A lot of people seemed to be baffled by the success that a rude dupe like Donald Trump has on the ballot box at the moment. The establishment is fighting tooth and nails to try to stop him from winning. But no matter what they do, the more they fight him the more approval he seems to get. They clearly have no idea where his success is coming from. And because they don’t understand it, they are unable to come up with a good solution to stop him.
An explanation of why the establishment seems unable to understand the phenomenon Trump (and of course also Sanders to a lesser degree) is because his main appeal seems to be that he is anti-establishment. If you ask people why they like Trump, the most common answer you will get is, ‘he says what he thinks’ or ‘he is independent and is self funding his campaign’. It is this anti-establishment feel that has even caused some confused Libertarians to become enthusiastic about him. The understandable hatred for the establishment seems to blind some people to the fact that whenever Trumps makes a concrete policy proposal, he is almost without exception taking the anti liberty, that is to say the authoritarian position.
Trump, is for example an opponent of free trade. As part of his economic policies, he wants to introduce all kinds of tariffs to stop the perceived exploitation of America by foreign nations like China. Apparently, receiving real goods in return for printed Dollars is exploitation in Trump’s mind. Of course it is the Chinese who should really be upset about this. The only reason they are not is because, contrary to the cliché, China is in many ways still a centrally planned economy in which the leadership does not really understand economics. But neither does Trump. He wants to negotiate trade deals in which America will be the winner. Of course he misses that trade is always mutually beneficial and not a zero sum game. Trump does not seem to understand this very basic and important principle of economics. It should surprise no one that he thinks like that. If you look at his own business success, he has used the government many times to impose his conditions on his trade ‘partners’. No wonder he things that trade is a battle with winners and losers. That is how he does business.
But there are unfortunately many other things on which Trump is horrible from a libertarian perspective. He wants to give the already completely out of control police more power. He is openly in favour of torture and although he is not shy in speaking his mind, he is not a fan of freedom of speech either. He wants to strengthen libel laws, so that he can shut up people that say things about him he does not like. And of course he wants to close the border to foreigners and build high walls around the country. I cannot see much love for liberty in his agenda.
But blaming all the misery on foreigners really seems to be at the heart of his campaign. He theory about the position of America in the world seems to be that there is a huge foreign conspiracy going on. So he will fight these foreign conspirators, to make America great again. Unfortunately, the left has make a mockery out of the word fascism, by labelling every one of their opponents with it. But for Trump I cannot think of a better description. He is in the true sense of the word a fascist.
The establishment however must be a bit confused by the popularity of his campaign slogan. ‘Making America Great Again’. Why again? According to any establishment publication, America is already great. Of course it is the moral leader of the world blah blah….. But more importantly, it has the strongest and most productive economy. You see, in America, the central planners have everything under control. They have successfully battled the great recession of 2008 with intelligent monetary policy. That is why the economy has almost full employment, low inflation and is on the path to growth. And in the middle of this great party, Trump comes in and attracts people with ‘Making America Great Again’. Why aren’t the people in US more grateful for the blessings the establishment has given them?
The answer of course is that it just ain’t real. The truth is that the establishment has tried to fix the economy with the printing press. Everyone who understands real economics knows, that that cannot work. Printing money is just another tool to redistribute wealth from one pocket into another. It is just a little bit less obvious than other tools like direct taxation. But that does not mean that the redistribution is less real. And as with all redistribution schemes, it is damaging the real economy in the process, as capital is shifted from productive into unproductive hands. So all they have done is to put some makeup on the economy and to continue damaging it.
But as in countless other centrally planned systems before, it seems that the establishment has lost touch with reality. It looks like they have bought their own propaganda. That is not difficult to understand, since they are on the receiving end of the money printing redistribution. They have seen their wealth gone up quite substantially in the last couple of years. And if you live in this bubble it is probably easy to confuse the cooked unemployment, GDP and inflation statistics that are coming out of their own government with reality.
But Joe six-pack does not get his information about the economy from FED statistics. He is on the side of the exploited in the money printing scheme. He has to try making ends meet in the less and less productive real economy. As a result, his standard of living has declined in the last couple of years. In other words, he knows that the great economic news coming out of the establishment media is complete hogwash.
And in this climate, Trump comes along and puts on a different tune to the establishment propaganda. He must look like a Messiah to a lot of working class Americans. Of course the establishment cannot understand that. If they wanted to understand that, they would need to somehow manage to look through their own propaganda. But they are too deeply embedded in it at this point. And like so many out of touch establishments before them, they now face being washed away by anger, before they have a chance to understand what is going on.
None of that should come as a surprise to Libertarians. It was always clear that the current system would end in a crises. But Trump represents a real problem for Libertarianism. Learning from history, it is clear that at the point of crises one of two things can happen. Either the people turn to liberty and against the state or they turn to a strong man who promises to save the day. History tells us that the latter tends to not improve the situation. Countless strongman revolutions have ended in a longing for the good old days of the establishment.
I am sorry to say this, but given that people are now cheering for the fascist strongman, it looks as if Libertarianism has failed for the moment. The fact that even some Libertarians have started to cheer for Trump makes me very pessimistic that we can convince other people that, while the system is in crises, Trump is exactly the opposite of the right thing. What we need is not a stronger government. What we need is less government and more liberty.
There seem to be several ways events can develop from here. Maybe there is still a chance that Trump won’t win this time and then in the next election the increased anger will channel towards a more libertarian revolution. That would probably be the best outcome. On the other hand it might turn out to be the exact opposite. Four more years of the establishment might make the Trump movement unstoppable in the next election. In that case we would be better off having the misery now.
In case Trump wins the presidency, one needs to understand that the President does not have nearly as much power as generally assumed. The bureaucracy just continues to run its cause no matter who is in office. That will prevent the worst of Trump’s horrible agenda. Hopefully, it will call the bluff on his presumed greatness. This could lead to a bigger disillusion with the system itself and ultimately be good for libertarianism. On the other hand, maybe his supporters are stubborn enough to not accept failure. In that case we will probably see an even bigger blame on the illusional conspiracy of foreign powers. This could turn the US from its currently soft police state into a full blown dictatorship.
No one knows what will happen in the next few years. We certainly live in interesting times. Let us hope that they are not going to get as interesting as the 1930s and 1940s. There is still a chance for liberty, however it is looking increasingly grim. Particularly because a lot of Libertarians seem to prioritise their hate for the establishment over the love of Liberty. And if Libertarians do not prioritise Liberty, who will? Let us hope for the best.