Monday, May 9, 2016

In praise of incompetence and dishonesty

In yesterday's post, I talked about "valence," and the peculiar fact that while Trump's ideological flexibility makes him representative of the public in policy terms, Clinton has a clear advantage with respect to "valence" traits.  She is dishonest, but nowhere near as dishonest as the guy who now claims that Ted Cruz's father killed JFK.  And as for competence, well, Trump is to business as Hulk Hogan is to martial arts-- great at talking about how great he is at it.  The irony is that his primary source of income is his ability to brag about his wealth.  So, when he sues people for claiming that he isn't as rich as he claims, he actually sorta-kinda has a claim!

Which leads to this:  are incompetence and dishonesty really that bad?  In an old paper (available here), I argued that sometimes a rational voter is OK with incompetence or dishonesty.  Think about it this way:  if someone disagrees with you, don't you want to be able to bribe that person?  If someone disagrees with you, would you rather they do so competently, thereby making it possible for them to actually get their way, or do you want them to be too ignorant about politics to effectively enact their policies?

Consider Jimmy Carter.  In previous posts (here and here), I suggested that the proper comparison for Trump is Jimmy Carter, whose inability to work within the political system hampered his ability to get his way on policy.  From a conservative perspective, would you rather have Jimmy Carter, or Lyndon Johnson?  Johnson moved policy to the left.  Carter didn't.  From a conservative perspective, that made Carter less unfavorable than Johnson.

Now, consider Trump from a liberal perspective.  If he is too politically inept to get his way, then who cares what he wants?

The issue, and this came up in my old paper, is that executives have administrative responsibilities, and administrative competence matters.  Trump has none.  He's not Bruce Lee, who actually knew how to fight.  He's Hulk Hogan.  This is the difference between the president as policy-maker and policy-implementor.  If a president disagrees with you, you want him to be legislatively inept, but you don't want that ineptitude to spill over into administrative functions because the government needs to do basic stuff.  You'd rather fight Hulk Hogan than Bruce Lee, but you'd rather have Bruce Lee fight for you.

So, how should liberals and conservatives look at Trump?  I don't know.  So here's a clip of Bruce Lee.

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