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Donald Trump’s Authoritarian Opponents

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President Trump has said and done many things to appall the friends of freedom. From Trump’s pro-torture comments to his praise of police brutality to his cruise-missile barrage against Syria to his threat to annihilate North Korea, there are ample signs that he scorns a freedom-and-peace posture.

Unfortunately, many of Trump’s opponents are even more statist than the president. Marking the anniversary of Donald Trump’s election, the Washington Post Magazine presented “38 ideas for repairing our badly broken civic life.” Post Magazine editor Richard Just explained that “all of us … should be able to agree that some future-pondering about the state of our democracy is in order.” Many — if not most — of the Post’s recommendations from experts, artists, and writers were insipid or authoritarian. Some of the proposals provided chilling examples of liberal/leftist power-lust in the Trump era.

  • Author Kristin Henderson proposed conscripting all young people for three years in military or government civilian work, such as AmeriCorps, the legendary make-work boondoggle begotten by the Clinton administration. Forcing adults to “spend time in compulsory service to our country” would be the same as going back to “kindergarten and relearn how to cooperate and share our toys.” But the Founding Fathers never intended to treat personal freedom as a political toy. Henderson asserted, “A democracy requires we the people to work together to solve our problems…. As our democratic skills improve, we can thank ourselves for our service.” If it is compulsory, it is servitude, not service. The most important lesson young people would learn is that politicians have the right to capriciously destroy their freedom and waste a swath of their lives in which they could have developed their minds and talents to make themselves self-sufficient citizens.
  • The best fix for American democracy is to “outlaw private education” to banish inequity, according to novelist Ann Patchett. In the name of equality, parents must be prohibited any choice or effective role in their children’s schooling. Patchett also rhapsodized about confiscating Ivy League endowments to redistribute to state schools. Her scheme would result in “the best teachers and administrators available to raise the standards in classrooms.” Presumably teachers would lose their freedom (as parents and children did) as benevolent administrators dictated who would be sent to unsafe schools. Patchett, who has no children, gushed, “My dream for this country is opportunity and equality.” Texans in 1836 were inspired by the motto “Remember the Alamo!” Patchett would do well to “Remember Boston!” — a city whose families and schools were ravaged by an iron-fisted busing scheme imposed by a federal judge who, like her, had no skin in the game.
  • Domingo Martinez, a Texas novelist, portrays “gun addiction” as a national “demon” and advocates forcing gun owners to buy insurance (presumably at prohibitive rates) to deter firearm ownership. If gun-insurance rates were based on homicide rates (the same way that auto insurance rates are based in part on local collision data) — residents of East St. Louis, Illinois, might be charged 70 times higher rates than New Hampshire residents. In Maryland, firearm-insurance rates could be more than five times higher in Baltimore than in Allegheny County in the western part of the state, because of the vast difference in homicide rates. Besides, what right do politicians have to tax gun ownership when the government in so many areas dismally fails to protect private citizens from violent predators?
  • Harvard professor Dani Rodrik proposes to boost democracy by vastly expanding government economic intervention: “Society, through its agent — the government — would end up as co-owner of the new generation of technologies and machines.” However, any D.C.-area resident who regularly uses the Washington subway recognizes government’s ability to blight any technology it touches. The crony-capitalism debacles of recent years (such as the Obama administration’s Solyndra scandal) should certainly have stifled visionary thinking about the benefits of government-business partnerships. Rodrik, a Turkish economist, fails to offer any protection against the vast increase of political power he proposes.

More government = more wonderfulness

  • Similarly, Julius Krein, editor of American Affairs, calls for reviving Cold War government-business relations because “the economy was healthier when the national government exercised greater direction over it.” Krein said that “our frayed social fabric is an inevitable consequence” because aspects of American life have been “depoliticized.” He proclaimed, “The state needs to take a larger role in many areas.” But the areas of the economy currently most subjected to federal edicts — such as agriculture — are among the most wasteful or irrational. Americans rejected Hillary Clinton’s calls for more government takeovers in 2016 because federal intervention is widely equated with corruption and folly.
  • Carl Gershman, the president-for-life of the federal National Endowment for Democracy, calls for cultivating Americans’ “sense of gratitude” by forging “more links between Americans and people in other countries who are fighting for the basic freedoms that we enjoy.” So the “links” from deploying American troops in 172 nations are not sufficient? It is considered bad taste in Washington to recognize foreigners’ gratitude when the United States does not meddle in their nations or elections. The National Endowment of Democracy and its political front groups routinely intervene in foreign nations’ political life, regardless of U.S. laws restricting such antics.
  • “Celebrate government” is the solution proffered by University of California law professor Joan Williams. She urged Americans to use the hashtag #GovernmentStillWorksForUs and make videos thanking government for the water from their faucets and the safe milk for their breakfast cereal. Anything government does should be considered manna from heaven, regardless of the $3 trillion in taxes the feds commandeer from citizens each year. Williams suggests that people “upload a picture or just tweet about how government works for you…. By celebrating all that it does, you will have taken the first step toward reminding Americans that the government is us.” But this is political infantilism: the notion that “government is us” is a ploy to shift the guilt for every federal crime onto every victim of the government. The “government is us” dogma presumes that the citizen’s unspoken wishes animate each restriction inflicted upon him. However, drivers who exceed speed limits are not “self-ticketed,” and travelers who get accosted by Transportation Security Administration agents at airports are not molesting themselves.
  • Lanhee Chen, a Stanford University research fellow, called for establishing a “National Unity Week” — “an opportunity for all Americans — public officials, famous figures and everyday citizens — to come together.” To solidify national unity, Congress should commit “to passing (and the president to signing) at least two pieces of legislation proposed by one of our nation’s many bipartisan boards and commissions.” So when politicians ratify recommendations from political appointees it will magically restore faith in politics? This proposal is indicative of how much of the academic and media establishment still believe that a few tweaks will restore them to their rightful place in the Pantheon.
  • Farah Pandith, a Council of Foreign Relations fellow, proposes a vast public-private partnership for a “‘National Civic Plan’ designed with incentives to deepen honest and open relationships across communities and the nation as a whole.” This plan would include “specially trained local teams” to “produce practical skill development in the areas of listening, empathy and compassion; and promote an ethos of civility and good works.” According to Pandith’s vision, “Engagement with the duties and blessings of citizenship would once again become a tangible part of our everyday lives, as was the case in the days of our Founding Fathers.” This project would benefit almost no one aside from the contractors and sappy editorial writers. It tacitly presumes that contemporary democracy’s problems stem from a lack of citizens’ faith, rather than a profusion of government deceits and endless wars dishonestly commenced.

Making things worse

Some of these “democracy fixes” would destroy the tattered remnants of federal legitimacy. Sending in federal marshals or the National Guard to shut down private schools would be far more explosive than Eisenhower’s sending in the 101st Airborne to desegregate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Sending federal agents door to door to seize uninsured firearms would produce endless havoc and bloodshed. Forcing all young people to forfeit several years of their lives to AmeriCorps or the military would spur mass bitterness and pervasive resistance. Giving politicians and bureaucrats new pretexts to confiscate and redistribute paychecks would severely discourage “labor force participation” — i.e., working for a living.

Many Trump opponents are the same type of zealots who, in the late 1700s, proudly labeled themselves “Friends of Government.” In their eyes, Trump’s greatest sin is tarnishing the majesty of the presidency and the federal government. Trump is exposing the sham of a Leviathan Democracy which pretends that presidents will be philosopher kings — instead of merely talented vote catchers. However, Trump cannot be blamed for destroying Americans’ trust in Washington. That was already achieved by presidents such as George W. Bush and Barack Obama, whom the media — such as the Washington Post editorial board — occasionally exalted to the skies.

Unfortunately, many people, happy to believe the worst about Trump, will heave all their skepticism overboard when the next political savior is anointed. Such naivete is being encouraged at the highest levels of Democratic Party. For instance, in her recent book, What Happened?, Hillary Clinton claimed that, according to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the goal of abusive regimes “is to make you question logic and reason and to sow mistrust towards exactly the people we need to rely on: our leaders, the press, experts who seek to guide public policy based on evidence, ourselves.” In other words, the most famous anti-totalitarian novel in history supposedly teaches people to defer to their masters. The fact that this bizarre passage was written, edited, proofread, and published exemplifies the blind power-lust of Clinton and her advisors.

Trump’s critics are correct that the president has too much arbitrary power. As French political philosopher Benjamin Constant wrote in 1815, “It is in fact the degree of force, not its holders, which must be denounced…. There are weights too heavy for the hand of man.” The sheer amount of punitive power possessed by the federal government is one of the best gauges of potential tyranny. We should strive to permanently reduce the power of the presidency to destroy liberty regardless of who is tweeting from the Oval Office.

This article was originally published in the the February 2018 edition of Future of Freedom.

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    James Bovard is a policy adviser to The Future of Freedom Foundation. He is a USA Today columnist and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New Republic, Reader’s Digest, Playboy, American Spectator, Investors Business Daily, and many other publications. He is the author of Freedom Frauds: Hard Lessons in American Liberty (2017, published by FFF); Public Policy Hooligan (2012); Attention Deficit Democracy (2006); The Bush Betrayal (2004); Terrorism and Tyranny (2003); Feeling Your Pain (2000); Freedom in Chains (1999); Shakedown (1995); Lost Rights (1994); The Fair Trade Fraud (1991); and The Farm Fiasco (1989). He was the 1995 co-recipient of the Thomas Szasz Award for Civil Liberties work, awarded by the Center for Independent Thought, and the recipient of the 1996 Freedom Fund Award from the Firearms Civil Rights Defense Fund of the National Rifle Association. His book Lost Rights received the Mencken Award as Book of the Year from the Free Press Association. His Terrorism and Tyranny won Laissez Faire Book’s Lysander Spooner award for the Best Book on Liberty in 2003. Read his blog. Send him email.