One of the political phenomena that the Trump administration has brought to the surface is the political philosophy that now guides much of the conservative movement. Unlike libertarians, who have a deep philosophical commitment to the principle of a government with very few, limited powers, conservatives have come to embrace what can be called the great man theory of governance. It holds that people should elect (or select) a great man to serve as president and then loyally and unconditionally support whatever he decides to do in the interests of the nation.
During the past few decades, a popular conservative political mantra has been, “We just have to get better people into public office.” The idea is that the never-ending problems and crises that the welfare-warfare state way of life that conservatives and liberals (i.e., progressives) brought into existence were all because the “wrong” people were in public office. If we just replaced them with “better” people, the argument went, the welfare-warfare state could finally be made to work efficiently.
The pinnacle of the great man theory of governance was, of course, the presidency. If people would just elect a great man for the job — one who we could trust to always act in the interests of the people and the nation, then it would simply become a matter of loyally and unconditionally supporting his decisions, whatever they might be.
Many conservatives have found their great man in Donald Trump, a president to whom they have effectively sworn their unconditional and undying loyalty and support. Today, whatever Trump says or does automatically becomes the position of his Trumpsters.
If Trump favors a trade war with China, Trumpsters support him. If he backs off from a trade war, Trumpsters support him.
If Trump favors a wall on the southern border, Trumpsters support him. If he changes to slats, they support him. If he abandons the wall, they support him.
If Trump says that nuclear weapons in North Korea are a threat to U.S. national security, Trumpsters support him. If he says that nuclear weapons in North Korea are no longer a threat to U.S. national security, Trumpsters support him.
If Trump says that troops need to stay in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea, Europe, or elsewhere, Trumpsters support him. If he says that it’s necessary to withdraw troops from anywhere, they support him.
If the stock market rises, Trumpsters support him. If the stock market falls, they support him and blame the Fed.
Notice that Trumpsters never talk about the principles of limited government or the dangers of omnipotent rule. Everything is about supporting whatever Trump does because he is, they say, a great man who is going to make America great again.
And heaven help anyone who criticizes anything that Trump says or does. He will immediately be hit with an angry tirade accusing him of hating Trump and wanting him impeached and also, of course, of hating America.
Ever since I was kid, I have heard people exclaim, “How could the German people have supported Hitler?” The answer is a simple one: Many Germans, like many American conservatives today, embraced the great man theory of governance. In their minds, Hitler was a great man, a veteran and a patriot who Germany was fortunate, they said, to have serving as their leader.
To make Germany great again, after the devastation of World War I, all that Germans had to do was empower Hitler to do whatever was necessary to make Germany great again. That’s what the Enabling Act was all about , along with Hitler’s wars on communism and terrorism. The job of the citizenry, the Hitlerites said, was to unconditionally and loyally support their leader.
Now, before Trumpsters write to me and complain that I am comparing Trump to Hitler, let me make it perfectly clear that I am not doing that. Instead, I am comparing Trump’s followers to Hitler’s followers, both of whom were and are believers in the great man theory of governance. That’s why Hitler’s followers were as fiercely supportive of him as Trump’s followers are of Trump.
Compare the great man theory of governance to the libertarian theory of governance. Our aim is not to put “better” people into public office or elect a great man or a great woman as president, vest him or her with omnipotent powers to make America great again, and then loyally and unconditionally support him or her. Our aim is to limit the role of government and the powers of government, including the presidency, to such an extent that it doesn’t really matter who is elected or appointed to public office, including the presideny.
Why do we libertarians want to limit the role and powers of the presidency and the rest of the federal government? Because our ultimate aim is the achievement of liberty, something that Trump continues to destroy with his efforts to make America great again.