Donald Trump

In Defense of Freer Trade

by D.J. McGuire

As we careen towards another presidential election, one of the issues that has been once again shunted to the side is international trade. This is a mistake, especially for Democrats looking to expand their coalition (or hold the expansions achieved in last year’s Congressional election). Before we get to that, however, we must revisit why protectionism is wrong, and freer trade is better for Americans and for everyone else.

America has had a conflicted history when it comes to trade. One would presume that protectionism had an advantage when tariffs were our primary source of revenue. In fact, protectionists in the nineteenth century preferred tariff rates so high that revenue would fallbecause imports would so low. Indeed, it was just such an economic platform that enabled the Republicans to win the election of 1888 (despite losing the popular vote) and enact the McKinley Tariff. It is the most common historical marker Donald Trump uses in his own speeches when he defends his protectionist outlook.

Here’s what he doesn’t mention: the tariff was so unpopular that the Republicans lost half their House seats in the election of 1890 (including McKinley’s) and the Democrats took back the White House in 1892. By the time McKinley returned to national politics (as the Republican nominee for President in 1896), he had remade himself as a defender of the gold standard.

A generation later, the Republicans once again forgot the economics of freer trade – and the rest of us suffered the consequences. The Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1929 is still mentioned in Economics classes today as an example of short-sighted policy. It either caused or exacerbated the Great Depression (depending upon which economist is talking). The political effects were also acute: the Republicans were denied a Congressional majority for the over a decade and a half, and after Hoover’s defeat in 1932 they would be out of the White House for twenty years. Congress became so mired in self-doubt that it handed the presidency de facto legislative authority to reduce tariffs (before taking it back under Trade Promotion Authority in the 1970s).

Thus was the “free trade” consensus established, a consensus that started fraying when the Democrats began flirting with protectionism in the late 20th century (before the Clinton era), and is now in serious trouble due to the populist takeover of the GOP. While I prefer to use the term “freer trade” (fully “free trade” is an impossible absolute), I am deeply concerned about the protectionist retaking control of the Republican Party, for reasons both economic and political.

Economically, freer trade means more options for Americans and more efficient markets for them. Please note, I did not limit those benefits to America “consumers” – and for good reason. The first tariffs Trump imposed in 2018 were on steel and aluminum, which hits firms across the country with higher production costs. Those costs led to jobs unfilled, products unmade, services not offered, and prices increased.

Those are the direct impacts of tariffs on inputs, but tariffs on goods and services also damage economies indirectly. Higher prices on these goods and services lowers both Americans’ standards of living and their savings balances. Less money saved means fewer funds available for business to invest in themselves. Once again, that leads to jobs unfilled, products unmade, and services not offered.

So why does protectionism still seem so popular among the populist right and the American left? Status quo bias is certainly a part of it. The opportunity cost of protectionism is the loss of jobs and growth not yet seen, compared to disruptions that are easily seen. Trump’s behavior on the “Carrier deal” before he took office is a class example. As I noted at the time, “saving” jobs in one area costs jobs in another (and worse), but those costs are less visible.

Or at least they wereless visible. In the social media era, with access to information much easier, we are seeing more discussion of the overall effects of tariffs. What once required the ability to follow several academic journals now requires little more than following Scott Lincicome. Meanwhile, Boeing’s recent problems have been another revelation on the advantages of freer trade: greater choice of products, services, and inputs – or, as Jane McManusput it: “Was never so relieved to see ‘Airbus’ on my upcoming booking.”

As for the politics of trade, that, too is changing. As Trump increasing rebrands the GOP as the protectionist party it once was in the 1880s and in the 1920s, supporters of freer trade are finding Democratic voters far more receptive to their ideas than certain Democratic elected officials (Pew Research). Even in 2016, a majority of Democratic voters approved of free trade agreements, despite neither of the two major contenders for their nomination openly supporting them. Indeed, the 45% of Americans who supported freer trade agreements only found one November candidate who agreed with them on that issue – and that was Gary Johnson. Democrats looking to be the nominee in 2020 should take note of what the party’s voters actually believe on trade – rather than what protectionists in the party are telling them.

First and foremost, though, those of us who know the damage protectionism can do must speak out against it and ensure the arguments for freer trade are heard – and that is why this post is here.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

The Kim Summit: Is Trump Caving?

by D.J. McGuire

From The Art of the Dealapparently to the Art of the Cave (CNN):

As President Donald Trump prepares to meet face-to-face with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un for a second time, his administration is weighing backing off an earlier demand that North Korea agree during the upcoming summit to make a full accounting of its nuclear and missile programs as a prerequisite for US concessions, multiple administration officials tell CNN.

Keep in mind, without a full accounting, we will have no idea if the Kim regime will have stopped its nuclear weapons production, let alone whether it will have truly denuclearized — as every Administration has demanded since Reagan.

Then again, it’s quite possible the regime could get what it wants (an end to economic sanctions) without even pretendingpromising to denuclearize (same link):

On NBC News this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that some US sanctions would be removed when “We’re confident we’ve substantially reduced that risk” from North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. In June of last year, at the time of the first Trump-Kim summit, Secretary Pompeo tied sanctions relief to full denuclearization.
“We are going to get complete denuclearization; only then will there be relief from the sanctions,” Pompeo said in June.

Last summit, of course, Trump “shocked top advisers by agreeing to cancel joint U.S.-South Korea war exercises, which was seen as a major concession to Pyongyang.” This time, they clearly won’t be very surprised, as Pompeo et al are already preparing the ground for a cave … in particular Stephen Biegun, who already hinted that some sanctions could be dropped soon (Washington Post).

Add to that all of the whispers of Trump looking to pull American troops out of South Korea (although, to be fair they are only whispers), and it looks like Trump will be the most dovish American president in history regarding North Korea.

Given the regime’s close ties to Beijing and Moscow, appeasing it at the expense of our allies in South Korea and Japan would be a terrible mistake.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Begins … Without the United States

by D.J. McGuire

Remember the Trans-Pacific Partnership? That was the major trade agreement between 12 nations, including the United States, that most Americans thought had died when Donald Trump pulled America out of it in early 2017.

Well, Trump may have pulled us out of TPP, but he didn’t kill it (Telegraph, emphasis added).

The world’s most radical trade pact has come into force across the Pacific as the US sulks on the sidelines, marking a stunning erosion in American strategic leadership.

The White House assumed that the TPP would wither on the vine without US impetus.Instead, long-standing US allies across the Pacific have brushed off pressure from Washington and forged ahead regardless with what is now known as the “anti-Trump pact”.

“America is the biggest loser,” says the Peterson Institute in Washington. The fall in food tariffs under the CPTPP means that US farmers will be undercut by exporters from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand in the lucrative Japanese market. Wheat from Canada will be $70 cheaper per metric tonne by 2020.

Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, and Singapore have ratified the agreement (Quartz). They will all soon benefit from the tariff reductions that will take place (Reuters). Those of us old enough to remember when Japan was considered the corporatist and protectionist bete noire of the free world can only marvel as Japan moves into agreement while the United States does not (Japan News and Nikkei Asian Review).

Much of the coverage regarding America’s exclusion is focused on the man who pulled us out – Donald Trump. My opposition to the president – politicallyand personally– are well known to readers here. In this case, however, Trump is far from the only culprit. His opponent – yes, the one for whom I eventually voted – walked away from her support for TPP during the campaign. Indeed, she walked away from freer trade in general – a policy and political mistake that I firmly believe led directly to her defeat in several states where Gary Johnson (the one pro-TPP candidate) won more votes than Trump’s margin of victory (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, and Arizona).

The two nominees, sadly, reflected political parties that were, at the time, far more interested in emotional tribalism than well-thought-out economics. The Republicans’ weakness was exposed in 2015 when some of them started calling Trade Promotion Authority and TPP “Obamatrade” – paving the policy road for Trump. Democratic politicians long held protectionist views as a sort of tribal signaling to organized labor (although, as the Pew Research Centerrevealed, Democratic votersdidn’t share that view).

That it led to the wife of the man who managed to get NAFTA through Congress in 1993 became a political casualty of all this was painfully ironic (to some – or maybe just to me).

There is, however, cause for optimism. The Democrats are, if anything, even moresupportive of freer trade agreements (see Pew’s link above), while Trump’s tariffs are losing popularity (Pew again).

Republicans, sadly, are following their leader into protectionism – yet another reason to presume Trump will easily be renominated in 2020. However, if Democrats can choose a nominee that can appeal to supporters of freer trade and opponents of tariffs (or, as I’ve started to call us, “trade doves”), not only can the party hold the swing voters who crossed over in 2018 (and win more of them), but they can also ensure that the country moves away from its current protectionist cul-de-sac.

We might even be able to re-enter the TPP.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Mexican Standoff (Ep. 186)

This episode looks at the partial government shutdown and who will emerge victorious, the Go Fund Me drive to help fund the border wall, Trump’s plan to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan, and the looming war between Bernie and Beto for the soul of the Democratic left.

Why Jay Powell Should Stay Right Where He Is

by D.J. McGuire

Having shaken the foreign policy establishment to its core (which, by itself, is not automatically a mistake) by choosing to cut and run from Syria (which, given the situation on the ground, definitely isa mistake), President Trump is now taking aim at the Federal Reserve’s independence in setting monetary policy.

President Donald Trump has begun polling advisers about whether he has the legal authority to fire Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, according to two people familiar with the matter, who described the President as newly furious at the Fed chief as markets tumble.

Earlier this year, Trump’s advisers told the President that it was doubtful he would have the law behind him if he fired Powell. But Trump has renewed the issue after the Fed again raised its benchmark interest rate this week.

So far, the White House hasn’t come to a final legal determination on Trump’s authority to fire his Fed chairman, whom he nominated a year ago. The law states the President can fire a Fed governor for cause, but it hasn’t been tested on the firing of a chairman.

CNN

This is what Trump said to his Treasury Secretary.

I totally disagree with Fed policy. I think the increasing of interest rates and the shrinking of the Fed portfolio is an absolute terrible thing to do at this time

Mnuchin via Twitter

For those of us in the economic field, this is the equivalent of using a nuclear weapon. As noted above, a Fed Chair has never been fired.

This will be a serious test for both political parties. For my old party (the Republicans), it will be about how much they are willing to let Trump abuse his power and shatter stability. Just about every opponent of Keynesian economics prefers sound money and stable economic policy. A president who fired a Fed Chair because he (Trump) prefers looser money would be the exact opposite of both.

That said, it is just as challenging for my new party (the Democrats). They’ll be willing to call out Trump on abuse of power and stability, but I wonder if they’ll be willing to defend Jay Powell for what he is doing.

This matters because Powell needs defending – not just on a constitutional level, but on a policy one as well. An expansion in its tenth year, a Keynesian sugar high tax cut that is over $150 billion annually, and price hiking tariffs on finished goods and inputs alike are a bonfire worth of inflationary kindling. Any Fed Chair worth his or her salt would respond exactly as Powell did – raising interest rates and reducing the balance sheet from quantitative easing. All that goes double or morefor a Fed Chair in Powell’s situation – with interest rates still well below normal and a balance sheet vastly swelled by quantitative easing.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell is doing exactly what he should be. As such, he should remain exactly where he is. I fear no Republican will be willing to say either. Many Democrats will say the latter, but I fear I may be the one of the very few willing to say both.

That doesn’t make me wrong, though.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Trump Leaves Syria With Fight Against Daesh Unfinished and With Putin Ascendant

by D.J. McGuire

Those who know about my long and strange trip through Election 2016 know that I landed on my eventual choice (Hillary Clinton – yes, for those of you who didn’t know, thatHillary Clinton) due to one issue – Syria.

A quick refresher:

…I saw reports from the United States (Reuters) and from the region itself (al-Hayat, although the Jerusalem Post has a better translation, it also gets Akram al-Bunni’s name wrong). They revealed the preference of the Syrian opposition – the real opposition, not the Iraqi Ba’athists who keep Daesh operating – for Mrs. Clinton.

That tipped the balance, and countered Johnson’s superior positions on economic matters, at least to me. This year has been a long-running internal conflict between my inner neoconservative and my inner libertarian…and in the end, the neoconservative won.

For the analyst in me, this is a real leap of faith, but if there is a chance of a free Syria, I have to take it. If that means voting for Hillary Clinton, then God help me, that’s what I must do.

Obviously, we never got to see if Mrs. Clinton lived up to that. Her Republican opponent, by contrast, insisted that all he cared about in Syria was ISIS. He even contradicted his own running mate’s critique of Syrian tyrant Bashar Assad (CNBC).

Only we now know Trump was more interested in the appearance of defeating Daesh (as ISIS is known in the locale) than the reality of defeating Daesh – for he claimed a premature victory this morning and announced he was pulling troops out of Syria (CNN).

Trump issued his first public comments on the decision Wednesday evening in a video message posted to Twitter, in which he pointed to the sky to reference US military personnel who have been killed in Syria.

“We have won against ISIS,” Trump said. “We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land and now it’s time for our troops to come back home. I get very saddened when I have to write letters or call parents or wives or husbands of soldiers who have been killed fighting for our country.”

There was only one problem with Trump’s assertion: it was a lie – as folks in his own Administration acknowledged:

Resistance to the move was strong among some in the administration. A senior administration official told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the President’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria is “a mistake of colossal proportions and the President fails to see how it will endanger our country.”

“Senior officials across the administration agree that the President’s decision-by-tweet will recklessly put American and allied lives in danger around the world, take the pressure off of ISIS — allowing them to reconstitute — and hand a strategic victory to our Syrian, Iranian and Russian adversaries,” the official said.

No matter, Trump wants his victory lap – and he’ll have it even if the race is still going on.

In the meantime, Russia and Iran now know there is no one to stop them from propelling Bashar Assad to regain total control of Syria. Any attempt to use the area we controlled to allow Syrians to build a future free of Ba’athismis out the window.

Oh, and in case anyone – anywhere – tries to discount the accusations and evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Putin regime with the what-did-Putin-really-get-for-it question, we have the answer right in front of us.

Putin got Syria. He got his chief client state in the region (the Tehran mullachracy) as the pre-eminent power in the northern Middle East. The forces of tyranny are ascendant in the region (and worldwide) as we retreat.

Once again, for emphasis, the battle with Daesh was notover (CNN).

Tobias Ellwood, a minister in the British Ministry of Defense, said in a tweet that he “strongly” disagrees with Trump’s comment on Wednesday that ISIS had been defeated. “It has morphed into other forms of extremism and the threat is very much alive,” Ellwood wrote, while the Defense Ministry told CNN there would be no immediate change to its current operation in Syria.

If anything, the only real surprise here is that people are surprised. Trump has been an isolationist for decades, and has always preferred the big splash of symbolism over the hard work of real action. He has repeatedly promised to pull our troops out of Syria; it has been his staff that pulled a Sir Humphrey Appleby and prevented it until now.

I also understand and appreciate those who are concerned about the lack of Congressional authorization. One could argue that this deployment was consistent with the anti-al Qaeda authorization of 2001, given that Deash was once al Qaeda in Iraq, but even I consider that a slender reed on which to lean. A far more robust argument should have been made by Trump himselffor Congressional authorization against this specific enemy at the very least. Instead, Trump is pretending the battle is over as a cover for his decision to cut and run.

When it became clear Trump had defeated Clinton two years ago, I hoped against hope that I would be able to say I was wrong, and that Trump had confounded my very low expectations of him. Instead, he validated them.

Again, this was the issue that led me to switch from Gary Johnson to Hillary Clinton. I knew it was a leap of faith then. I have been proven right now – in the worst way imaginable.

Donald Trump lost Syria – check that, he gave Syria away.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

A Fake News Intervention

by Kevin Kelton

Hi. Come in and sit down. I’m here – we all are here – because we love you and we need to tell you something. This may be a little tough to hear, but hear me out.

We know you and we see you. You are bright, educated, and consider yourself relatively smart, sophisticated, worldly, and informed. You’ve voted Republican most of your life (or at least over the last decade or so) because you love your country and truly believe in conservative political philosophy. While you think of yourself as open-minded and are still somewhat open to voting for the right Democrat, you’ve always hated the Clintons, and you came to particularly resent and despise Hillary during the 2015-16 campaign as you learned more and more about her true evil intent – from her “illegal” email server to her support for Muslim terrorists to the highly corrupt Uranium One deal, her secret concussion, The Clinton Foundation “slush fund,” how she and the DNC cheated Bernie to fix her nomination, the “highly suspicious murder” of that poor young DNC staffer who was about to spill the beans, and all her other “crooked” behaviors that were revealed to you day after day by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, conservative media outlets and blogs, and of course by your close, trusted friends on Facebook and the links with the salacious headlines that they reposted and urged you to read…day after day after day.

YOU WERE DUPED. And you still don’t know it (or do but can’t accept it) because you are still being duped by the same powers that filled your brain with fake news and utter nonsense. You think you were immune to the more far-fetched conspiracy stories. But you’d click anyway, at first just once or twice to see what people were saying. But soon you were doing it regularly – as each click got you more and more intrigued. You say to yourself, oh, I never really believed that stuff.  You just thought they were funny and had a slight “ring of truth,” even though you didn’t really buy into them.

It was just recreational web surfing. It was fun; it was harmless. You could stop anytime you wanted.

But you absorbed it all – fake new story after story after story – and it clouded your judgment and subtly changed your perceptions. Your mind was slowly poisoned, so slowly you didn’t realize it was happening. You still sincerely believe you are smart, informed, and your belief system is right and true. But you have been brainwashed and used by people smarter than you. You are a walking, talking disinformation campaign and you don’t even know it. You are part of a massive, worldwide disinformation pyramid scheme.

You are a Russian bot in human form. And you don’t even realize it.

Consider this an intervention by a friend. You are on a very self-destructive path. You are a disinformation addict, and the disinformation pushers have you hooked just like a junkie. You shoot-up regularly on Twitter, Facebook, and with Fox News and other disinformation cartels who are playing you like a fool and cashing in on your addiction. Only in this case, you won’t die from your overdose. You’ll only kill the nation you love. Look at what happened to Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen – two other “smart men” who got duped and hooked, and saw it destroy their lives. Learn from their mistakes.

We all love you and are here for you. But you need to make a change, and make it fast. So please read these articles and start to turn your life around now. 

Senate Report on Russian 2016 Disinformation Campaign Shows Its Scale and Sweep

Michael Flynn, James Woods, Ann Coulter Regularly Shared Content From Russian Fake News Accounts

Fake News Ecosystem Still Thrives in 2018

Mainstream Advertising Pushing Fake News

Kevin Kelton is a former Saturday Night Live writer and cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast. He also runs the Facebook political group, Open Fire Politics.

Looking Back: An MPU Retrospective (Ep. 184)

This special retrospective episode looks back at the early days of The More Perfect Union podcast from our very first podcast in September of 2015 through the end of 2016, with clips that cover the rise of Trump, chaos in the GOP primary campaign, and the Hillary-Bernie battle for the soul of the Democratic party.

My Fellow Democrats, We’re Becoming the Party of Freer Markets (Try Not to Faint)

by D.J. McGuire

When I chose to become a Democrat (a few hours after Trump was declared the victor of the presidential election), I expected a difficult period of adjustment. I’d left the GOP six months earlier, but leaving one major party and switching to the other one are two very different things.

Of course, Trump had ensured the two parties had flipped their supposed positions on national security. Those who have listened to the More Perfect Union Podcast since November 2016 are well aware that my opposition to Bashar Assad’s Syrian regime was what led me to vote for Hillary Clinton in the first place. Trump’s behavior towards Vladimir Putin in particular has made it far easier to be a conservative Democrat than I thought possible – not that it makes up for the damage to the free world. What I assumed would cause the largest headache was watching my old party on economic policies (where at least in theory they preferred freer markets) while my new one clung to its instincts for greater government intervention.

Nearly two years later, much to my surprise, that isn’t what I’m seeing. Sure, the Democrats are clearly moving leftward on health insurance, but they’ve moved in the opposite direction on freer trade (the voters far more dramatically than the elected officials).

Meanwhile, the Republicans…oh, dear. The party has largely swallowed whole Trump’s rampant protectionism, either lapping up tariffs as the great panacea or naively telling themselves it’s all about getting “better deals” – never mind that the only two agreements Trump has reached are either worse than the status quo (Mexico) or no longer operative according to Trump (the EU handshake).

Meanwhile, Trump has also spent time whacking the Federal Reserve for raising interest rates, even complaining to Bloomberg about how he couldn’t depreciate the dollar for his trade wars because the Fed wouldn’t play ball.

Then came the social media wars. At first, I figured Laura Ingraham insisting on turning Facebook and Twitter into public utilities was just an extreme one-off. I was wrong (CNBC).

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will meet with state attorneys general later this month to discuss concerns that tech companies “may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms,” the Department of Justice said in a statement Wednesday.

The proposed meeting between the country’s top prosecutor and state officials is the first major signal of potential antitrust action against Silicon Valley and follows recent claims by President Donald Trump of political bias and censorship by major social media firms.

Here’s what Sessions’ Justice Department had to say:

“We listened to today’s Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Foreign Influence Operations’ Use of Social Media Platforms closely. The Attorney General has convened a meeting with a number of state attorneys general this month to discuss a growing concern that these companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms.”

Keep in mind, the hearing was supposed to be about how foreign intelligence uses social media to influence the American people. Instead, the DOJ is all about government mandates (or worse) about “political bias”.

If the Republican Party continues on this course (and given that Trump is pushing the matter, this is very likely), then it will become the party of nationalizing Silicon Valley, the party of putting America’s most dynamic and fastest growing sector under government control.

Michael Lind once pondered, in Politico, that “The Democrats of 2030 may be more pro-market than the Republicans.” At the rate the GOP is going, despite the desire of many Democrats for government-monopoly health insurance, the switch will come much sooner than 2030. Indeed, one could argue it’s happening right now.

So be prepared, my fellow Democrats, and try not to faint.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015

To My Fellow Conservatives: The Judiciary is NOT Worth It

by D.J. McGuire

The behavior and policies of the president continue to shock and to dismay – especially for conservatives such as myself (yes, I still use the noun). Freer trade is tossed aside for crippling tariffs amid complaints over “bad deals.” The dynamic information technology sector has become a target for nationalization among screaming heads such as Laura Ingraham. Allies are smeared where hostile tyrants are feted. Yet through it all, a large chunk of right-wing and center-right voters are, for now, staying with the withering husk that is the Republican Party for one reason and one reason alone – “the courts.” This post is my attempt to persuade them why this argument is a profound error.

Today’s Issues v. Tomorrow’s Issues

The first problem with the assertion that control of the judiciary branch is worth the exponentially increasing damage of the Trump presidency is that such control is specious at best. The issues that divide “liberal” (or if you prefer, “progressive”) and “conservative” in 2018 are not likely to be the issues that divide them in 2030, or in 2040, or in 2050. Unlike financial investment, past performance is an excellent indicator here.

Dwight Eisenhower selected as Chief Justice one of the most conservative office holders in the Republican Party – California Governor Earl Warren. Known at the time as a strike-breaker and a firm supporter of limited government, Warren’s libertarian outlook was given an entirely different label as social issues and law enforcement matters crashed into the public realm in the 1960s. Ike’s own Vice President became one of Warren’s top political critics. Nixon replaced Earl Warren with Warren Burger, who became one of the five Republican appointees to the Court to side with the majority in Roe in 1973The author of the dissent in that case was Byron White – the lone appointee of John F. Kennedy. Thirteen years later, Berger would change his own mind on the subject (yet another sign that ideological consistency on the Court doesn’t survive the passage of time).

The intervening decades have seen similar acts of temporal confusion. Donald Trump spent his campaign praising the late Antonin Scalia – the justice who cast the fifth vote the declared burning the American flag as constitutionally protected speech. While Bush v. Gore has become a bete-noir for much of the left in America, it’s not remembered that half of the Democratic appointees to the Court agreed to invalidate the Florida recount on which Gore’s last gasp depended (although none agreed with the smaller majority that insisted there wasn’t enough time to conduct a more proper recount there). Five years later, conservatives were thrilled when President Bush appointed John Roberts as Chief Justice. He was considered a sure-fire conservative…who cast the fifth vote to declare that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional – over the objection of “moderate” Anthony Kennedy.

What issues will drive conservatives in the 2020s and beyond? We really don’t know. As noted above, the right seems much more willing to regulate cyberspace today than even five (or two) years ago. Any attempt to nationalize Google will likely run into trouble from the very conservative court appointments that the right champions today. If the president attempts to exit trade deals without Congressional agreement (and largely in violation of the law), conservatives eager to rebuild Fortress America will find Bush and even Trump appointees in their way.

In other words, past and present “betrayals” of conservatives came not merely from judges and justices changing their minds (although that does happen), but also from electorate redefining what “conservative” means. Thus we find Reagan appointees invalidating laws against marriage equality in California and allowing charges against Paul Manafort to go forward (to conviction) in Virginia, among other things. I am all but certain Trump appointees will disappoint future conservatives, in part because they will take position that would make present conservatives (myself included) blanche.

The one exception to this may be the abortion issue. Indeed, nearly every conservative who still calls themselves a Republican cites it as the one reason they stay in the GOP. There is a problem with that, however.

Reversing Roe/Casey is a defeat disguised as a victory

As I was a politically precocious teenager, I’m in an increasingly unique position among any American under 50 – I remember what it was like when the judicially-imposed right to an abortion appeared to be coming to an end. It was after the Webster decision of 1989 weakend Roe, but before Casey v. Planned Parenthood reaffirmed it. Keep in mind, this was less than two decades after Roe, when the status quo ante was a real memory for most Americans.

For pro-lifers, it was a disaster. Pro-life Republicans were vanquished in 1989 elections, and pro-lifers in both parties were banged up in 1990 (as an example: a pro-life Democratic Governor in Minnesota was defeated by a pro-choice Republican challenger who had only been on the ballot nine days). Conservatives ran to the safety of economic issues in 1991 (and recovered nicely in the 1989 states’ legislative elections). George Bush the Elder went from 53% of the vote in 1988 to 38% in 1992 (and his two opponents – Ross Perot and Bill Clinton – were not pro-life by any stretch).

A quarter-century later, there are far fewer voters who remember the pre-Roe era, let alone look forward to it. Even if the Supremes reverse Casey, far fewer states will attempt to ban abortion than people realize. If anything, pro-choicers vocalizing their worst fears (albeit understandably so) are providing pro-lifers with their most perverse hopes. Odds are, both are wrong. For too long, abortion opponents have focused on changing a Supreme Court decision instead of saving children. The rest of the country has noticed, and is not happy.

The Benefits of “winning the courts” are ephemeral, but the cost is sure to be permanent.

Is this truly worth the damage Trump has wrought, my fellow conservatives? Is the chance to be disappointed by judges who change their minds (or by those who don’t when you do) truly worth the rupturing of our alliances? Is the erection of damaging barriers to trade really an acceptable price for the opportunity to be caught completely flat-footed due to forty years of political atrophy and neglect on the one issue that you claim is so important?

Before you answer, consider one more piece of historical evidence. The most politically charged Court decision of the 19th century was Dred Scott v. Sanford.

How well did that turn out for the victors?

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015

The “US-Mexico Trade Agreement” is a step backwards for trade and for America

by D.J. McGuire

Donald Trump did not advance the cause of freer trade with his partial agreement with Mexico. If anything, the “deal” raises barriers to trade rather than lowers them, while moving the North American Free Trade Area closer to the backward and sclerotic model of a customs union – and that assumes he doesn’t exclude Canada. If Canada ends up on the outside looking it, things will be even worse.

As usual, Trump himself gave no details during his Oval Office press conference with his Mexican counterpart – Enrique Pena Nieto – on speaker phone. About the only specifics we got were that Trump wants to “terminate” the North American Free Trade Agreement and replace it with this new agreement, if Canada signs on. If Canada refuses, Trump will slap a 25% auto tariff on them and call it a day.

Oh, and Canada apparently has until Friday to make up its mind (Daniel Dale, Toronto Star).

Even if Canada chooses to shoe-horn itself into this deal, the specifics we now have (CATO, AEI, and Dale) are still a net negative from the status quo. The “North American standard” for cars will be raised to 75% from 62.5% (i.e., unless the car is 75% made in North America, it won’t qualify for being tariff-free). There is a sunset clause (albeit stretched from 5 years, as Trump originally wanted, to 16) with a mandated review every six years. Investment protections were “gutted.” There may even be a new tariff power for the US against any new Mexican cars.

Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) is already worried (via Megan Cassella, Politico):

…there is reason to worry that this might be a step backward from NAFTA for American families – especially on fundamental issues of presumed presumed expiration of the deal, and empowering government bureaucrats rather than markets to determine the components of cars and other goods.

Indeed it is a step backward, as well as a step toward a serious sovereignty issue – a customs union. Unlike free trade areas, where nations can set whatever trade policies they like with countries not in the FTA, customs unions have uniform trade barriers that all nations must accept. The car percentage requirement is such a barrier; raising it as this agreement does makes it worse.

Again, this is even if Canada ends up in the deal. If not, further disruptions in trade due to Trump’s tariffs are likely. Moreover, whether Canada agrees or not, Trump clearly would like to replace NAFTA with this deal. That requires Congressional approval – trade deals are not treaties, but executive agreements, which means Congress has the power to enact laws that match the agreements, or invalidate agreements by refusing to enact said laws. Will the GOP-controlled Congress finally draw the line and refuse Trump’s demand.

Don’t hold your breath.

This is not an agreement that lowers barriers, but raises them. It does not advance freer trade, but attacks it. It will be more likely to add uncertainty than to alleviate it. It’s a bad deal for Mexico, for the United States, and for the rest of the world.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015

John McCain is no longer with us. We are different country today.

by D.J. McGuire

Yesterday afternoon, Senator John McCain passed away. Personal tributes are pouring in, as one would expect from his record of service and sacrifice for his country. Many Americans admired him. For some of us, however, it was much more than that. I am among those who voted for John McCain; in fact, I voted for him three times (2000 Republican primaries, 2008 Republican primaries, 2008 general election). I am convinced that it would have been a better nation had he won in 2000 or in 2008. As such, I am more focused on the exit of John McCain, the political force.

Many of McCain’s admirers disagreed with him, strongly, on foreign policy. I was not among them. With McCain’s passing, the number of us who believe liberating Iraq was the right thing to do has likely fallen from six to five (I still think we few are right). McCain was always more willing to see America – and the American military – as a potential force for good in the world. For those of us who recognized “neoconservative” as an actual set of beliefs rather than a convenient anti-Semitic dog whistle, John McCain may have been the last, and was certainly one of the most vocal.

As such, his passing will have political consequences. Contrary to what the president and his sycophants would have us believes, there are still millions of Republicans for whom John McCain is far more the model than Donald Trump. I left the Republican Party earlier than most of them – and I think I joined the Democratic Party sooner than any others – but with McCain’s passing, I won’t be the last. The next time Trump undermines NATO, or attacks our allies, or cozies up to dictators, John McCain will no longer be there to remind those voters what their Republican Party was – but is no more.

So, we can expect the Republican Party to get smaller and more devoted to Trump, but the Democrats may experience some growing pains, as their coalition expands to include – well, to include more voters like me.

John McCain never assumed America was perfect. He was an active and avid reformer at home, but he knew that even as America strove to make itself better it could also make the world better. For those of us who agree with him, he will not only be mourned, but deeply missed.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015