A year on into Trump’s term of office as president of the United States, and a visitor from Mars could easily think that America exists in “alternative political universes” listening Progressive and conservative pundits. Except for one common feature, a belief in and enforcement of intrusive government.
“The left” gnashes its teeth, convinced that Trump is one tweet away from transforming “Amerika” into a fascist state. The conservatives are assured that everything is right and good in America, now that a “big, beautiful” tax bill has been passed. And, at the same time, Trump presides in the White House tweeting his buffoonery and determined to “Make America Great, Again” through economic nationalism, protectionism, and primitive notions that trade is harmful to America unless managed by a “genius” like himself.
What Progressives, conservatives and Trump all share in common is their particular variations on the collectivist and interventionist themes that government must regulate, restrict, and manipulate how people live, work, act and spend their money.
Left out of this “debate,” alas, is that other alternative that could, in fact, make America free and prosperous: classical liberalism and free market capitalism. Something Progressives, conservatives and Trump neither understand nor really care about.
State of the USA: Progressives, Conservatives, and Trump
by Richard Ebeling
Anyone reading the news and especially the political “liberal” and conservative commentaries might easily conclude that he is living in a world of two parallel political universes. It is as if modern American liberals and conservatives are, respectively, occupying alternative realities about how they look at the economy and culture of the country, and evaluate Donald Trump and his administration. The common element in both, however, is the existence of an intrusive and controlling government.
Read the “progressive” liberal press and you would easily presume that America is about to descend into a fascist dictatorship led by racist thugs determined to introduce twenty-first century eugenics that is supplemented with an open season on wonton police murdering of anyone who lacks blond hair and blue eyes. And all for the benefit for a financial “one percent” who share the same skin pigmentation.
At the spearhead of this new Nazi “Amerika” is Donald Trump. Illegitimate president, race-baiter-in-chief, and who is mentally unstable, while being a puppet or dupe of Vladimir Putin, who hopes to use Trump to restore Russia as the prime player on the global stage.
An Electoral Victory and Trump’s Mental State
The fact is, Trump won the presidential election by winning enough votes in the Electoral College, even though Hillary Clinton won around three million more of the popular votes than did Trump; that is, Trump won according to the electoral rules under the Constitution for him to occupy the White House. An unbiased observer might wonder if these same Progressives and Democratic Party pundits would be hanging their heads in shame and embarrassment if it had all been in reverse, with Hillary having won the Electoral vote but with Trump winning the popular vote majority. One doubts they would be suffering from guilt that Hillary was not “really” president because her election had not been through the “direct will” of the democratic majority.
It is a fairer question to ask whether or not Donald Trump is just dumb or a retard (with apologies for using such a “politically incorrect” term for mental handicaps). Anyone who reads the transcript of his New York Times interview on December 28, 2017 cannot be blamed for asking this. Regardless of the questions on a number of different subjects the Times reporter asked, over the half hour or so interview, Trump’s practically only answer, repeated over and over again like a broken record, was “there was no collusion” with Russia, “there was no collusion” with Russia, “there was no . . .” Added, occasionally, was the caveat that even if there was “collusion” it wasn’t illegal. But don’t forget, “there was no collusion, there was no collusion.” It also sounds like the mind of a cornered child being accused of something, and who keeps repeating over and over again, “I did not do it. I did not do it. I did not do it. And even if I did, I did not do anything bad.”
Now, with this new “kiss and tell” expose, Fire and Fury, on life in the White House during Trump’s first year in office, Trump responded with a series of tweets assuring the world that “my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart . . . I went from very successful businessman, to top T.V. Star to President of the United States. I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius . . . a very stable genius at that.”
Being such a “genius” it is no wonder why, during the presidential campaign in 2016, Trump said he didn’t really need any advisors because he is the smartest person he knows! When you’re a self-proclaiming “genius” it is not surprising, as a number of those close to Trump have pointed out, that he seems to never read books, and that his mind seems to drift away in his presidential briefings. When you already know everything important that there is to know, why read what others think or listen to what others have to say? Trump’s time is, clearly, better spent finding out each day what criticisms CNN or MSNBC have leveled against him, and what praises about his “genius” have been reported on Fox News.
At any social gathering, if we ran into a Trump-like personality who repeated, ad nauseam, to anyone around in boastful arrogance about how he knows more than anyone else, on how “great” he is at everything he does, and how stupid everyone else is who doesn’t recognize and praise what a “genius” he is in every corner of life, most of us would try to find the nearest exit available, and if asked about such a person we would likely roll our eyes and twirl our finger in a circle by the side of our head.
(Since there are so many positive or negative comparisons between Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan, I might mention something that economist Martin Anderson told me about when he was an advisor in Reagan’s administration. He once had to bring over some papers to the White House after working hours for the president to go through. He was directed to a private office space that Reagan used in the family quarters. When he entered, Anderson found the room filled with books on economics, political philosophy, history, and a number of other subjects. When he asked Reagan if he had read many of them, the president relayed, in unpretentious modesty, as many as he could squeeze the time to go through, but that there was always so much more to read, Reagan regretted. Martin Anderson also told me that whenever Reagan traveled on Air Force One, he always took two briefcases; one with official presidential papers to review and the other containing books he hoped to have time to read during his journey. Certainly, a different attitude toward knowledge than, seemingly, the one followed by Trump.)
Trump’s Disregard for Freedom and Constitutionalism
Trump has demonstrated a less than desirable respect and appreciation for personal freedom and civil liberties, starting with his threat to deport tens of thousands of people who have known no other home than America simply because they were brought here by parents without visa approval when they were babies or small children. Certainly, this is an instance of the migration “sins” of the father or mother falling upon the innocent son or daughter.
And another instance, obviously with Trump’s approval, is Attorney General, Jeff Session’s, latest memo to Federal authorities around the country that they are to more strictly enforce Federal law against the growth, sale or use of marijuana in all those states that have decriminalized its production, sale, or use to one degree or another.
In response, Progressives and “liberals” in these states seem to have rediscovered “state’s rights” and “federalism” in such areas as immigration and drug use liberalization. (One even hears some of them almost paraphrasing John C. Calhoun’s arguments for state nullification of Federal law, without, of course, ever speaking his forbidden name.) But, no doubt, their reawakened appreciation for constitutional “checks and balances” will be found to be only Trump-deep, because when one of their own once more occupies the White House the push for the centralizing interventionist-welfare state will be back in fashion with their long followed disregard for individual liberty and constitutional division of powers.
But, in fact, lower court judicial review and restraints on presidential executive orders, the resistance to Trump’s policies by some state legislatures, the unbridled criticisms and contempt for Trump as a person and his policies by the “mainstream” media, as well as unrestricted public demonstrations against Trump around the country, show that Progressives’ fears that we are just one tweet away from Storm Trooping Trumpitarians marching down Pennsylvania Avenue and imposing a fascist state, is more of an indication of “the left’s” own delusional paranoia. Indeed, they have to believe this, for how else can they rationalize the lingering “shock” that they lost an election to such a person? Either the country is far more racist than they ever thought, or the people who elected Trump are malleable dullards who have to be saved from themselves by any means available in the grab bag of Progressive tricks. (See my article, “Free Markets, Not Government, Improve Race Relations”.)
Conservative Contradictions and Inconsistences
Conservatives and the Republican Party suffer from their own delusions and political hypocrisies as they carry the Trump albatross around their necks. There are some conservatives who were against Trump in 2016 and remain opposed to him a year into his presidency. They consider him to be a faux-conservative who believes in few or none of the constitutional principles of the Founding Fathers. They dislike his personality as much as many on “the left,” and they hope the Trumpian veneer on the conservative brand name has not permanently tarnished the Republican Party.
But at present the majority of the Republican Party and many in the general conservative movement have tied themselves to Trump’s coattails. Listening to them, America is free and doing fine. Concerns for civil liberties or personal freedom, or constitutional niceties that Trump never talks about are rarely uttered from their mouths. No, all the “talking points” are about a “big, beautiful” tax cut, or eliminating the medical insurance mandate, or Trump’s drive to “create and save jobs,” or a slow down in the increase in Federal economic and business regulations in comparison to Barack Obama’s orgy of regulatory expansion. And, of course, there is the need for bigger and better defense spending as part of “Making America Great, Again.”
Almost all of them have publicly acquiesced in Trump’s atavistic economic nationalism, crude notions of business and “jobs” protectionism, and his primitive idea that international trade is a zero sum game in which if another country economically improves while having trade relations with the U.S. it most likely is due to America being made worse off by being taken advantage of for the benefit of some other part of the world. Obviously, whatever reading Trump may have done at the Wharton School in Pennsylvania from which he graduated, Frederic Bastiat’s “What is Seen and What is Not Seen,” and Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson were not among the assigned readings – or, if they were, he did not take the time to go through them. (See my articles, “The Zero-Sum World of Donald Trump” and “Trump’s Economic Warfare Targets Innocent Bystanders”.)
Besides being embarrassed, frustrated and in conflict with Trump’s words, deeds and public relations hijinks through most of 2017, what did the Republicans accomplish? The answer: virtually nothing. The entire first nine months of the year were taken up with their inability to repeal and abolish ObamaCare. Pundits across the political spectrum pointed out how many times the Republican majorities in Congress during the last six years of the Obama Administration voted to wipe ObamaCare off the books knowing they faced Obama’s guaranteed veto pen. And how once there was a Republican president in the White House who would not veto any such repeal that same Republican Congress showed its “profile in courage” retreating into cowardly failure.
Why? Because with Trump ready, he said, to sign a legislative repeal of the (un)Affordable Care Act, the Republicans were shown to be divided and unprincipled. They couldn’t agree upon a “repeal and replacement” among their 52 seat majority in the Senate, and they were terrified that if they passed any such piece of legislation “the people” might vote against them once those citizens were now “forced” to find and select their own health care provisions in a heavily constrained and crippled medical industry that has nothing to do with a real free market in health care and medical insurance. (See may article, “For Health Care the Best Government Plan is No Plan”.)
Conservative and Republican Cowardice and Compromise
It may be over fifty-five years since Ayn Rand delivered an “obituary” on conservatism, but her conclusion remains basically as true today as when she said, “If the ‘conservatives’ do not stand for capitalism, they stand for and are nothing; they have no goal, no direction, no political principles, so social ideals, no intellectual values, no leadership to offer anything.”
They give lip service to “free markets,” but they vote for subsidies, regulations, special favors and interest group spending to win elections and stay in office. They talk about personal freedom and individual liberty, but they maintain in place government surveillance tools and tricks that threaten anyone’s and everyone’s privacy and liberty in the name of “national security” – a term that is as elastic and empty of clear and defined meaning as “the left’s” incantations about the “general welfare,” or the “common good,” or “social justice.”
They pass limited and targeted tax reductions and reforms that are as manipulative in their own way as the redistributive and regulatory policies advocated and proposed by modern “liberals” and Progressives. They talk about figuring out ways to “pay for the tax cuts,” as if the income of “the nation” belongs to the government, and the Congress’s “generous” ladling out of a bit more of an after-tax income “allowance” to those who have actually earned it has to be made up in some way, otherwise the government will be short-changed to meet all of its own expenses.
And why does it have to be made up in some way? Because what may not be touched, challenged, reduced or repealed are the core government redistributive programs – the “mandatory entitlements” – that currently consume more than fifty percent of everything the Washington spends. Everyone with two cents of intelligence knows that given the country’s demographic aging trends Social Security and Medicare are only going to grow and grow dramatically in cost in the years and decades ahead. They are unsustainable under current legislation when taking the not-so-distant long view. But conservatives and the large majority of mainstream Republicans are unwilling to say this truth to the voters at election time. (See my article, “America’s National Debt Bomb Caused by the Welfare State”.)
Instead, they pray that the tax cuts will generate enough new growth and earning power by incentivizing work, savings and investment that the additions to the national debt will be “manageable.” The fact is, the currently more than $20 trillion of national debt will be well over $30 trillion in less than a decade. And Social Security will likely not have the funds to meet all financial obligations under present legislation in less time than that. (See my article, “There is No Social Security Santa Claus”.)
But to challenge the core elements of the welfare state would require conservatives and Republicans to take a political stand on the founding principles of the country that they are always rhetorically calling upon when it serves their general, but empty purposes. They would have to say that America was founded on the unique and profound principle that the individual is free and independent with “unalienable rights” that restrain the powers and reach of government over people’s lives.
That this includes the liberty of each and every individual to have the personal sovereignty and responsibility to plan and direct their own lives. That the welfare state is, in principle, inconsistent with and threatening to the “great experiment” in self-governing human beings. And that continuing on the road we are on leads to the full infantilizing of the citizenry, with government dictating and directing more and more corners of everyone’s life.
Very few prominent conservatives or Republicans on the political scene are willing or able to say this. Why? Because, I would suggest, they really don’t believe in this idea and ideal of real liberty anymore, themselves, or they are too frightened and cowardly to say it to their constituents because they value their government positions of power (regardless of how high or low their political office) more than attempting to educate and persuade the voters in their part of the country about the nature and importance and meaning of freedom and a free society.
In addition, obsessed with America playing the policeman of the world and being the political and military master of the planet – the conservative and Republican version of global central planning – they do not want to reduce the size of government but merely cut into the “discretionary” parts of Uncle Sam’s budget so more can be fed into the “defense” portions of government spending.
Contrary to some critics of Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements, his goal in “Making America Great, Again,” on the international scene does not include “isolationism,” but a differently directed foreign policy activism that would continue to place the American people in harm’s way on the chessboard of “great power” diplomacy. That a free America would include an America freed from foreign entanglements, intrigue, and interventions abroad is part of the country’s heritage that conservatives and Republicans turned their back on long ago. (See my article, “Trump’s Budgetary Blueprint Retains the Welfare State”.)
Compare conservative and Republican inconsistency and cowardliness with their modern “liberal” or Progressive opponents on the political stage. “The left” may argue about tactics and strategy or the rhetoric to utilize in appealing to segments of the voting public. But they know very clearly where they want to move the country – in the direction of greater political paternalism, increased cultural and economic “social engineering,” and intensified centralization of power and control over more aspects of everyone’s life by an elite of planners and regulators.
For those on the political left, America is going to hell in a hand basket because they are not in power anymore to steer the country to the collectivist utopia that is always just over the horizon, and which could be ours if only they had more regulatory and redistributive control over the society to take all of us to the political paradise that could be ours, if only they were fully back in charge of directing the government.
The conservatives and Republicans don’t have a comparable vision for the country, an ideal and a political program to really restore and improve upon a society of individual liberty and limited government by freeing people from the heavy hand of social, cultural and economic control by all levels of political power. They neither believe in nor want to advocate repeal of the interventionist-welfare state. They, too, love political power too much, and believe that Americans can never be weaned away from the government trough of spending largess.
So, the country is left with a boorish and big mouth buffoon in the White House, a Republican Party that knows not whither the country should go or why, and a reanimated political left that has been rejuvenated by the “horror” of Trump into seeing “capitalist” dragons and fascist monsters under every bed that they are called upon to slay.
Lost in all this, at least for the moment, is any real appreciation of or public attention to the only political and economic system that could free the country from the madness of these political “alternative collectivist universes” – that is, classical liberalism and free market capitalism. Unfortunately, they remain off the stage and in the wings of political discourse and debate, both in America and around the rest of the world.
Dr. Richard Ebeling is the BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel, in Charleston, South Carolina.
Dr. Ebeling is the author of Austrian Economics and Public Policy: Restoring Freedom and Prosperity (2016); Monetary Central Planning and the State (2015) as well as the author of Political Economy, Public Policy, and Monetary Economics: Ludwig von Mises and the Austrian Tradition (2010) and Austrian Economics and the Political Economy of Freedom (2003). And the editor of the three-volume, Selected Writing of Ludwig von Mises, published by Liberty Fund.
He is also the co-editor of When We Are Free (Northwood University Press, 2014), an anthology of essays devoted to the moral, political and economic principles of the free society, and co-author of the seven-volume, In Defense of Capitalism (Northwood University Press, 2010-2016).