Let me give you a definition of the word ‘liberal.’…Franklin D. Roosevelt once said…It is a wonderful definition, and I agree with him. ‘A liberal is a man who wants to build bridges over the chasms that separate humanity from a better life.’ – Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon was our last liberal president. – Noam Chomsky
“Imagine a president who expands affirmative action, actively promotes school desegregation, enacts important new laws in social welfare, environmental protection, occupational health and safety, and consumer protection, supports comprehensive health insurance and a system of guaranteed income for all citizens, and whose Justice Department opposes the RICO Act on the grounds that it gives the government powers that are much too broad and sweeping for prosecuting criminals. In 2011, such a president would be considered far to left of Barack Obama and far to the left of almost everyone in Congress. Forty years ago, such a president was called Richard Nixon.”-Matthew Lyons (“Right-Wing Movements 101“)
Now that Donald Trump has won an upset electoral victory and will be assuming the office of the presidency in a couple of months, I am going to offer the unconventional and, certainly to many people, counter-intuitive opinion that it was Donald Trump rather than Hillary Clinton that was the most left-wing of the two major party candidates.
“But how can that be?” is likely to be the most immediate response from many readers. Was not Trump the candidate of the Republican Party, who ran on a program far to the right of what a more conventional Republican candidate would have advanced, even to the point that not only liberals and leftists, but even many conservatives and ordinary Republicans, warned of Trump’s dangerous racist, sexist, xenophobic, authoritarian nationalist, and perhaps even fascist tendencies?
Didn’t Trump promise to build a wall to keep those supposedly icky Mexicans out of the country, and to deport many more that are already here? Doesn’t Trump want a ban on entry into the United States by members of the world’s second largest religion? Didn’t he endorse torture, and killing the entire families of suspected terrorists? Didn’t Trump receive the endorsement of the bulk of the religious right, and wasn’t he also supported enthusiastically by the white nationalist alt-right? Wasn’t the 2016 election really just a referendum on race, and with racism emerging as the winner? Doesn’t Trump’s victory indicate a sharp turn to the right in American politics, and an embrace of reactionary authoritarianism of perhaps an unprecedented nature?
My immediate response to such questions would be, “Uh, no, it’s not quite that simple.”
A Personal Caveat
As an initial caveat, I will begin by saying that I did not vote in this election, just as I have not voted for over 20 years, and if I had chosen to vote on November 8, I would have cast my ballot for Jill Stein of the Green Party. Of the two major party candidates, I tended to have the most favorable view of Trump, mostly because of his anti-neocon views on US-Russia relations and his opposition to toppling Assad. Other than that, I was largely indifferent to the outcome of this election, except as a a largely disinterested observer.
A Tale of Three Liberalisms
The history of liberalism has largely involved the transition of this philosophy through three major phases. The first of these was classical liberalism, the 18th century radical philosophy that accompanied the rise of the Enlightenment intellectual culture, the eventual overthrow of the ancient regime, and the triumph of republicanism, the industrial revolution and the bourgeoisie as a class. This was the form of liberalism that continued to dominate until the era of the Great Depression of the 1930s, which subsequently ushered in the period of reform liberalism. Reform liberalism appeared in the United States by means of FDR’s New Deal, which was itself part of the “managerial revolution” that was then taking place in all industrial societies as the classical liberal-bourgeoisie model of capitalism finally expired its historical utility, and a more collective form of managerial capitalism began to take its place.
This model of liberalism (essentially a hybrid of capitalism and social democracy under the managerial state) continued to dominate until the rise of neoliberalism in the 1970s, with the latter constituting both a shift to the right among academic economists (George Will once remarked that economics is the only sector of academia that has shifted to the right in the past half century), and a capitalist class counterattack against working class gains which had been achieved during the period of reform liberalism (e.g. unionization, old age pensions, minimum wages, 8-hour work days, healthcare benefits, etc). From the time of its initial emergence in the 1970s, the neoliberal paradigm continued to achieve hegemony until finally reaching unquestioned dominance during the globalization era of the 1990s.
The election of Donald Trump to the presidency by the American public in 2016 represents a mass repudiation of neoliberalism in the same manner as the rejection of the European Union by the English people a few months earlier, the election of SYRIZA by the Greek people in 2014, the electoral victory of various populist movements in Latin America during the 2000s, and the rising popularity of the Frente Nacional in France during the present time.
During the course of presidential campaign, I occasionally compared Trump to Nelson Rockefeller, another billionaire New York liberal, which Trump clearly is, but with the caveat that Trump ran as a recycled George Wallace in the GOP primaries before reinventing himself as Ross Perot in the general election campaign. Here’s the catch: Wallace, once the symbol of right-wing populism, was also a New Deal Democrat and Perot was one of the most outspoken critics of neoliberalism in the United States in the last 30 years.
The introduction of the New Deal (reform liberalism) into the United States under FDR involved an alliance of Southern segregationists (like Wallace) and Northern liberals who were advocates of civil rights. New Dealers representing the Southern states in Congress used to be a dime a dozen, just as liberal Republicans were also quite common. During the period leading up to the implementation of the New Deal, labor radicalism was rampant in the early 20th century USA. The Communist Party had over a million members in the 1930s. Anti-capitalism from the Right was common during that period as well, and represented by such figures as Father Charles Coughlin.
As mentioned above, the New Deal paradigm was essentially about reinventing liberalism from its older classical bourgeoisie model to a quasi-social democratic managerial model. Richard Nixon was the last president under the New Deal paradigm that existed between the 1930s and 1970s. The introduction of neoliberalism began during the era of Jimmy Carter (who proposed a sharp increase in military spending and began deregulating key industries), and went into full operational mode under the guise of the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s with the introduction of supply side economics, a recession engineered by the Federal Reserve for the purpose of controlling inflation, the leveling of the tax code, massive deficit spending under the cover of military Keynesianism, and cutbacks in social services (example: the federal budget for public housing was slashed by 85% during the 1980s). In the realm of foreign policy, this meant an expanded US militarism and aggression towards the Third World. In other areas of domestic policy, this meant increased state repression under the guise of the “war on drugs” which Nixon had begun to implement in the early 1970s, a quintupling of incarceration rates, the creation of the prison-industrial complex, and the introduction of paramilitary policing.
The process of de-industrialization that accompanied neoliberalism resulted in mass unemployment in inner cities, and was dealt with by mass incarceration of those largely forced into the underground economy by means of economic circumstances. The neoliberal paradigm which began with Carter and Reagan continued through the presidencies George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Indeed, many people now forget that two of the three Democrats elected to the presidency during the neoliberal period, Carter and Clinton, ran as Southern conservatives, as not as “liberals.” Carter emphasized his evangelical Christianity, and Clinton touted himself as a “New Democrat” that emphasized fiscal conservatism, law and order, the death penalty, and welfare reform.
Where was the Left?
During the 1960s, the political Left in the Western world underwent a transformation from class-based proletarianism to an orientation towards cultural politics with an emphasis on race, gender, and counterculturalism. A variety of explanations have been offered for why this occurred but for the purposes of this discussion what matters is the effect of this transformation on American electoral politics. Beginning with the electoral strategy devised for the Democratic Party in the early 1970s by Fred Dutton, the mainstream of American liberalism and much of the far Left began to jettison a working class orientation, and instead embracing upper middle class liberals, students, minorities, the counterculture, and environmentalists.
Consequently, the Democratic Party oriented reformist “left” began forming an alliance with corporate liberals against labor in exchange for being given what they wanted on social issues like civil rights, anti-racism, affirmative action, feminism, abortion, gay rights, and environmentalism as a recent article in The Atlantic, a liberal publication, has surprisingly admitted. As a result, the mainstream of American liberalism was transformed into a kind of left-wing capitalism that embraced neoliberal economics but continued to move towards the far left fringes on social and cultural issues. Hence, the emergence of an American liberalism, represented by such figures as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, that simultaneously pushes neoliberal economics, aggressive militarism, gay marriage, and transgender restrooms.
The presidency of Bill Clinton was an initial glimpse of this kind of liberalism coming to power. The Clinton administration began allowing gays in the military, for example, and Clinton’s friendliness with black civil rights leaders even won him the rhetorical label of “the first black president.” All the while Clinton was pushing through NAFTA, tightening the police state, pursuing fiscal conservatism, cutting welfare, and adopting a hawkish version of liberal internationalism as foreign policy stance (represented by, for example, the bombing of the Serbs in 1999 and Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s defense of the genocide being imposed on Iraq by means of deadly sanctions).
While there was some ineffective resistance by the Left to the George W. Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq and implementation of far-reaching anti-terrorism legislation, the process of escalating accommodation of capitalism and imperialism by liberalism and the Left came into full fruition during the Obama years, with the first black president largely continuing the economic and foreign policies of his hated predecessor, albeit with a new liberal and multicultural, feminized and gayized gloss.
During the era of Obama the antiwar movement along with resistance to the ever expanding national security state essentially disappeared, as opposed to talk of secession, local resolutions condemning the Iraq War and Patriot Act, and mass demonstrations which occasionally occurred under George W. Bush.
Such was the path pursued by American liberalism. Meanwhile, the far Left also offered a weak-kneed opposition. Like the mainstream liberals, the ostensibly anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist Left began to emphasize social and cultural leftism over foreign policy and economic leftism to an even greater degree. Indeed, for decades the Left screamed “Racism! Sexism! Homophobia!” while American foreign policy became increasingly aggressive, particularly after the removal of its Soviet competitor, the police state tightened, and the working class collectively went down the tubes. Amazingly, this process has continued to the point where the supposed “radical Left” has become a farcical self-parody obsessed with safe spaces and microaggressions in the manner of overgrown six year olds.
On economic questions, Donald Trump is arguably to the left of every president since Richard M. Nixon. Thus far, Trump has embraced old fashioned labor protectionism by means of strengthening import tariffs and curbing immigration rates, affirmed a desire to preserve the working to middle class social safety net, and reform rather than abolish Obamacare by retaining its more popular features, and reducing or eliminating its less popular features. More recently, Trump has suggested the most liberal reform of student loan debt policy yet to be proposed. Trump has likewise pledged to renegotiate neoliberal trade agreements such NAFTA, and uber-neoliberal Democrat Charles Schumer recently announced that the Trans Pacific Partnership is dead given the impending Trump presidency. Nor is Trump likely to be a fiscal hawk given his interest in Modern Monetary Theory. If his daughter Ivanka plays any kind of role in a Trump administration, which she likely will, it is quite possible that new benefits intended to assist working women with children will be introduced.
Of course, Trump is not a return to reform liberalism across the board. His tax plan is reminiscent of that proposed by supply side economists during the 1980s, and partially implemented by Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush, and one of the founding fathers of supply side economics, Arthur Laffer, is among the ranks of Trump’s economic advisors. Although, to be fair, the tax policies devised by the supply siders were not fundamentally different from those initially suggested by President Kennedy, historically regarded as a liberal icon, in the early 1960s. And Trump merely wants to renegotiate trade agreements like NAFTA, not abolish them altogether.
Why the Election of 2016 was a Victory for the Left
Donald Trump has pushed the Republican Party further to the Left. During the primaries he managed to eclipse 16 candidates, most of whom were so far to the right they could have been the candidates of Israel’s right-wing Zionist Likud Party or El Salvador’s right-wing plutocratic ARENA Party. Indeed, most of “the other 16” would have been considered right-wing extremists in most democratic nations, whether in Europe, Latin America, or Asia. “The other 16” were mostly tools of America’s right-wing plutocrats that long for nothing but permanent wars for Israel and empire and lucrative arms contracts, and the imposition of a Third World class system in the United States
Because he ran as a strident opponent of the most essential features of neoliberalism, Trump’s election can be regarded as nothing quite so much as a referendum against neoliberalism, and at least a partial re-embrace of reform liberalism. On economic policy, Hillary was the conservative candidate in this election. In fact, powerful evidence exists that Bernie Sanders, an even more strident critic of neoliberalism, a former Trotskyist and running as recycled New Deal Democrat, would have won the election if he had been the Democratic Party’s candidate. He would have gotten the Rust Belt states that went to Trump, the minority votes that went to Trump, and the protest votes that went to liberal and left minor parties in key states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida which would have been enough to push Sanders to victory in the electoral college.
As Brendan O’Neill, a Marxist columnist for London’s Spectator has pointed out, the victories of Trump and Brexit have motivated the neoliberal elite to begin questioning the legitimacy of democracy itself in a hilarious manner that conjures images of Hans Hermann Hoppe and Mencius Moldbug.
Elsewhere, a writer for the New York Times asked Americans to consider installing a monarchy, which could rise above the ‘toxic partisanship’ of party politics — that is, above open, swirling, demos-stuffed political debate. In a new book called ‘Against Democracy’ — says it all — Georgetown philosopher Jason Brennan argues for an epistocracy, an ‘aristocracy of the wise’, who might decide political matters for those of us who are ‘low information’ (ie. stupid). This echoes the anti-democratic turn of liberals in the 2000s, when it was argued that daft, Bush-backing Americans increasingly made decisions, ‘not with their linear, logical left brain, but with their lizard, more emotional right brain’, in Arianna Huffington’s words. Such vile contempt for the political, democratic capacities of the ordinary person has been in great evidence following Trump’s win — across Twitter and in apocalypse-tinged instant responses — and it is likely to intensify. Anti-Trump will morph more explicitly into anti-democracy.
If this all sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same kind of pleb-fearing horror that greeted the Brexit result four months ago. ‘Why elections are bad for democracy’, a headline in the Guardian said. The people are deluded and it is the task of those with ‘reason and expertise’ to ‘un-delude’ them, said a writer for Foreign Policy. ‘What if democracy doesn’t work? What if it never has and never will?’, wondered a pained George Monbiot. Boom. That’s it. The secret and not-so-secret cry of the elites and the experts and the observers over both Brexit and Trump is precisely that: ‘What if democracy doesn’t work?’ It’s not so much Trump they fear as the system that allowed him to get to the White House: that pesky, ridiculous system where we must ask ordinary people — shudder — what they think should happen in the nation.
The anti-Brexit anti-democrats claimed they were merely opposed to using rough, simplistic referendums to decide on huge matters. That kind of democracy is too direct, they said. Yet now they’re raging over the election of Trump via a far more complicated, tempered democratic system. That’s because — and I know this is strong, but I’m sure it’s correct — it is democracy itself that they hate. Not referendums, not Ukip’s blather, not only direct democracy, but democracy as an idea. Against democracy — so many of them are now. It is the engagement of the throng in political life that they fear. It is the people — ordinary, working, non-PhD-holding people — whom they dread and disdain. It is what got Trump to the White House — the right of all adults, even the dumb ones, to decide about politics — that gives them sleepless nights.
A neoliberal, multicultural, rainbow version of throne and altar, perhaps?
Social Issues and Foreign Policy: A Victory for the Libertine Left and Antiwar Left
On social issues and foreign policy, the forces of social conservatism, racism, imperialism and benighted reaction hardly performed well on Election Day. As I wrote in another blog post:
Contrary to what many people are no doubt thinking, Trump’s victory does not appear to be a victory of the Right over the Left, racism over anti-racism, or social conservatism over social liberalism (or libertarianism). When various local and regional elections, as well as referendums, are examined, and when the demographic breakdown of the results of the presidential election is analyzed, a somewhat different picture emerges. Consider these facts:
-Trump won by running to the left of Clinton on both foreign policy and trade policy, extending an olive branch to Russia, attacking Clinton’s plans to topple Assad in Syria, and repudiating the neoliberal economic policies of Hillary’s husband. Hillary on the other hand ran as a foreign policy hawk and champion of the corporate liberal status quo concerning trade policy.
-Trump did unusually well among racial minorities (for a Republican), particularly black and Hispanic males.
-Eight of nine pro-marijuana referendums on the ballot in various states passed.
-A California referendum requiring porn actors to use condoms failed.
-The Democrats’ Russia-baiting utterly failed as an electoral strategy.
-South Carolina, a state carried by Trump, elected the first black Senator since Reconstruction to a full term.
-Trump billed his campaign in the final moments as a “strike back” by the working class.
All of this data combined, including victories for weed, porn, the working class, improved performances for liberal and left minor parties, and the first black Senator in 150 years, with actual right-wing authoritarian Joe Arpaio being voted out after 23 years in office, hardly indicates a shift of the United States towards “fascism.” Instead, it can be reasonably argued that Trump won because he was actually the most left-wing of the two major party candidates, i.e. the most dovish on foreign policy, the most pro-working class, and, by a wide margin, the most anti-establishment.
It should also be pointed out that the number of non-white women in the Senate has now quadrupled.
The comprehensive victories of weed and raw/bareback porn clearly indicates a set of victories for the libertine left that involves a sharp repudiation of the Moral Majority/“Just Say No” paradigm of the Reagan era. And not only did the Republicans slightly improve their performance among minorities but Trump will almost certainly be the most pro-gay Republican president to date, given that in the 1990s he was calling out the Clintons for dragging their feet on the gay marriage issue. Trump’s pattern has also been to moderate his rhetoric on immigration, an issue he only discovered a passion for when he decided to run for president, for general audiences outside his right-wing base, as even his most devoted fan Ann Coulter has observed. Polls show a majority of the public disagrees with Trump’s more conservative positions on taxes, and immigration,.and law enforcement.On the last two points, in particular, it is worth repeating that while Trump won, Joe Arpaio was voted out of the Sheriff’s office in Phoenix. Nor is Donald Trump, a thrice married career playboy, a friend of Howard Stern who once described condomless sex as his “personal Vietnam,” and whose current wife is a former Playboy model, likely to usher in a new era of Comstockery.
The Pollsters Were Not “Wrong,” Just Too Quick to Pass Judgment
Another bit of conventional wisdom that seems to be a bit off is the claim that “the polls were wrong.” But that’s not entirely the case. By Election Day, many polls were showing a dead heat between the two candidates with Trump pulling ahead in some. On Election Day, Real Clear Politics projected at least 203 electoral votes would go to Clinton and 164 would go to Trump, with 171 remaining toss ups. This was hardly the basis for a confident prediction of a Clinton victory (as I say this as someone who thought Hillary would win throughout the entire campaign until a review of polling results the night before the election led me to think, “Well, maybe not.”). The polls began to tighten by Election Day, largely due to increased evidence of Hillary’s incompetent, dishonest, and unpalatable nature (e.g. the opening of a 2nd FBI investigation concerning the classified emails).
The Republicans Got Around Their Demographic Problem Because the Democrats Suck
The only demographic blocks that consistently vote Republican in US elections are older white Protestants, and working to middle class whites in the rural South and Midwest. However, Trump got around this demographic problem by simultaneously generating enormous enthusiasm on the populist right with appeals to economic nationalism while successful orchestrating a cross over appeal to the center and left (This is not dissimilar to strategies that I have developed in other contexts for building an anti-neocon/anti-neoliberal coalition. See here, here, and here.) The Trump strategy combined with Hillary’s unsavory character translated into a GOP victory, largely because significant numbers of otherwise Democratic voters decided to either abstain from voting, vote for fringe parties, or vote for Trump instead. The actual number of participants in this election was rather small compared to other recent presidential elections. Trump actually received fewer popular votes than either John McCain in 2008 or Mitt Romney in 2012, but the total number of votes cast for the Democrats declined by a much wider margin. Hillary received far fewer actual votes than Obama in either of the previous two elections. The bottom line is that the Democrats lost because they suck. Their candidate was the candidate of the ruling class and power elite in this election. Virtually the entire range of elite opinion, with very few exceptions, endorsed Hillary over Trump, thereby making Trump much more appealing to the average voter.
The White Working Class is Dispensable (or so the Left thought)
It is clear that it was white working class voters that ultimately made the difference in this election, and were the cause of Trump’s victory. Trump did not even win the majority of the working class vote, but the the unusually high level of enthusiasm exhibited for Trump by substantial sectors of the white working class ultimately made a difference. For decades, the Left has maintained the position that the white working class is either a collection of racist, sexist, homophobic infidels to be shunned and ostracized, or as sinners to be converted. As the economic condition of the white working class has declined, many from this demographic no doubt got tired of hearing about how overly privileged they are. No doubt Trump’s decidedly un-PC persona and stances contributed significantly as well. Far from being about “liberation” or free-thinking, PC reflects a priggish puritanical moralism of the kind normally associated with bitchy schoolmarms and sexually frustrated Sunday School teachers, and no doubt many voters welcomed the opportunity to give PC a good kick in the face by voting for Trump. As with the victories of weed and porn, the kick in the face given to PC on November 8 reflected a profound victory for libertinism, and a flip off to the moral majoritarians of the present era.
The “R” Word
Virtually anytime the Left fails to get its way, the failure is attributed not to any flaws in the Left’s tactics or program, but to the sinister forces of racism, which the assumes the role of a metaphysical evil (kind of like Satan in classical Christian theology) in modern leftist ideology. However, an election that produces the results previously described (the ousting of Arpaio, increased minority representation in the Senate, and an improved performance among minorities by the Republicans) can hardly be considered a victory by the hated R-People. To be sure, white nationalist support for Trump was extremely enthusiastic, and the failure of many from the alt-right and white nationalist milieus to recognize Trump’s opportunism is rather interesting. However, white nationalists and alt-rightists who placed their hopes in Trump will almost certainly be disappointed in the long run in the same way that previous generations of rightists, from the religious right to pro-lifers to constitutionalists to free-market libertarians, placed their hopes in earlier Republican presidents (I have written about this elsewhere).
Meanwhile, the demographic transformation of the USA, where whites will eventually become just another minority group, is inevitable. This would be true even if Trump were to send all illegal immigrants home over the next four years (which isn’t going to happen). The conversion of American culture to a kind of WASP and Latino Catholic hybrid, with lots of other ethnic groups maintaining a substantial presence, is likely inevitable given prevailing economic, technological, cultural, demographic and generational trends. The Left merely complains that it’s not happening fast enough. It is certainly understandable that many people would look askance at a comprehensive demographic change of this kind. Many people resist losing their traditional culture, and this is apparently fine for indigenous people, people of color, and post-colonial nations but not WASPs in the eyes of the Left. Because conservative whites will soon be just another minority, and therefore just another political interest group, why not give them their seat at the table and recognize that mass immigration, affirmative action, high crime rates in minority communities, and political correctness are issues on which reasonable and well-intentioned people can disagree, and that the majority doesn’t cease to have rights when they become a minority, or vice versa?
Trump also received a great deal of support from another demographic that is hated and despised by the Left: the Christian right. But are these supposed mortal enemies of enlightenment, progress, science and All Good Things different from traditionalists or conservatives among other religions, or socially conservative minorities? Not to mention that the Christian right almost always loses. It is rather interesting that the Left recoils in horror at any criticism of Islam, not to mention the often retrograde social views found in many Third World immigrant communities, but holds often comparably liberal North American conservative Christians in contempt. The ongoing cultural transformation of North America indicates that Evangelicals and Catholic traditionalists are likewise shrinking in size and will soon just another minority like Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, Satanists, Wiccans, neo-pagans, and atheists. So what is the problem with giving them their seat at the table?
On a more general level, conservatives often raise issues that liberals and leftists with any kind of anti-authoritarian values at all (which, admittedly, excludes a huge proportion of the Left) should have some kind of interest in such as the right to bear arms, individual property rights, religious liberty, free speech, and academic freedom. Give them their seat at the table.
Environmentalists may be frustrated with Trump’s climate change denial and interest in expanding the use of fossil fuels. However, a Trump regime will provide environmentalists with an opportunity to prove their case with actual science and reasoned argument rather than merely accusing opponents of malevolence, criminality and heresy.
The Supreme Court
One of the issues that serves as a powerful motivating factor for both the Left and Right is the issue of control over appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is important to the Left because the federal courts are seen as a means by which supposedly enlightened federal judges and Supreme Court justices can impose liberal policies regarding abortion, gay rights, education, welfare, criminal justice, immigration, race relations, religion and a number of other things on incorrigibly reactionary states and localities. It is for this reason that the right-wing in all its various forms frequently regards control over the Supreme Court to be a primary issue as well, and at least until recently “activist judges” were considered to be on par with original sin in much conservative rhetoric.
The Left has expressed horror at Trump’s plans to appoint judges in the vein of the late Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court. But it’s important to consider what Scalia’s approach to constitutional interpretation actually was. The kind of “textualist,” “originalist,” or what used to be called “strict constructionist” approach to constitutional interpretation advanced by Scalia or Clarence Thomas involves a legal theory that grants greater leeway to the states, localities, and popularly elected legislative bodies to devise their own policies, and less leeway for unelected federal judges, or the federal government generally to interfere, with these decisions. This model of constitutional interpretation is not a foundation for any kind of reactionary political program per se. For example, under Scalia’s interpretive model, individual states could theoretically elect a Communist government or legalize interspecies marriages if they wished with the only limit being that states, localities, and elected legislative bodies cannot violate specifically enumerated provisions of the Constitution (for example, a state or city could not legally ban the practice of Islam or Buddhism, ban opposition political parties, impose press censorship, or impose capital punishment for minor crimes). Meanwhile, the landmark “liberal” Supreme Court decisions that are cherished by the Left and hated by the Right normally reflected trends that were already occurring in the states anyway. For example, the states were in the process of liberalizing abortion laws when the Roe v. Wade decision was issued. When the Lawrence v. Texas decision struck down sodomy laws on a nationwide basis, 2/3 of the states had already repealed such laws, and before the Obergefell v. Hodges decision which effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide, the trend was towards greater recognition of gay marriage by the states as well.
Roe v Wade is unlikely to go away given that it is now a deeply ingrained part of America’s legal culture in the same manner as Brown v. Board of Education. Donald Trump, a supporter of Planned Parenthood, is not likely to be an anti-abortion zealot, and even if Roe is repealed it merely means states can have their own policies concerning abortion, which in turn means that the Blue Tribe states can have all the abortions they want.
Trump’s Alleged Unique Evil
By far, the three most controversial statements that Trump has issued involve his plans to “build a wall” along the Mexican border in order to curb illegal immigration, bar the entry into the United States by “Muslims” (i.e. persons from countries where sympathy for Islamic terrorism is common), and to “kill the families” of terrorists. First of all, the “build a wall” proposal in hardly unique as about 65 other nations are already doing so. Second, “walls” exist in all kinds of ways to keep out unwanted or unauthorized entrants, including “walls” maintained by gated communities, industrial parks, schools, amusement parks, sports stadiums, airports, churches, military bases, public buildings, private businesses, and individual homeowners. Many libertarians and most anarchists simply believe that nations are artificial political constructs that should be abolished in favor of completely open migration. Fair enough. But most liberal and leftists are not anarchists or libertarians of any kind. Instead, substantial sectors of the Left simply regard immigration as a means of increasing their own ranks and ensuring permanent political victory while hiding behind egalitarian or humanitarian rhetoric. As Pierre Joseph Proudhon said, “Whoever invokes humanity wants to cheat.”
As for Trump’s supposed desire to ban immigration by “Muslims,” let’s not forget that liberal humanitarian icon Jimmy Carter banned entry into the United States by Iranians during his time in office. As for Trump’s proposal to “kill the families of suspected terrorists,” let’s not forget that this has in fact been standard operating procedure for the Obama administration.
The Genuine Dangers Posed by Donald Trump
Donald Trump gives every appearance of being more liberal on a wide range of issues than the “normal” Republicans (a considerably low standard, to be sure) and often much more so. Donald Trump has certainly moved the Republican Party to the left with his ability to attract a much greater volume of working class support, and to even slightly improve the party’s standing among minorities. He has thus far rejected the genuinely dangerous Russia-baiting of the Clinton Democrats and anti-Russian hawks within his own party. He has thus far expressed a non-interventionist attitude towards Syria. He has certainly embraced a much more progressive economic outlook than what is normal for representatives of his party, and even many Democrats. Donald Trump is not personally connected to the socially and culturally reactionary elements that have long held influence in his party. He was elected to the presidency within the context of general electoral victories for minorities in local and regional elections, and for libertines over puritans. Trump’s election indicates a popular repudiation of neoliberal economics, and occurs at a time when American culture has experienced greater liberalization than ever before. Trump has dethroned both the Bush and Clinton dynasties, both of whom seemed to believe they possessed a right to rule by means of royal inheritance.
So far, so good. But this does not mean that there are not genuine problems with a Trump presidency. The main danger is that Trump will continue the policies of his predecessors in certain key areas. While Trump in many ways seems to have stronger non-interventionist instincts regarding foreign policy, he seems to be less of a principled anti-imperialist like Ron Paul or Jill Stein and more someone who simply has a “Who cares?” attitude towards dictatorships (which may be a pragmatically advantageous attitude for a president to have if it produced non-interventionist results). Trump’s primary foreign policy weakness is his apparent acceptance of the neocon lie that Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons. This is a claim that the peaceniks at the CIA and Mossad have refuted, but which the neocons, along their stooges in Congress and the media, actually have a majority of Americans believing. Trump’s ignorance on this matter could certainly be problematic if he were to surround himself with neocons hoping for a war with Iran. There is already considerable evidence that a Trump cabinet and foreign policy team will include a number of such people. The possible presence of John Bolton, Newt Gingrich, and James Woolsey among Trump’s foreign policy staff is particularly troubling. Hopefully, a President Trump will have access to genuine intelligence on the Iran question, and consequently possess enough common sense to avoid the counsel of neocon Iran hawks.
Another highly problematic area concerning Trump is his apparently uncritical view of law enforcement. It is possible, if not probable, that a Trump administration will include the likes of arch-police statist Rudy Giuliani as Attorney General, with figures like the booted-from-Phoenix Joe Arpaio or David Clarke heading up federal law enforcement agencies (although having a black man like like Clarke as the public face of the police state might be strategically advantageous, as perhaps the Left will being to realize that the police state is not merely a racial issue, but something far more complicated). The result of this will most certainly be an increase or at least a continuation in the trend towards police state expansion, mass incarceration, the prison industrial complex, the militarization of law enforcement, attacks on conventional constitutional rights, the ongoing growth of the surveillance state, and the elimination of any very limited progress that has been made in these areas in recent years. This is by far Trump’s most serious deficiency with regards to domestic policy.
Yet another area of concern has to do with Trump’s personality. As a friend writes,
“My concern is that the massive surveillance apparatus that Edward Snowden has revealed, as well as the targeted extrajudicial killings that Obama has normalized will be going to someone who has spoken out against a free press, advocated the use of torture, spoken in favor of dictators around the world, who gets offended by others easily and who lashes out against people who don’t like him. This seems to me like a recipe for an authoritarian dictatorship.”
Whatever a Trump administration may or may not be, it is unlikely to be friendly to libertarians, whether left, right, or center. Michael Fumento of The American Conservative points out that a Trump presidency may set a precedent towards strongman (or strongwoman) rule of the kind that has traditionally been the norm in Latin American countries, whether left or right, and continues to be so even though every Latin American nation except Cuba has formally democratized in recent decades. This tendency combined with the ongoing socioeconomic, ideological, cultural, and racial polarization in the USA could certainly prove to be a very undesirable situation.
A Blue Tribe Resistance and a Red Tribe Radicalization?
Many on the Left are lamenting that the Republicans will now be in control of every branch of the federal government, and a majority of the states. However, the wider society will continue to move further to the left given the various changes that are taking place in American culture, and liberals will continue to maintain representation in the House, Senate, states, localities, and as the recent election indicated, an increased diversity of representation is likely to take place as well.
Perhaps this will provide an opportunity for the Left to get off its ass and get moving. If the prospect of Republican rule is so icky, why not consider outright secession or at least decentralization? Why not bring back the antiwar protests, and antiwar/anti-police state local resolutions of the Bush years? Why not organize 1960s style mass protests? Why not build Black Lives Matter into a genuine urban insurgency and away from its present liberal reformist orientation? Meanwhile, maybe the Democrats will learn their lesson and nominate an anti-neoliberal and antiwar candidate next time around, and consequently come back with a vengeance. Maybe the far Left will learn their lesson, and realize the need to turn up the heat no matter which party is in office. The radical Left could have gained a lot of ground if the momentum of the Bush years had been continued into the Obama years.
By all means, bring on the riots and mass protests, which ought to be going on no matter what kind of regime is in power, whether Republican, Democratic, Communist, or Fascist.
Meanwhile, the Red Tribe is likely to be profoundly disappointed with a Trump administration, just as the Red Tribe has been disappointed by every Republican administration since Nixon. It is likely that as the Red Tribe continues to recognize that achieving victory by “working within the system” is impossible, the radicalization of the Red Tribe will escalate, and a growing interest in more extreme approaches such as secession, decentralization, and beyond will emerge on the Right as well.
By all means, bring on the militiamen, tax protestors, sovereign citizens, anarcho-capitalists, seasteaders, neo-reactionaries, Oathkeepers, micro-nationalists, ethnostatists and other “anarchists of the Right.”
Abolish the Presidency
Is it really to anyone’s advantage to have an election every four years for a head of state that half the country will hate and fear? One question that never gets asked is, “Why do we need a President in the first place?” The U.S. presidential system only exists because one of the founding fathers and co-authors of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, was a monarchist, albeit a proponent of an elective rather than hereditary monarchy. The Swiss constitutional system is similar to the American version, except Switzerland’s president is only a ceremonial position, elected by the parliament, and the real executive power is in the hands of a cabinet-like federal council, also elected by the parliament. The lack of a strong executive, combined with the decentralized and participatory nature of Swiss politics, has allowed the Swiss constitutional system to be far more durable than the American system, with far less government overreach, internal social strife, or involvement in pointless international conflict. Perhaps the USA should consider emulating the Swiss model.