By Ryan Jones
Almost a month into Donald Trump’s presidency, it has been interesting to say the least. Many have given reasons for someone like Trump to win one of, if not the, single most powerful position an individual can have on planet Earth. Some say it was a snap back reaction to the 8 years of a progressive president, or the current economic climate of a shrinking middle class and growing inequality. Others say it was RACISM, white people were fed up after 8 years of a black president and the growing political correctness culture that has emerged over the past few decades. Many blame the woeful Hillary Clinton, Wikileaks, or Russia! Everyone has their theories, and it’s probably a gumbo of all of those.
In the libertarian community, Trump’s campaign had an interesting effect. You can say he exposed some divisions in the community. Some long time libertarians who preached anti-statism, anti-authoritarianism, and individualism began supporting Trump, if not outright, at least tepidly. They said he is much more preferable to Hillary Clinton (obviously) and will be good enough on some things that libertarians promote, such as taxes, regulations, and he has some of the anti-interventionist sentiments we should get behind. They were willing to forgive or disregard things like his comments on women, his anti-free trade, and his promotion of big infrastructure spending. Some others who preached the same anti-statism took a much more confrontational role, attacking Trump as a racist, misogynist future Hitler. They joined the same mind-numbing chorus as the leftists, who were disgusted and deranged at even the notion of a Trump presidency. Libertarians were equally divided on immigration, the great “Closed vs Open borders debate.” Some libertarians were pro-open borders, feeling free movement of peaceful people should not be forcefully dealt with by the state, but through property rights. While others pointed to the fact we do not live in an Anarcho-capitalist world, governments control borders, and the belief that it would not be in America’s or liberty lovers’ best interest to import thousands of people from places where the cultures are diametrically opposed to Western Values. You could call this a battle between Left and Right libertarians. Trump was brash in his position, he would build a wall on the US/Mexico border, kick out the illegal immigrants, and ban entry from Muslim countries.
This battle had its share of wounded. Jeffery Tucker, a long time anarcho-capitalist and scholar in the libertarian movement veered more left into political correctness. Stephan Molyneux, the popular, long time anarcho-capitalist writer and podcaster completely abandoned libertarianism, become a Trump Supporter. Walter Block, arguably the most radical libertarian scholar on the planet, beloved by everyone, promoted Libertarians for Trump. There were many like me who just didn’t know how to feel. We loved the anti-PC nature of Trump. We enjoyed to see him piss of the establishment Republicans and to see voters reject them. It seemed like great libertarians like Lew Rockwell and Tom Woods wanted to believe Trump would be good for liberty. But his talk of “wiping out ISIS”, banning Muslims, building walls, cracking down on cities with high crime, trade wars, had an authoritarian strong man feel that made some libertarians uncomfortable. Count me among them.
Now here we are, 30 days into Trump’s presidency. So far, he’s followed through on what he promoted on his campaign. He’s signed executive order after executive order on a wide range of issues. He’s temporarily banned visas from being approved for Muslims entering the U.S from a list of nations, including people with dual citizenship and green cards. A clumsy act that caused thousands of people to be detained in Airports and pissed off American allies. He signed an order to repeal or not enforce key provisions in Obamacare. He is working to repeal parts of Dodd-Frank financial regulations. He’s threatened American companies who want to move jobs outside of the country. The EPA is being gutted. Trump signed the order to build a Wall on the US/Mexico border that will cost billions, and pay for it with a 20% tax on goods imported. He’s appointed a new Supreme Court Justice nominee to replace the late Justice Scalia, who, from most accounts, is a constitutional “originalist.” He has made friendly overtures to Russia, although clumsily. Yet, he’s also killed an 8 year old girl in a failed top secret raid in Yemen ordered by him that cost the life a Navy Seal. He has also re-inflamed the war rhetoric between the United States and Iran after it was finally looking like peace between the nations was on the horizon, one of the very few good accomplishments by the Obama administration. Now Trump’s National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, is calling for new sanctions and has “put on Iran on notice.”
So it is a mixed bag to say the least. For me, a libertarian, the “Trump experience” has been kind of lonely. For years, it felt like libertarians were united AGAINST the state, regardless of who is wearing the “smiley face on the lapel of the oligarchy,” as Lew Rockwell likes to say. Sure, we might debate of borders, abortion, minarchism vs anarchism, child rearing, or how to promote our ideas, but it felt like there was a sense of common goals.
Lately, it’s been hard to tell the difference between libertarians and run of the mill conservatives. Both take delight the ridiculous, cartoon-ish reaction of the left wing. Listen, the tears spilled by the left ever since Trump’s election should be satisfying to all libertarians and conservatives. Pointing out the hypocrisy of the progressives is daily routine under Trump. That said, it all seems pointless. The hypocrisy of the left is well known. And the constant pointing out of the left’s hypocrisy on free speech is becoming redundant. At this point, anti-free speech is their guiding principle, as they’ve proven over the years.
I guess my biggest fear is that libertarians let our guard down. Make no mistake, Donald Trump, a man who was just a regular rich guy a few weeks ago, now has the power to assassinate Americans without any due process, influence almost every level of the economy, has the mightiest military at his disposal, acquire almost anyone’s personal communications without warrant, and can rule unchecked by Congress. A man who has enjoyed power his entire life is now more powerful than any one individual.
Does “absolute power corrupts absolutely” apply to Trump?
We have historical record to show us how this should play out. Also we have to consider the people he has surrounded himself with for advice. War mongers and hardliners. The neocons live! Will he do some pro-market things? Absolutely, but my guess it will be more geared to benefit the crony capitalist class than people on main street.
We as libertarians need to be compass constantly pointing to freedom and liberty. I cant recall ever seeing so many libertarians defend the actions of a sitting president. It’s easy to get roped into it (even myself), since the mainstream media has made it their official duty to de-legitimize Trump, and spread blatant lies. It’s easy to feel like you need to point out their bullshit. Yet, while we enjoy calling out the leftists on their hypocrisy and derangement, we cannot let our guard down against the state mechanisms that give them power. In 4 years, there will be another election and we need to make sure the Office of the Presidenct is less powerful than it is today. We must de-legitimize the presidency and the government, not with lies and propaganda like the left, but with the truth. While it’s nice to get a few concessions that we like today, as Malcolm X once said, “If they give it to you, it can be taken away!” It’s like a slave asking his Master to allow him to play the fiddle after work is done. Sure, it’s nice if the master allows that, but by conceding that freedom to his master, he is legitimizing his control over his natural rights as an individual. Libertarians have always understood this. Murray Rothbard described the state perfectly in Anatomy of the State:
“.. the King alone cannot rule; he must have a sizable group of followers who enjoy the prerequisites of rule, for example, the members of the State apparatus, such as the full-time bureaucracy or the established nobility. But this still secures only a minority of eager supporters, and even the essential purchasing of support by subsidies and other grants of privilege still does not obtain the consent of the majority. For this essential acceptance, the majority must be persuaded by ideology that their government is good, wise and, at least, inevitable, and certainly better than other conceivable alternatives.”
Here’s to remembering who our enemy is, the state. Yes, the left is our enemy, but the only power they have is through the state. We must work to de-legitimize and reject its power, every step of the way. The libertarian path can be a lonely one. Hopefully we can get back to working towards that common goal.