Trump’s (Few) Good Ideas

In my circles, Donald Trump’s policy agenda was viewed dimly: throughout the campaign it seemed that his main commitments were to block trade, stop immigration, deport 11 million people, and ban Muslims from the country.

I myself wrote about his “insults, secret plans, and a promise to kick everybody else’s ass,” right after seeing him speak in the summer of 2015, and I contributed to National Review’s “Against Trump” cover story. Still, if I could admire Hillary Clinton’s secret support for “a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders,” I can find the occasional nugget in Trump’s basket of deplorable policies.

Trump had many policy positions on his website, from child care to cybersecurity. Many of them never seemed to really hold his attention.

Republican voters nominated and elected a candidate who rejects the bipartisan Washington commitment to global interventionism.

But he did return repeatedly to some interesting ideas about foreign policy that were different from the usual Washington talk in both parties. He was wildly inconsistent, sometimes talking about torture, illegal orders to the military, and a determination to “take the oil.” But he correctly pointed out that our current foreign policy hasn’t worked very well. And indeed he had made a similar point in a full-page ad in the New York Times in 1987.

That’s an aspect of the 2016 campaign that hasn’t gotten enough attention: Republican voters nominated and elected a candidate who rejects the bipartisan Washington commitment to global interventionism.

So let’s identify three policies Trump advanced that he ought to stick with in the White House:

The promise that “war and aggression will not be [the president’s] first instinct.”

That ought to go without saying. But we’ve been involved for the past 25 years in a seemingly endless war in the Middle East, and there’s no end in sight. Wars that began with limited purposes — to block Saddam Hussein’s takeover of Kuwait, and to retaliate against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan for the 9/11 attacks — have metastasized into a region-wide campaign of regime change and nation-building. A president who rose to power on the strength of an antiwar speech and who received a Nobel Peace Prize on spec will leave office having bombed seven countries and with the two longest wars in American history still running.

In that world, the understanding that “caution and restraint are really truly signs of strength” would be a welcome change.

We must abandon the failed policy of nation building and regime change that Hillary Clinton pushed in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria.”

As Jeffrey Sachs Foreign policy elites in both parties think this record hasn’t been assertive enough, especially in Syria. Establishment think tanks are churning out recommendations for the Hillary Clinton administration to take more aggressive military action in the Middle East and on Russia’s borders. These were the same people and organizations that either actively cheered on the war in Iraq in 2003, or were silent. President-elect Trump needs to bring new voices into his administration.

It’s time to rethink NATO.

Trump repeatedly suggested that NATO, the keystone of U.S. global interventionism, is obsolete. He also declared that the United States “cannot be the policeman of the world” and that it is time for Japan and Korea to assume more responsibility for their own defense.

NATO was created in 1949 to defend war-ravaged European nations from a Soviet Union that had extended its control over much of central Europe. As we approach the alliance’s 70th anniversary, it’s surely time to consider whether NATO is indeed, as my colleague Ted Galen Carpenter writes, “an obsolete security arrangement created in a vastly different era to meet an entirely different security situation.” The foreign policy establishment, including Hillary Clinton, sharply attacked Trump’s position. But now that the heat of the election is past, we should have a real debate on the value of far-flung alliances to American security.

Foreign policy elites remain committed to global interventionism. But voters don’t like these endless wars. And for all of Republican politicians’ insistence on a robust and more costly military, Republican voters aren’t keen on constant intervention.

As neoconservatives and Republican senators beat the drums for military action in Syria, Republicans turned sharply against the idea — 70 percent against in September 2013.

Perhaps most broadly, a massive Pew Research Center survey in December 2013 found that 52 percent of respondents said the United States “should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.” That was the most lopsided balance in favor of the U.S. “minding its own business” in the nearly 50-year history of the measure. That number dipped to 43 percent in 2016, but a similar question — whether the United States should “deal with its own problems and let other countries deal with their own problems the best they can” — found 57 percent agreement in 2016, and 62 percent of Republicans.

Candidate Trump never presented a coherent 21st-century foreign policy. But he did repeatedly raise some important concerns, and he proved that Republican voters — and perhaps even, or especially, military veterans — aren’t reflexively hawkish. His administration should broaden the foreign policy debate to include these questions.

And maybe there’s one more idea that ought to survive from the 2016 campaign. It wasn’t Trump’s idea, or Clinton’s. But the prospect that Trump will acquire the awesome powers of the modern presidency — and the fact that Hillary Clinton could have – should inspire both Democrats and Republicans in Congress to start reasserting their authority and obligations under the Constitution. Sen. Tim Kaine, his profile elevated by being Clinton’s running mate, has been a leader in the Senate for reining in presidential warmaking; he should return to the Senate even more determined to insist that only Congress can take the country to war.

Posted on November 9, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

RIP Don Kates, Second Amendment Pioneer

Don B. Kates, a pioneer in the revival of the Second Amendment, has died at 75. Eugene Volokh writes in the Washington Post that 

Don wrote “Handgun Prohibition and the Original Meaning of the Second Amendment,” 82 Mich. L. Rev. 204 (1983), the first modern article in a major law review arguing for the individual-rights view of the Second Amendment, and since then he wrote or co-wrote over 15 more law review articles, as well as writing, co-writing or editing four books. His work has been heavily cited both by courts and by scholars.

His writing career may have begun with Inquiry magazine, published in the 1970s by the Cato Institute. His article “Handgun Control: Prohibition Revisited” appeared in Inquiry’s second issue, December 5, 1977. For some reason that piece appears to have been excerpted in the Washington Post three years later.

Libertarian movement historian Brian Doherty expands on his seminal influence:

As explained in an excellent 2014 essay on Kates’ contributions to modern Second Amendment thought by California-based gun law scholar C.D. Michel, “Kates was a nearly lone voice in the constitutional law wilderness….Kates’ work, both as a constitutional scholar and criminologist….largely ignited the counter revolution against the American gun control movement” by arguing and demonstrating that the Amendment was certainly intended to protect an individual right to possess weapons.

Kates’ article became an ur-source to later articles by more academically well-connected authors, such as Sanford Levinson’s 1989 Yale Law Review article “The Embarrassing Second Amendment,” that spread the new understanding of that Amendment as guaranteeing an individual right to the more liberal side of legal academia.

As Michel notes, “All the scholarship that Kates indirectly ignited eventually fueled legal briefs filed before the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller.”

According to Wikipedia, Kates grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and later attended Reed College and Yale Law School. During the Civil rights movement, he worked in the South for civil rights lawyers including William Kunstler, an experience that informed his understanding of the need for armed self-defense. After three years of teaching constitutional law, criminal law, and criminal procedure at Saint Louis University School of Law, he returned to San Francisco where he practiced law and began writing on criminology and guns. Dave Kopel has more on his background and influence here.

Watch Don Kates talk about gun control in this 1989 speech at

Posted on November 7, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses the jobs report on FBN’s The Intelligent Report with Trish Regan

Posted on November 4, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Governing in Ignorance

Last night Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, delivered the first Joseph K. McLaughlin Lecture at the Cato Institute. He talked about the vision, history, organization, and impact of Wikipedia, and the influence of F. A. Hayek and his essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society” on his own initial conception of a crowdsourced encyclopedia. He also discussed Wikipedia’s occasional influence on public policy decisions, such as the defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in 2012. But I was particularly struck by this line (about 43:00 in the video):

Far too often lawmakers propose laws, and it’s fairly clear that they do not even have the most rudimentary understanding of how the internet works.

It reminded me of something Bill Clinton said at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2010:

Do you know how many political and economic decisions are made in this world by people who don’t know what in the living daylights they are talking about?

That’s a lesson policymakers ought to keep in mind whenever they contemplate legislating about health care, marriage, minimum wage laws, net neutrality, banking regulations, overtime pay, or anything else. Do they really understand how the particular market or industry works? Do they really understand how the impact of a new law or regulation will ripple through affected industries? In most cases they don’t, as Aaron Powell wrote about the lessons of SOPA:

SOPA was not the exception to the rule. Instead, it was just how things are done in Washington.

Posted on November 2, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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