I have a confession to make: I’m an undecided voter… and I’m registered to vote in Pennsylvania!
As a libertarian, I never thought I’d be so tempted to vote, let alone for a Democrat or a Republican. Yet, I’ve toiled with the idea of voting for Trump for about a year now.
It’s been the source of tremendous inner turmoil. By voting, particularly for someone other than Gary Johnson, would I be abandoning my libertarian principles? By not voting, at such a critical time for our country, would I be digging my own grave and the grave of my future children?
When I saw that two of the best living libertarian thinkers were debating this very topic, I was thrilled. On Tuesday November 1st, just one week before the election, The Soho Forum hosted a debate between Walter Block, Author of 22 books and a professor of economics at Loyola University, and Nick Gillespie, Editor in Chief of Reason.com.
Unlike the nationally televised debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, participants were given more than a couple minutes to debate these complex issues. Each participant was given fifteen minutes to present their case, followed by five minutes of rebuttals, questions from the audience and then five minute summaries.
Walter Block argued that libertarians should vote for Donald Trump (though he did have some nuance which I’ll explain later) and Nick Gillespie argued that libertarians should not vote for Donald Trump (he filled out his absentee ballot for Gary Johnson right on the stage).
— Nick Gillespie (@nickgillespie) November 1, 2016
Prior the debate, the audience voted electronically on their stance. The audience voted again after the debate… and many minds were changed.
So what transpired? What arguments were made? And did the minds of the libertarians in the audience change as a result?
In this article I’ll highlight the most critical issues discussed and where each debater stood on the topic.
Counterintuitive Foreign Policy Matters
Walter Block was first to provide his position on why libertarians should vote for Donald Trump. He highlighted three issues: foreign policy, the Supreme Court, and political correctness.
Walter made the argument that foreign policy is the most important issue for libertarians and our country. He said that foreign policy influences other policies – so this is the issue libertarians should be most concerned with.
Furthermore, he expressed fear over Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy and praised Donald Trump for being an anti-war, pro-peace candidate.
Both positions were surprising for me to hear at first. I’ve heard so many times in mainstream press that we’re supposed to be afraid of Trump’s “impulsiveness” being at arm’s length of the nuclear codes.
Yet, if you look at Hillary’s past, she’s not exactly the most anti-war candidate. She voted for the Iraq war and Walter expressed concern over comparing Putin to Hitler as contributing to a World War III.
Meanwhile, Trump has actually been very critical of US initiated wars abroad. Despite what Hillary and the mainstream press say about the issue, Trumps “support” of the Iraq was an off handed comment he made on The Howard Stern Show as a private citizen.
Aside from that one off handed, comment, he has been very critical of the Iraq war. I especially appreciated Trump’s impassioned criticism Jeb on the Iraq war during a nationally televised debate.
“Obviously the war in Iraq was a big fat mistake… we spent $2 trillion and thousands of lives… they lied… They said there were weapons of mass destruction and there were none.”
The Supreme Court is a Critical Foothold
Walter argued that if Hillary were to be elected, she could put more Democrats on the Supreme Court, which would give the Democrats great power for several years to come. This is fear inducing for fiscally conservative libertarians.
Political Correctness and The Importance of Free Speech
Walter Block’s third core argument was on politically correct culture and the silencing of free speech.
In a world where safe spaces and trigger warnings allow people to avoid discussing the facts, and where the mainstream media is noticeably biased, Trump’s “law and order” sentiment may be the toughening up our country needs.
Walter discussed how there appears to be a hierarchy of lives that matter. He pointed to Sweden, saying that women’s lives matter, except in Sweden, where it’s more important not to offend the migrants.
Throughout the campaign, Trump has been quite effective at handling the media’s incessant criticism and moral posturing, and he’s not afraid to talk about uncomfortable but important issues.
Trump is Mean
Nick started with his proposition by calling Trump racist, xenophobic and all the other bad words you’ve heard him called a million times over. He criticized Trump’s immigration policies (which I’ll discuss later) and suggested libertarians stick to principals and vote for Gary Johnson.
But Is Gary Johnson Actually a Good Candidate?
Many libertarians, myself included, have quips about Gary Johnson’s proposals. Take the infamous cake issue for example. Free association is fundamental to libertarian philosophy. Should a black person be forced to make a cake for a KKK member? Of course not.
However, Nick did an excellent job of putting this issues into perspective. The cake issue is hardly an issue and Gary is doing his best to help spread libertarianism to the masses.
But by that logic, who cares about Trumps mishaps, or Hillary’s shortcomings for that matter?
Progress and Sticking to Libertarian Principles
Channeling South Park, Nick compared choosing between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to choosing between a giant douche and a turd sandwich.
He added that libertarians have actually made great progress in recent years and need to keep talking about policies that can help reduce the size of government. Yet libertarians have been talking rationally about policies for decades, but have failed to garner more than one electoral vote since 1972.
Both Trump and Hillary have mostly abandoned talking about facts and policies — and I think that’s actually contributed to their popularity in comparison to Gary Johnson. The challenge is that libertarians make up about 5% of the population, and abide by the non-aggression principle, while most of the other 95% does not.
Walter Block bluntly called that audience’s attention to the fact Gary Johnson has an extremely small chance of winning. His argument followed that, practically speaking, the choice is between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
In his concluding remarks, he used the analogy of being a slave and voting for either a good owner who will give fewer beatings and a bad owner who will give more.
However, Walter’s stance was nuanced. He recommended libertarians in swing states vote for Trump, but in states where Hillary or Trump is expected to win by a large margin, to vote for Gary.
Increasing National Debt
As most libertarians are viscerally aware, economic and civil liberties are declining as the size and scope of government has been increasing for decades.
Hillary has proposed tax increases to the point where portions of the populations would have up to 75% of their earnings taken from them by force. This has lead some libertarians to be more sympathetic to Trump who has expressed positive sentiment towards smaller government and free markets.
Yet Nick pointed to studies that have shown that overall, Trump’s proposals would actually result in more debt than Hillary’s.
We don’t really know how accurate those studies are – nor what either candidate would actually do once in office – but it was a powerful argument and illustrates the risk of voting for any candidate.
Immigration: Reason vs. Evidence
Immigration is one of the most complex and important issues to consider this Election.
When Nick Gillespie asked the packed crowd if they were in favor of immigration, a vast majority raised their ends to vote “yes.” After all, the free movement of people is central to libertarian philosophy, and, as Nick pointed out, deporting 12 million people would be a violation of the non aggression principle. Nick called Trump’s proposals racist and xenophobic and all the other names you’ve heard Trump called throughout this campaign.
Walter countered Nick’s racism allegations by saying that facts aren’t racist. But he came short of presenting any such facts. This was surprising, especially considering he referenced what’s happening in Sweden right now.
He could have discussed issues like the political ideologies and voting patterns of immigrants and how that could mean the death of any candidate seeking to reduce the size of government and increase civil and economic liberties.
In addition, while deporting people is a violation of the non aggression principle, so is keeping them, due to the government benefits they receive that are funded through taxation.
On the other hand, Nick made the case that net immigration actually peaked in 2007. I found some data from Pew Research that supported his claim.
The issue of whether or not to vote for Donald Trump has not only divided the country, it’s divided libertarians. The debate ended with Walter calling Nick vile, and refusing to shake his hand.
Like Walter said, the choice is practically between Trump and Hillary at this point, with Gary having only a very small chance of winning. However, to Nick’s argument, both candidates have their obvious shortcomings. This raises a lot of important questions for both libertarians and normal people alike.
Libertarian principles are awesome but do we need to be practical at such a critical moment? Does immigration outweigh his poor treatment of women? Is this such a critical election or is that just media hype and fear mongering? How big of a deal is immigration? Are our country’s demographics, and therefore free market principles at stake? Does Trump’s “dangerous” rhetoric and behavior towards women make him “unfit” for the presidency? Or do we need to look past it due to urgent issues facing our country?
Let Mike know what you think on Twitter @mfishbein.
This post was written by Mike Fishbein.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.
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