Posts Tagged ‘politics’

On disrupting opponents’ political events

I’ve got a new piece at Cato noting that an important plank of American political consensus over the past century — that it’s wrong to disrupt and shout down your opponents’ speeches and events — seems to be on the verge of collapsing. An obvious parallel, of course, is to the speech-intolerant “shut-’em-down” culture on many American campuses; but the actions of Black Lives Matter supporters in taking over microphones and blockading freeways have also played an important role.

I begin the piece with the story of a speech I attended at a Federalist Society event last Friday at which Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was shouted down by a squad of disrupters sent, incredibly, by the (c)(4) affiliate of a major think tank in Washington, the Center for American Progress:

(“Today at @SenOrrinHatch’s SCOTUS book event, we said #DoYourJob and vote on on a SCOTUS nominee. They didn’t listen.”)

To which @thomasehopson replied:

More thoughts on shoutdowns and organized heckling as a tactic: Ed Krayewski; Eugene Volokh on the legality/illegality of disrupting events and of some responses to disruption. And: while left-on-right disruption appears to have been more common in recent years, note also this coverage of the equally objectionable other way round, from an Austin town hall on ObamaCare. Plus, Marc Thiessen: disrupters go after Trump rallies in well-organized groups. Yet a “responsible leader tries to calm a volatile situation.”

“I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about.”

As recently as two weeks ago we covered Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s pattern of suing his critics. But the report by Paul Farhi in yesterday’s Washington Post, recounting Trump’s long courtroom assault on reporter Tim O’Brien, contains a remarkable new passage:

Both courts [in ruling that Trump’s suit should be dismissed] cited a lack of “clear and convincing” evidence to satisfy the basic legal test for libeling someone as well known as Trump: willful disregard for the truth. The appeals court noted O’Brien’s diligent and extensive efforts to research Trump’s wealth.

Trump said in an interview that he knew he couldn’t win the suit but brought it anyway to make a point. “I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees, and they spent a whole lot more. I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about.”

Paul Alan Levy, at Public Citizen, calls Trump’s explanation of his actions and motives “astonishing” and says the front-runner’s “admission of malicious reasons for suing a reporter reminds us why we need anti-SLAPP statutes.” For voters, it might also raise questions of what to expect should a candidate with this instrumental view of legal action gain control of the machinery of law enforcement in the United States.

Bonus: “Litigation and legal threats related to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign” [Ballotpedia catalogue]

Hayek on the public demand for a strong man

We must here return for a moment to the position which precedes the suppression of democratic institutions and the creation of a totalitarian regime. In this stage it is the general demand for quick and determined government action that is the dominating element in the situation, dissatisfaction with the slow and cumbersome course of democratic procedure which makes action for action’s sake the goal. It is then the man or the party who seems strong and resolute enough “to get things done” who exercises the greatest appeal. “Strong” in this sense means not merely a numerical majority – it is the ineffectiveness of parliamentary majorities with which people are dissatisfied. What they will seek is somebody with such solid support as to inspire confidence that he can carry out whatever he wants.

— Friedrich von Hayek, The Road To Serfdom, chapter Ten, “Why the Worst Get On Top.” More: Aesop on the Frogs Who Wanted a King, at Cato.

Donald Trump and libel litigation

Presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaking today: “We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.” Trump also said of Amazon, whose Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, a newspaper that just ran an editorial seeking to rally opposition to Trump: “If I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.”

The President has no direct power to change libel law, which consists of state law constrained by constitutional law as laid out by the Supreme Court in New York Times v. Sullivan. A President could appoint Justices intent on overturning the press protections of Sullivan or promote a constitutional amendment to overturn it. Assuming one or the other eventually was made to happen, further changes in libel law would probably require action at the state level, short of some novel attempt to create a federal cause of action for defamation.

But although Trump is unlikely to obtain the exact set of changes he outlines, the outburst is psychologically revealing. Donald Trump has been filing and threatening lawsuits to shut up critics and adversaries over the whole course of his career. He dragged reporter Tim O’Brien through years of litigation over a relatively favorable Trump biography that assigned a lower valuation to his net worth than he thought it should have. He sued the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic over a piece arguing that a planned Trump skyscraper in lower Manhattan would be “one of the silliest things” that could be built in the city. He used the threat of litigation to get an investment firm to fire an analyst who correctly predicted that the Taj Mahal casino would not be a financial success. He sued comedian Bill Maher over a joke.

I have been writing about the evils of litigation for something like 30 years, and following the litigious exploits of Donald Trump for very nearly that long. I think it very plausible to expect that if he were elected President, he would bring to the White House the same spirit of litigiousness he has so often shown as a public figure. (cross-posted at Cato at Liberty)

P.S. Also reprinted at Newsweek. And Ilya Somin cites further elements forming a pattern: Trump has expressed his wish to “have the FCC take some of his critics off the airwaves” and his regret that protesters at his events could not be dealt with in such a way that they “have to be carried out on a stretcher.” He also writes that should Trump proceed to appoint judges who strongly share his view of libel law, those judges “are unlikely to effectively protect other important speech rights and civil liberties.” And a late-January post from Patterico recalls Trump threats against the Washington Post (again), John Kasich, a t-shirt company, and a Jeb Bush PAC, to which might be added the Club for Growth, reporter Tim Mak, Scotland, Univision, and many more. Yet more: Mike Masnick, TechDirt.

Live-tweeting last night’s debate

As I’ve done a number of times, I live-tweeted last night’s Republican event under the #Cato2016 hashtag with some colleagues. Selections:

New Hampshire decides: Senator Venezuela vs. Citizen Vuvuzela

Our coverage of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), winner of the Democratic primary in New Hampshire, is here, including gun liability (more), Citizens United, Glass-Steagall, and Supreme Court issues.

Our coverage of businessman Donald Trump, winner of the Republican primary, is here, and includes coverage over many years of his activities as a litigant as well as his political career.

Live-tweeting last night’s GOP debate

I was otherwise engaged during the undercard debate but here are a few things I had to say during the Seven No Trump main panel: