans into giving up their pursuit of further weapons of mass destruction. We saw the potential value of American-backed peace talks with the Camp David Accords, which ensured peace between Israel and Egypt, and in the Oslo Accords which saw President Clinton bring Palestine and Israel to the table. If a Trump presidency could bring the North and the South to the table, we could see the beginnings of a Korean peace process (and potentially reunification), which would be positive development for diplomatic relations between the two nations.

If Trump was able to open up the Hermit Kingdom to the world, it would be a major advance in securing world peace; any liberalisation of the North would be considered one of the biggest successes of American soft power in history.

Whether by luck or by design, Donald Trump has stumbled upon a foreign policy initiative with the potential to have a massive impact on world peace, and on the 25 million citizens of North Korea who languish in poverty. Rather than ridiculing Trump for achieving the support of Kim Jong-Un, perhaps the international media should be looking at the prospects such support could have for the future of North Korea – and in particular, the prospects it could have for increasing democracy and standard of living in the Hermit Kingdom in the long run. Maybe what Trump has shown is that – unlike previous Presidents – he acknowledges that America’s hard power hasn’t always had the intended effect, and that its soft power could be far more important in Korea.

For all his whacky domestic policy, if Donald Trump wins the presidency, US-North Korea relations will never have been closer – and potential dialogue between the two nations could be even more significant a breakthrough than Reagan and Gorbachev, or Obama and Castro in the pursuit of a more peaceful planet.

The election that Trumps Politics

The 2016 election has been one of the most controversial and unpredictable in the history of American politics, and it hasn’t even started yet! With candidates who make Frank Underwood look tame, this is an election where there seem to be more anti-establishment candidates than establishment ones, and in this piece I will assess how credible an anti-establishment victory is.

The GOP

The Republican race has shed candidates faster than water from a colander. With an initial field of anti-establishment candidates broad enough to cancel one another out, the anti-establishment field has thinned to two. That the most recent withdrawal, the bonkers Ben Carson, backed Donald Trump is indicative of the way the anti-establishment on the right is coalescing behind one of those candidates. The other, Ted Cruz, may be an anti-establishment icon in the Senate, but in this Presidential race he has positioned himself more towards the establishment, so to all intents and purposes he has become another establishment candidate.

So Mr Trump then. Donald Trump is to politics what the History Channel is to television; bizarre, unintelligible, but strangely compelling and full of Nazis and conspiracy theories. Insane and spewing a fascist rhetoric, Trump has become the front-runner for the GOP nomination. Helped on by a multitude of establishment candidates splitting the vote between them, Trump is on course to secure a genuine shot at the Presidency, something that he has manipulated through a unique brand of pragmatism and personality. Whether or not he can guide the GOP to an incredibly unlikely anti-establishment victory is another matter.

Faced with Hillary Clinton, Trump possesses the ability to mobilise the conservative movement across the spectrum of the right against a candidate who cannot do the same for the Democrats. His force of personality and inability to be hit in debates or by negative publicity mean that his poll numbers can only go up. Against Sanders the story is unclear. Faced with an opponent who could mobilise the left, victory would go to whichever candidate could mobilise the Clinton vote.

Verdict: Unclear but possible.

The Democrats

With the Democratic race down to the final few candidates, the anti-establishment candidate has fared worse than his GOP equivalent. Bernie Sanders has seen off Martin O’Malley, but he is losing serious ground on Clinton in the popular vote, and of course when the Superdelegates are taken into account Sanders has already lost the race. None the less, the veteran Independent represents the closest thing to an anti-establishment candidate the left has fielded in years, and he has succeeded in bern-ing Clinton’s fingers in several states.

If Sanders were able to gain some momentum, then he perhaps has a long shot at the nomination. Even then, Sanders is perhaps even less likely than Trump to unite his party, with his views being considerably to the left of the traditional Democratic base. If Trump wins the nomination, or perhaps even Cruz, there may be a sufficient enough gulf between the two candidates to offer Sanders a chance, if no candidate captures the middle ground then the veteran Senator has a shot at the White House. Against Rubio, or even Kasich, Sanders has little chance at the White House, with those candidates offering an alternative to the Democrats right of Sanders.

Verdict: Impossible, too much stands between Sanders and the White House.

An Alternative

Of course, the two major ‘alternative’ anti-establishment cases would seem to be independent runs from Sanders and Trump. In the case of Trump, this seems an unlikely course of action. For a man who has built a campaign based on winning, losing the nomination would cast adrift any hopes of the White House. Though Trump and his supporters are not the most predictable, and an independent run against two establishment candidates could put Trump in the White House. For Sanders, an independent run would bring a situation he is used to, but it would also dent his chances, with any momentum he has gained being lost.

So the final consideration must go to a third party run. There has, it seems, never been a better opportunity for an alternative to make their mark on an election. Michael Bloomberg has ruled out a run for the White House, which leaves only the Libertarian Party as an alternative on the ballot in every state. Former New Mexico Governor, Gary Johnson, seems their most likely candidate, and his message is one which could appeal to a disillusioned Republican and Democratic base, with a wide range of social and economic policy which he claims enables him to work with either party. Governor Johnson is rough around the edges, but if he were able to get on the stage with the Democrats and the GOP, and if the nominees are favourable (i.e. Trump and Sanders, or Trump and Clinton), then there has never been a better time for the Libertarians, and Gary Johnson, to take the White House.

Verdict: Unlikely, absurd, and verging on impossible, so with the spirit of the 2016 race, entirely possible.