It has now been a year since Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the forty-fifth president of the United States of America. Among other things, he said in his inauguration speech,
From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.
We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.
We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.
We will follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American.
And then, at the end of his inauguration speech, Trump famously said, “Together, we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And yes, together we will make America great again.”
The question is an appropriate one: Has America been made great again since Trump has been in office? And of course, that also brings up a number of related questions: What has Trump done to make America great again? What has Trump’s party — the Republican Party — done to make America great again? Will Trump’s policies make America great again? Was America ever great to begin with? When was America great? What caused America to not be great anymore? What does it mean for America to be great or not great? Can America be made great again? How can America be made great again? It is this last question in particular that I want to focus on.
At donaldjtrump.com we are told,
President Trump is working hard to implement his “America First” platform, continuing his promise to the American people to lower taxes, repeal and replace Obamacare, end stifling regulations, protect our borders, keep jobs in our country, take care of our veterans, strengthen our military and law enforcement, and renegotiate bad trade deals, creating a government of, by and for the people.
He is making America First, again, restoring our nation’s faith, ushering in a bright, new future now and for generations to come.
Working hard or hardly working?
Although Trump promised to “drain the swamp,” many Washington lobbyists say business is better than ever. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “Spending on lobbying in Washington totaled almost $1.7 billion in the first half of the year, the highest since 2012.” “I don’t think that anything’s really changed,” said longtime Republican lobbyist Brian Wild. “If anything, the lobbying business is booming right now.”
The national debt has now surpassed $20 trillion and is fast approaching $21 trillion. Trump’s first budget that he presented to Congress will ensure that the national debt keeps rising. He proposed that the federal government spend the obscene amount of $4.094 trillion, even though receipts were only projected to be $3.654 trillion. His budget proposed that the federal government spend more money every year for the next ten years than it spent when Barack Obama was in office. The budget “cuts” are not really cuts at all. They are spending increases that are smaller than those called for in the “baseline budget” that has been projected by the Congressional Budget Office since 1974. Trump’s budget keeps intact the welfare state: food stamps, Medicare, SCHIP, Medicaid, Social Security, TANF, EITC, SSI, and every other welfare program are still funded. It also expands the welfare state with a parental-leave program and year-round Pell Grants.
Trump also supports a huge increase in military spending. He has turned out to be just as much of a militarist and warmonger as his predecessors. The United States bombed seven countries last year — Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — just as it did in Obama’s last year in office. According to Newsweek,
For Trump, 2017 has already been an explosive year: The U.S. has said it dropped over 2,400 bombs on Afghanistan, up from 1,337 last year. In the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. has already dropped 32,801 bombs, compared with 30,743 in 2016. And the U.S. has also conducted more than 100 strikes against Al Qaeda in Yemen in 2017, compared with 38 in 2016.
Civilian casualties from America’s war on ISIS have reached an all-time high in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. empire shows no signs of shrinking. In late 2017, the New York Times reported that the United States “now has just over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories,” plus an additional 37,813 troops on assignments that have not been made public. “We operate and fight in every corner of the world,” boasted Gen. Raymond Thomas, the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command. The United States still has more than 39,000 troops in Japan and 36,000 in Germany, even though World War II ended in 1945. The U.S. military has thousands of troops stationed in the Middle East, including 6,524 troops in Bahrain and 3,055 in Qatar, where the United States has naval bases. The number of foreign military bases has been estimated to be more than 1,000. President Trump has not advocated that even one should be shut down. Last year U.S. Special Operations Command reported that U.S. special forces conducted missions in 138 countries — roughly 70 percent of the nations on the planet. And in addition to hot wars, Trump wants to start trade wars. He truly believes that higher tariffs and less trade will make America great again in some way.
On the domestic front, as John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute has well said about America in the age of Trump, “The American police state is still alive and well and flourishing.” The federal drug war continues unabated. Americans are still subjected to “invasive surveillance, marauding SWAT teams, an overwhelming government arsenal of assault vehicles and firepower, and a barrage of laws that criminalize everything from vegetable gardens to lemonade stands.” The NSA and the FBI still listen to our phone calls and read our email. The government still carries out warrantless searches of our homes. The TSA still gropes and unnecessarily inconveniences airline travelers. Local police are still militarized. SWAT teams are still deployed in record numbers. The Trump administration has paved the way for increased civil asset forfeiture. Trump has even said that he wants those who burn the American flag to lose their citizenship or spend a year in jail.
Donald Trump has not made America great again and will not make America great again. He was never going to make America great again (and of course, neither was Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders). Indeed, it’s not going to be some person that makes America great again but instead a philosophy: libertarianism.
Libertarianism is the philosophy that says that people should be free from individual, societal, or government interference to live their lives any way they desire, pursue their own happiness, accumulate as much wealth as they can, assess their own risks, make their own choices, engage in commerce with anyone who is willing to reciprocate, participate in any economic activity for their profit, and spend the fruits of their labor as they see fit, as long as their actions are peaceful, their associations are voluntary, their interactions are consensual, and they don’t violate the personal or property rights of others.
The creed of libertarianism is nonaggression: freedom from aggression and violence against person and property as long as one respects the person and property of others. The principle undergirding the libertarian philosophy is what is known as the nonaggression principle. Because government is the greatest violator of the nonaggression principle, personal liberty, and property rights, libertarians oppose government intervention, regulation, and control of the economy and society; government regulation of business and commerce; and government restraint of peaceful, private, voluntary, and consensual peaceful activity.
To the libertarian, the only possible legitimate functions of government are defense, and judicial and policing activities. All government actions, at any level of government, beyond those functions are illegitimate. As long as people don’t infringe upon the liberty of others by committing, or threatening to commit, acts of fraud, theft, aggression, or violence against their person or property, the government should just leave them alone.
It is libertarianism that can make America great again.
Making America great again
It is not higher tariffs, better trade agreements, a lower trade deficit, increased defense spending, more military equipment to cops, a border wall, more immigration restrictions, tighter Cuba restrictions, buy-America campaigns, increased civil asset forfeitures, more countries bombed, more troops sent abroad, increased drone strikes, tougher enforcement of federal marijuana laws, strengthening military and law enforcement, or policing more of the world that will make America great again. Trump’s policies will not make America great again.
But libertarianism will. The following are some libertarian ideas to limit the size and scope of government, protect property rights, and increase personal and commercial freedom. It is these ideas that will make America great again.
Repeal all victimless-crime laws. Every crime should have a tangible and identifiable victim with real harm and measurable damages. Rape, robbery, assault, child abuse, battery, burglary, theft, arson, looting, kidnapping, shoplifting, embezzlement, murder, manslaughter — those are real crimes. Possessing illegal drugs, prostitution, ticket scalping, and illegal gambling are victimless crimes.
Using drugs may be addictive, unhealthy, and immoral, but it is not for the government to decide what risks Americans are allowed to take and what kinds of behaviors they are allowed to engage in. Regarding prostitution, why should a service that is legal to give away be illegal if one charges for it? Regarding ticket scalping, what could possibly be wrong with an exchange of tickets for cash between a willing buyer and a willing seller, as long as their activity does not violate the property rights of the owner of the ground where they make their exchange? Regarding gambling, all Americans should be able to do with their money as they see fit, even if that means wasting it on vices such as gambling.
And regarding victimless crimes in general, why should peaceful, private, voluntary, and consensual activity be criminalized? The United States leads the world in incarceration rates. Only violent criminals should be incarcerated, and no one should ever be locked up for committing a victimless crime.
Repeal all anti-discrimination laws. Discrimination is another crime in search of a victim. Anti-discrimination laws violate private- property rights, freedom of association, freedom of contract, and freedom of thought. Discriminating against someone is not aggressing against him. Discrimination means freedom. A free society must include the freedom to discriminate against any individual or group for any reason and on any basis.
Institute educational freedom. It is not the proper role of government to provide or pay for the education of anyone. Education is, in the case of children, a parental responsibility; in the case of adults, it is an individual responsibility. In either case, it is not the responsibility of government. And of course, on the federal level, the Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government to have anything to do with education. No American should be forced to pay for the education of any other American.
Institute medical freedom. It is not the proper role of government to provide or pay for the medical care or insurance of anyone. Medical care is, in the case of children, a parental responsibility; in the case of adults, it is an individual responsibility. In either case, it is not the responsibility of government. And of course, on the federal level, the Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government to have anything to do with medical care or insurance. No American should be forced to pay for the medical care of any other American.
End occupational licensing. Depending on the state, many occupations — such as barbers, lawyers, accountants, travel agents, locksmiths, auctioneers — require a certificate of permission and approval from a government-sponsored board. But why should anyone have to get permission from the government to open a business, engage in commerce, work in certain occupations, have a particular vocation, or provide a service to willing customers? There is absolutely no reason why all occupations could not be privately certified.
End all government subsidies. It is not the job of the government to subsidize agriculture, housing, scientific or medical research, cultural activities of individuals or organizations, or health insurance. All grants for research or the arts should come from private sources. And agriculture, housing, and health insurance should be treated just like any other sector of the economy.
Institute travel freedom. Any American should have the right to travel to any country by any means for any reason for any period of time and spend any amount of his money while he is there. Any American business should have the liberty to decide which countries it wants or doesn’t want to do business in or with.
Institute real free trade. Trade does not result in winners and losers; it is always mutually beneficial or it would not take place. Trade does not need to be managed by the government with trade agreements. The trade deficit is a government accounting fiction. Free trade needs no trade organizations, trade agreements, or trade treaties. Free trade means that trade is conducted without being hindered by tariffs, quotas, barriers, regulations, restrictions, or dumping rules. All forms and levels of protectionism require government central planning. Free trade is fair trade whenever it doesn’t involve government subsidies, crony capitalism, or a government import-export bank.
End the welfare state. The federal government operates about 80 means-tested welfare programs that limit benefits or payments on the basis of the beneficiary’s income or assets. The best-known of these programs are Medicaid; the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP); the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP [formerly known as food stamps]); Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF); Head Start; Healthy Start; Supplemental Security Income (SSI); school breakfast and lunch programs; and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). All of these means-tested programs, as well as the crown jewel of the welfare state — Social Security — have the same three problems: 1. They are not authorized by the Constitution. 2. They are not a legitimate purpose of government. 3. They are wealth-redistribution schemes. All charity should be private and voluntary.
Eliminate refundable tax credits. There is nothing wrong with regular tax credits. They are simply dollar-for-dollar reductions in the amount of income tax owed. Tax credits may reduce the tax owed to zero, but if there is no taxable income to begin with, then no credit can be taken. Tax credits, like their cousins tax deductions, are always good things. But refundable tax credits give the “taxpayer” a refund of money that he never paid in to begin with. The money is simply taken from real taxpayers and transferred to him. Refundable tax credits are the ultimate form of welfare because they are payments made in cash (like TANF or SSI) rather than payments made to a third party, as with Medicaid, or deposited on an Electronic Benefit Card (EBC), as with food stamps.
End all foreign aid. The government has no right to take money from Americans against their will and give it to foreigners, NGOs, or foreign governments. Any American who wants to help the poor, starving, or underprivileged in any country is welcome to do so on his own or through any number of private organizations as long as he does so with his own money. All foreign aid should be private and voluntary.
Stop fighting foreign wars. Foreign wars are never necessary and always senselessly sacrifice American blood and treasure. They also make Americans less safe because they expand hatred of the United States and create terrorists and insurgents who resent being bombed, invaded, and occupied.
Stop policing the world. U.S. foreign policy has departed significantly from the foreign policy of the Founders. It was Thomas Jefferson who described U.S. foreign policy as “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none.” It was John Quincy Adams who maintained that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” U.S. foreign policy is reckless, belligerent, and meddling. Both of these former presidents would be aghast at how far U.S. foreign policy has departed from the ideals of neutrality and nonintervention that they championed.
Dismantle the U.S. empire. The United States maintains an expensive and extensive empire of hundreds of thousands of troops and a thousand military installations around the world. Spending on the U.S. military is a huge part of the federal budget. Yet much of it would be totally unnecessary if the U.S. military were reserved strictly for defending America, securing American borders, patrolling American coasts, guarding American shores, and watching over American skies instead of doing those things in other countries. All foreign U.S. bases should be closed and all U.S. troops stationed overseas should be brought home.
Abolish the income tax. The federal government is not entitled to a certain percentage of the income of any individual or business. If Congress strictly limited spending just to what was authorized by the Constitution, the federal government wouldn’t need any portion of Americans’ incomes to fund its military adventures, income-transfer programs, wealth-redistribution schemes, or assorted boondoggles.
These changes would not only make America great again, they would make America better than she ever was.
This article was originally published in the February 2018 issue of Future of Freedom.