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Donald Trump and the Methods of Rationality:    Part I. Deconstructing Political Motivations

melian          17 November 2015 11:44 AM

“The wall will go up and Mexico will start behaving.”

Donald Trump

Political initiatives can always be attributed to multiple motives. For example, the Democrats’ proposal to create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants may be explained by:

  1. Humanitarian concerns for the welfare of the immigrants.

  2. Genuine belief that the reform would benefit the country.

  3. Self-interest (granting voting rights to people who are likely to vote Democrat).

Likewise, the Republican opposition can be attributed to:

  1. Xenophobia.

  2. Genuine belief that the reform would hurt the country.

  3. Self-interest (denying voting rights from people who are likely to vote Democrat).

A natural human instinct is to attribute benign motives to the party we generally like or agree with on other important issues and to suspect the worst from their opponents. However, to find the real answer one needs, as much as possible, to resist this instinct and search for more objective methods.

Conflict of interests

In general, each of the above three motives would lead Democrats (Republicans) to the pro (anti) –immigration stance. However, occasionally the different motives conflict with each other forcing politicians to reveal their real priorities. On the issue of immigration, I found two relevant examples:

1) The only time when Democrats supported effective measures against undocumented immigrants, was in 1995, when the Clinton administration instituted “Wet feet, dry feet policy”. The policy drastically reduced the number of undocumented immigrants from Cuba which happens to be the only group of undocumented immigrants that predominantly votes Republican. Incidentally, the policy was discontinued under the Bush administration.

2) Another occasion when Democrats and Republicans switched side on the issue of immigrants’ rights was in 2003. Democrats blocked Equal Opportunity to Govern Amendment which would have allowed immigrants to the U.S. to be elected to the offices of President and Vice-President. In retrospect, had the amendment passed it would have prevented the controversy about the birthplace of the current U.S. president. However, back in 2003 the politician that seemed most likely to benefit from the amendment was a Republican.

Both examples indicate that, at least on the issue of immigration, for politicians in both parties electoral considerations trump all other motives. Likewise, the absence of outcry from both parties’ respective electorates suggests that for the general public political tribalism may also take precedence over ideological priorities.

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VoiceOfRa 18 November 2015 09:22 PM

I would like to point out that motivations of types (2) and (3) are mutually compatible since the parties presumably believe that them getting elected more would be good for the country.


ChristianKl 19 November 2015 01:23 PM

Different people have different motivations.

I don't see what Donald Trump has to do with the rest of this post. Donald Trump doesn't act on the self interest of denying voting rights from people who are likely to vote Democrat. He acts on the self interest of wanting to win the Republican nomination and at the same time leaving a lot of room for manuvering open for himself.

Donald Trump said just 11 years ago that on many issues he identified more as Democrat then as a Republican. His remarks about Mexican's were very a good strategic move to prevent people from accusing him from being too much on the left.

If he wins the Republican nomination he could outflank Clinton by calling for breaking up the banks. Him wanting to build a wall isn't a reason for voters on the left to not vote for him. Given that Larry Lessig run with the only goal of changing campaign finance, there's even the scenario for a Trump-Lessig ticket. Trump is a highly skilled deal-maker.

To get back to more general immigration politcs, party elites on both sides care about (3) while ordinary voters don't care much about it. (3) is not a reason to speak about the subject before elections. No politican campaign on his new gerrymandering plan. Those things get done after the election.

As far as I understand many corporations want open borders. It wouldn't surprise me if the Koch's want open borders. On the other hand among certain demographics xenophobia is strong and therefore border security polls well. That makes Republican politicians talk about it in front of elections.