I agree with Ezra Klein here. And the insistence with which people attempt to draw moral equivalences between Trump’s transparent thuggery and Clinton’s totally mundane, corrupt-within-ordinary-parameters party machine politics strikes me as a dangerous symptom of a diseased political culture. I find it especially distressing when it comes from libertarians and worry that a movement that has spent decades advancing the indiscriminately delegitimatizing view that politics is inherently criminal, violent, and authoritarian has probably made it harder to see what ought to be vivid distinctions between acceptable and unacceptable political conduct. And that, in turn, has made it more likely that we will get politics that are criminal, violent, and authoritarian. I mean, Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin: what’s the difference, right? Well, there’s a difference. And sooner or later unintended consequences come for everybody, even the people who think unintended consequences are for other people. The question is what you do with the cognitive dissonance. When it begins to become apparent that the way you’re pursuing your political goals is having the opposite effect, do you double down and make things worse? Or do you put away your pride, admit error, and modulate your approach in light of new facts?
Another thing that worries me this year is that the dynamics of normal factional politics has a “crying wolf” problem. Partisans have a powerful incentive to encourage the idea that voting for the other side will lead to a dire catastrophe that can only be averted by making sure they lose. But, as it happens, Barack Obama has been a good president, John McCain would have been a fine president, and Mitt Romney, I think, would have been a really good one. (I voted for him once and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.) Hillary Clinton would be a normal president. Donald Trump really could be an utter disaster in just the way Ezra suggests, but there’s little chance right-of-center folks are going to listen to guys like Ezra, who used to be in the business of arguing overdramatically that opposing Obamacare could lead to the deaths of many tens of thousands. We’re wolfed out. So, of course, here comes a very big bad one.