Donald Trump’s election is undoubtedly one of the most controversial in the history of American politics.  Out of the many criticisms that have been made I would like to address three: the potential for conflicts of interest because of Trump’s large and varied business enterprises, the injustice of the Electoral College, and finally his appeal to “angry white men.”  In examining these issues, it behooves us to rise above the biases of partisan politics and the immediate concerns, even legitimate ones specifically about Donald Trump, lest we miss the fundamental issues involved and their long-term consequences.

Many have called for the President-Elect to divest himself of his financial empire in order to avoid using his power as the President to make money for himself instead of serving the public interest.  Political corruption is certainly a legitimate concern, but the very laws and regulations that seek to eliminate the problem may have unintentionally created others.  I’ll focus on four.

First, one often hears that we need someone from outside of the Beltway to initiate change.  In practice this has resulted in the election of governors.  Some, such as President Clinton were merely professional politicians.  Others, such as presidents Carter and Reagan, did have significant experience outside of government, and although they were to all intents and purposes professional politicians by the time they occupied the Oval Office, they did bring to the position different perspectives.

If it is truly desirable to take advantage of the expertise that successful entrepreneurs bring, requiring them to divest themselves of their businesses strongly discourages them from serving in public office.  In fact, such regulations reserves politics to career politicians, thus depriving the American people of men and women who could bring their unique insights from the business world to the service of the nation.

There is a second and more fundamental issue.  It has been argued that it is a conflict of interest if a policy or law which actually benefits the people as a whole also benefits the lawmaker.  Not only is this extreme standard unrealistic in an increasingly integrated global economy in which governments play an active role, it denies that a politician and the people he represents might have a “communion of interests.”[1]  We want our representatives to share our interests.  Thus an elected official’s interests cannot be fully separated from those of his constituents, nor should they be.

Third, it is not particularly obvious that leaving the governance of the nation almost exclusively to those who make their living by holding political office is an effective way to insure political integrity.  It is doubtful that professional politicians will make unpopular decisions, even though just ones, because they will not want to endanger their livelihood.   Indeed, is it not a blatant case of conflict of interest that politicians determine what their own salary and benefits are?

For this reason, many of the Founding Fathers of the American Republic argued that it was better to have leaders who did not make their living by politics.  Being men of independent means, they could thus avoid the almost inherent corruption in professional politics.  George Washington, for example, did not want to be paid for serving as President because he felt it was his civic duty to the people of America and their republic.  I am unaware of any calls for him to sell Mount Vernon.

Fourth, and even more relevant to the conflicts of interest issue, is the matter of man’s inherent self-interest this side of Eden.  The current solution of stripping a public official of all potential conflicts of interest has the goal of creating disinterested public servants.  Such a goal is unrealistic because it has too positive view of man’s ability to overcome his own self-interests.  The Founding Fathers, who were clearly aware of man’s inherent selfishness, proposed a different solution.  In Federalist Papers, No. 51 James Madison contended that “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”  He proposed the “… policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives.”  The checks and balances of the different branches within the federal government, the limiting of the federal government by state governments, and a large and powerful private sector would oblige the government “to control itself.”  Granted that there is an obvious need to limit corruption, one might consider limiting the powers not only of the president but also of all government officials.  Such a limitation would at least give greed less scope with which to operate in the political realm.

Now that the election is over, the screams of outrage over the fact that President-Elect Trump had lost the popular vote have somewhat subsided.  However, the challenges to the Electoral College remain and should be considered.

The complaints about the Electoral College and the movements to modify or abolish it are based upon the perceived injustice that the candidate who received the most votes did not win the election.  In a democracy, it is reasoned, the majority of the individual voters rules.  In addition, opponents of the Electoral College argue that it makes the votes of less populous states, such as Vermont and Wyoming, count for more than the votes in California and New York, thus violating the supposed fundamental democratic value of equality enshrined in the principle “one man, one vote.”

The chief problem with these “democratic” and “egalitarian” criticisms of the Electoral College is that they fail to recognize that the Constitution created a mixture of a state-based and population-based government, as Madison argued in The Federalist Papers, No. 39.  The bicameral legislature of a House of Representatives in which representation is based upon population and a Senate based upon states already violates the “democratic” principle of rule by a simple majority of voters.  The very existence of the Senate also means that the votes of citizens in less populous states “count more” than those in the more heavily populated ones.  The existence of the Senate is a result of the “Connecticut Compromise,” which addressed the concerns of small states that the large states, such as Massachusetts and Virginia, would dominate them.  It served as a counterbalance to a purely majoritarian popular rule.

Underlying the Founders’ thought was the conviction held by many that the states were entities of equal importance to individual voters.  In fact, it was believed that the states could better represent the individual voters than a merely population-based national government.

This viewpoint is almost wholly lost on much of the American populace today.  For example, in the 2016 election Hilary Clinton received nearly three million votes more than Donald Trump; whereas Trump won 30 states.  However, when one considers that she won California by over four million votes, an election based solely on the popular vote would mean that the massive support of a candidate in one state would overrule the support of another candidate in 30 states.  Once one realizes that the states are not only legal entities but also represent cultural differences it should be clear that the Electoral College actually helps to preserve regional diversity.

Self-styled Progressives pride themselves on celebrating diversity, but they clearly believe that many Trump supporters are beyond the pale. Back in December, former President Bill Clinton stated that Donald Trump knew how to get “angry, white men” to vote for him.  As one examines the results of the 2016 election, it is evident that the attitude the Clintons and much of the Democratic Party establishment towards those “angry white men” had to do with the loss.  Among the Progressive elite the anger of those white men stems from the fading of white privilege or entitlement and the rise of minorities and women.  The angry white men are ignorant and uncultured racists and sexists.   As such, their anger is unjustified, and Donald Trump’s winning the election is an ugly manifestation of the still potent and endemic prejudices of America.

There is a much better explanation of Donald Trump’s victory and Hilary Clinton’s defeat.  Senator Bernie Sanders and even Vice-President Joe Biden have admitted that Trump appealed to the working class people who had lost jobs or whose economic condition had been severely damaged by the forces of globalization.  In this scenario their anger is justified, and they deserve the help of their government.

Hilary Clinton claimed that she had a plan for improving the economy and helping blue collar families, but she never seemed to comprehend the anger of the working classes who felt abandoned by the establishment and turned to Donald Trump.  Indeed, the evidence points to her sharing with her husband the quite divisive and abusive Progressivist narrative about angry white men.  For the white blue collar workers candidate Clinton’s campaign seemed to say, “If you don’t get on the Progressive bus, you’ll be left behind.  If you try to stand in its way, you’ll be run over.  So join us and we’ll find a way to care for you, but you have to sit in the back.”

To repeat, we need to take a look at some of the long-term issues coming to the fore with the election of Donald Trump.  We should consider whether our methods of guarding against conflict of interest are in need of revision in the light of man’s natural self-interest and how they make it almost impossible for a prominent global businessman to serve in public office.  We need to understand how mechanisms such as the Electoral College help preserve regional diversity.  Perhaps most of all the Progressive elite of this country should examine their hearts to see whether their own ideology is divisive and bigoted.

With regard to Donald Trump, one can harbor serious doubts about how successful he will be in helping the working class people who voted for him.  One may even question whether he is a con artist or an entrepreneur, a demagogue or a democrat, a rabble-rouser or a reformer.   Let’s hope for the latter in each pair, but let’s also keep our eyes open.

And for all those critics of Trump’s election, if you’re still reading, let me ask you not to blacklist me.  I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Trump movement.

 

[1] James Madison, The Federalist Papers, No.  57.  Although Madison is discussing the House of Representatives, the application can be made to political officials in general.

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