Dueling authoritarianism. That was last night’s presidential debate between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton. Both candidates articulated how they would wield the power of the presidency to force their way on the American people. Traditional conservatism, or classical liberalism, was nowhere to be found.
The only winner tonight is the Voyager probe, which is speeding away from the Earth at 17 kilometers/second #debatenight
— Maddie Stone (@themadstone) September 27, 2016
Given this sober reality, let’s take a moment to entertain a fantasy. Let’s imagine what it might have been like to have a truly conservative candidate on the debate stage at Hofstra. For the sake of this hypothetical experiment, let’s forgo direct reference to the candidates and think in terms of generic Republican and generic Democrat. Those questions which addressed the specifics of either candidate will be excluded, and we’ll deal only with matters of principle and policy.
Here’s what a conservative might have sounded like in last night’s presidential debate:
We’re calling this opening segment “Achieving Prosperity.” And central to that is jobs. There are two economic realities in America today. There’s been a record six straight years of job growth, and new census numbers show incomes have increased at a record rate after years of stagnation. However, income inequality remains significant, and nearly half of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.
… why are you a better choice than your opponent to create the kinds of jobs that will put more money into the pockets of American workers?
We need to recognize, first and foremost, that politicians and bureaucrats do not create jobs. As president of the United States, I will work with Congress to get the federal government out of the way, so that innovators and entrepreneurs can create jobs in a free market.
Lester, you speak of income inequality. I understand why that concerns people. When you see others doing well for themselves, while you continue to struggle in spite of your best effort, it can be frustrating. You may start to wonder when your ship is coming in, when you’re going to get your shot.
If we let such frustration fester, it can become envy, and we may begin blaming those who have had success. But that’s not the American way. We’re not an envious people. We’re an aspirational people. We look not to tear our neighbors down, but to lift ourselves up.
Opportunity for upward mobility can only occur in the context of freedom. Holding others back will not make any of us wealthier. Rather, we should work to provide an environment where each of us benefits more fully from the fruit of our labor.
My opponent does not believe that. She wants to sell you on the idea that your success requires looting the wealth of others. That may be good politics. But it’s bad morals. We don’t teach that to our children. We don’t teach our kids that they should take from others to get ahead. We shouldn’t model that idea in public policy either.
How are you going to bring back the industries that have left this country for cheaper labor overseas? How, specifically, are you going to tell American manufacturers that you have to come back?
Let’s start with the second question, Lester, because the way you phrased it is interesting. How am I going to tell American manufacturers that they have to come back? Well, I’m not, because the president doesn’t have any rightful authority to make such demands.
Look, we have to recognize that the choice to export jobs and operations to other nations is just that — a choice. Like all business decisions, it is based on the economic reality that business leaders find themselves in. If we want our businesses to make different choices, then we need to change the reality they’re working within so that doing business here becomes more attractive. That means simplifying the tax code. It means streamlining regulation so that it serves the limited purpose of upholding rights. It means providing a sense of stability in public policy, so that business leaders know what to expect from year to year and gain confidence in the viability of their business plan.
Again, we must recognize that government does not create jobs. Nor are any of us entitled to have a job created. It’s not owed to us. Jobs are a byproduct of business. They’re an example of how entrepreneurs improve their own lives by first improving the lives of others. If we continue to upset that balance, if we insist that businesses somehow provide jobs here at home without benefit to themselves, we’re going to face the same stagnation that we’ve grown accustomed to over the past eight years. We can’t force businesses to operate here. We have to make the environment friendly to business.
… I want to talk about taxes. The fundamental difference between the two of you concerns the wealthy.
[The Democrats are] calling for a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans. I’d like you to further defend that. [The Republicans are] calling for tax cuts for the wealthy. I’d like you to defend that.
Let’s start by acknowledging a fundamental truth. The federal government has never earned a dime. The federal government has done nothing to earn a single penny in all its history. No government has. We get our federal revenue through coercion. We force you to pay. We tell you what you owe and, if you don’t pay it, eventually you will go to jail. That’s the nature of taxation.
We should spend more time contemplating that. We should respect it more. We should respect the fact that every dime of federal revenue was earned, not by the government that collected it, but by the individual men and women working day to day throughout America. It’s your money, not ours, and certainly not mine. It’s vital that we have leadership in Washington, D.C., that respects that.
Lester, your previous question was about how to bring jobs back to the United States. One way to do that is to lower taxes across the board. The beauty of that approach is that we would actually be increasing revenue in the long run, because when more people do more business in the United States it will translate to more revenue collected, even under a lower rate.
We have to decide, as a people, whether the objective of our tax code is to punish success or effectively fund the government we need. Experience tells us that whatever we tax, we get less of. If we want more success, we need to tax it less.
We move into our next segment talking about America’s direction. And let’s start by talking about race.
The share of Americans who say race relations are bad in this country is the highest it’s been in decades, much of it amplified by shootings of African-Americans by police, as we’ve seen recently in Charlotte and Tulsa. Race has been a big issue in this campaign, and one of you is going to have to bridge a very wide and bitter gap.
So how do you heal the divide?
Any medical professional will tell you that the first step to healing is removing yourself from the source of injury. If you’ve been burned, the first thing you should do is get away from the fire.
The racial tension in this country has grown as we’ve regressed from Martin Luther King’s dream of a world where people are judged by the content of their character to an ugly past where people are judged by the color of their skin. Things were getting better. We were healing. We were making real and meaningful progress toward a post-racial society. We elected the first black president, twice. Yet somehow, we’ve managed to backslide into old and discredited hatreds. Once burned, we’ve turned back to the fire. It’s madness, and it has to stop.
Right now, we have too many people in positions of leadership who seek to perpetuate the divide as a means to solidifying their own influence and power. I would count my opponent among these. Rather than bring us together as Americans with a common heritage of liberty and justice, she would keep us cloistered in separate communities that regard each other with contempt and suspicion.
We need to reject that. We need to come together as a nation committed to equality under the law and recognize that liberty has always been the answer to racial injustice. Lincoln freed the slaves. He freed them. He didn’t organize them. He didn’t seek to bind them in a new slavery of government dependence. He set them free. That’s what we need to do again today. We need to reinvigorate a culture of freedom where government and citizens alike treat people as individuals due the same rights and respect regardless of color or creed.
Our next segment is called “Securing America.” We want to start with a 21st century war happening every day in this country. Our institutions are under cyber attack, and our secrets are being stolen. So my question is, who’s behind it? And how do we fight it?
War has always been a fertile ground for advancing technology. Whether you’re talking about the leap from spears to arrows, swords to muskets, or wires to satellites. What we see today is different only in scale, and we have to adjust nimbly and with fortitude. Cyber warfare needs to be recognized as warfare and prosecuted accordingly. We need to tie our response to cyber attacks into our overall military and diplomatic infrastructure, instead of treating it like some separate curiosity.
As president, I would seek to enhance the priority our domestic agencies place on prosecuting cyber crimes, along with the priority our military branches place on detecting and responding to foreign cyber encroachments. We need to respond to such attacks with the same resolve we would bring to a physical incursion. In a very short time, our entire way of life has become dependent upon the integrity and security of our cyber infrastructure. We wouldn’t let it slide if a foreign entity blew up an interstate highway. Nor will we sit idly by as foreign rivals threaten our digital roadways. We will defend ourselves with every tool available to us.
… there are American citizens who have been inspired to commit acts of terror on American soil, the latest incident, of course, the bombings we just saw in New York and New Jersey, the knife attack at a mall in Minnesota, in the last year, deadly attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando. I’ll ask this to both of you. Tell us specifically how you would prevent homegrown attacks by American citizens.
We have to stop lying to ourselves about the motivations behind these attacks. My opponent downplays the role of religion in motivating these citizens to turn violently against their neighbors. But we have to address it.
It’s certainly true that millions of Muslims live in the United States as peaceful and productive citizens. They remain good neighbors deserving of our respect, and should be afforded the same protection due any citizen of this country. But it’s important to recognize that what they most need protection from is the same radicalized version of their religion that the rest of us have been threatened by. A Muslim stabbed at a mall bleeds the same a Christian, but it isn’t the Christians who have been doing the stabbing.
Under the current administration, our law enforcement and foreign intelligence agencies have been unduly restrained from pursuing the most rational leads regarding terror threats. We’ve been more concerned about offending people than keeping them safe. That will change under my administration. We will aggressively prosecute those who engage in terror attacks, and prevent those attacks from taking place by focusing our detection efforts on those areas where terror is most likely to be fostered.
We must and will uphold due process and constitutional rights. But we will not allow our own laws to be used as a cloak to conceal our attackers. It’s like going after the mob. We need specialized tools designed for the types of activity plaguing our communities, and we need to wield those tools effectively.
… the subject of securing America. On nuclear weapons, President Obama reportedly considered changing the nation’s longstanding policy on first use. Do you support the current policy?
I do, wholeheartedly. Look, this is no different than any other use of force scenario, just grander in scale. You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. You want to be the one bringing the gun to the knife fight. That has to be our resolve. In the event we’re called upon to go to war, we want to win, decisively, with maximum damage to our enemy and minimal damage to us. That’s the goal. You don’t go to war looking for a fair fight. You go to war looking to subdue the enemy with overwhelming force.
Obviously, the use of nuclear weapons is not something we should consider lightly or without exhausting all other options. But remaining capable of first use enables us to play that card if it ever becomes necessary to defend the citizens of these United States. There are certainly hypothetical scenarios where that could be called for, and we don’t want to get caught with our proverbial pants down unprepared to respond when necessary.
The president’s considered change is motivated by his desire for a liberal legacy. He wants to earn that peace prize they gave him preemptively a few years back, or maybe snag another one. It’s not based in strategic reality. It’s political, and that’s not the priority you should have when it comes to defending our country.
One of you will not win this election. So my final question to you tonight, are you willing to accept the outcome as the will of the voters?
Of course. I’m a little taken aback by the question. I’m not sure what refusal to accept the will of the voters looks like.
The American people are in the driver’s seat here. That’s what a republic is all about. This is your government. This is your country. We’re going to go in the direction that you choose on November 8th. My opponent has chosen a cynical path which divides us along racial and economic lines and enslaves us to one another in the name of a false equality. I point down a different path, a path of true equality, under the law in the condition of liberty, where we can each thrive to the best of our ability unhindered by an oppressive bureaucracy. You have the chance to select which of those two paths you want, and the choice will be binding. Whether you choose the freedom bought by our mothers and fathers, or the equality of misery pursued by my opponent, that’s the direction we will go.