Being Wrong on Being Right


This short piece titled “Trump Is Right!” has been posted to the libertarian blog Notes on Liberty by Edwin van de Haar:

It is easy to emphasize all that is bad about the new American President. For sure, I think he is a clown who will do a few bad things to the US and the world at large. His protectionist agenda is of course a libertarian nightmare, which will also make the people who elected him worse off. Still, the US President is not a dictator, so some trust in the institutions and the actors that fill them still seems appropriate.

“Trump is also plainly right on a number of issues. Foremost, his plea (also in yesterday’s inaugural address) for the partners of the USA, especially in NATO, to contribute in equal measure. . . .

“He is also right in pointing out that many US foreign interventions have been a disaster. . . .

“And of course Trump is right in asserting that the government is not ruling the citizens, but is just a service provider on behalf of the people, and fully accountable to them. Sure this is bit more complicated in practice, but it is the only proper principle.

So in these three respects: hail to the new chief! Hopefully he sticks to them and does not screw up too dramatically at all other policy fields.”


I have no wish, here to focus on President Trump’s actual character or political positions. Rather, I think that the “logic” of this piece is, in itself, worth contemplating—and that this sort of exercise would be valuable in any course that includes discussion of logic and logical fallacies.

The language in the second sentence is so flippantly off-handed as to be as mystifying as it is disturbing: specifically, the assertion, presented as an acknowledgement, that the President is a “clown” and then the minimizing of the implications of that assertion with the clause “who will very likely do a “few bad things to the U.S. and the world at large.” If those “few bad things” were to include any of the following–some sort of use of nuclear weapons, even greater political turmoil in the Middle East or Eastern Europe, the initiation of economically damaging trade wars, or a rapid escalation of the devastating effects of climate change–then the use of the words “few” and “bad” would be very blithely nonchalant, if not soullessly detached.

In any case, any specification of those “few bad things” would provide a much clearer baseline against which President Trump’s “right” position on several issues might be measured or weighed—even if one accepts that he is, in fact, “right” on all of these issues.

Unless one is an uncompromising ideologue, one can find something to like in the policies of even those leaders who provoke deep ambivalence or tremendous antipathy. (This is true even in the case of detestable figures–thus, the comment that Mussolini made the trains run on time and the more minimal concession that Hitler did love dogs.) But, the real test is in the impact of political leadership considered in its totality and over time.

Moreover, simply having the ability to recognize a problem does not mean that one has any solution—never mind the best solution–to the problem. One can claim to solve a problem simply by identifying it, but such assertions are propaganda, not effective government or, more abstractly, historical truth. The assertions of Trump’s rightness on these issues will ultimately depend on how his administration defines, frames, and addresses them—on how the nature and the public perception of the issues are affected by his policies.

Indeed, Trump himself has been so casual and careless about the consistency and coherence of what he has said that, in comparison to his predecessors, his assertions will very likely carry even less weight than his actions.


The complete post to Notes on Liberty is available at:


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