Bruce Bawer, Is an America governed by the ideas of AOC and Bernie Sanders really what libertarians want?
Don’t laugh, but once upon a time I was so naïve that I thought libertarians were really about liberty.
I even thought that they had an important raison d’être. Back in the day when some of us were uneasy both with GOP preaching on social issues and with Democrat statism, the libertarians seemed to offer a sensible place in between. I also remember having the impression that, even if you disagreed with them on some issues, at least they were ideologically consistent, which meant that they were principled.
But then I met some libertarians. I liked and respected a few. But others proved to be world-class oddballs, misfits, potheads, and crackpots. If they weren’t hatching plans for independent countries built on abandoned oil rigs, they were writing mad, elaborate political manifestos that seemed to have zero to do with liberty. And some were well-nigh indistinguishable from your standard-issue leftist, like the self-described “bleeding-heart anarchist” and “libertarian socialist” (!) whose savage review of The Victims’ Revolution, my 2012 critique of identity studies, in Reason, the libertarians’ flagship rag, could have been written by any multicultural academic.
People used to write pieces asserting that most Americans were really libertarians but didn’t realize it. Some even said we were approaching a “libertarian moment” when this silent majority would finally take over. But I eventually came to see that while libertarians were thick on the ground in Washington, D.C., they had few constituents outside the Beltway – aside, that is, from the corporations that paid their think tanks to spew out principled-sounding arguments for policies that would line their pockets.
Reason‘s motto is “Free minds and free markets.” The leading libertarian think tank, Cato, says on its website that it’s “dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace.” The key words here are “free markets.” No freedom matters to libertarians more. Not freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of assembly, or the freedom to bear arms. Just free markets. Oh, and open borders, of course. On these two tenets, the libertarian movement will brook no compromise. (To be sure, I do know people at libertarian institutions who privately express concern about open borders – and about Islam, too – although they share these views only with trusted friends.)
And they’ve held firm even as the downside of free markets and open borders has become increasingly clear. For years, the U.S. government allowed cheap Chinese products – products manufactured in a Communist country by low-wage workers – to flood the American market, while Chinese tariffs effectively barred our products from the Chinese market. The result was the near-destruction of our manufacturing sector and the concomitant weakening of our economy, even as China boomed. Yet libertarians viewed these developments with equanimity.
When Trump became president, he took on the China challenge, noting that so-called free trade was not necessarily the same as fair trade. At the same time, he liberated businesses from a host of needless regulations. And the long-dormant economy exploded. American job numbers reached record heights. On a number of fronts, Trump stood up for freedom, even as socialists captured the Democratic Party. You’d think that libertarians, who’d long worked alongside Republicans to achieve shared economic goals, would be happier than ever to join hands with the Grand Old Party.
Think again. In two recent essays, both of which have been enthusiastically shared in libertarian circles, prominent libertarians announce their total opposition to Trump in the coming election. While both authors offer reasonable criticisms of a few Trump policies, both refuse to see the forest for the trees.
The titles of both pieces leave no doubt as to the authors’ positions. Jacob Grier’s article, which appears at the ARC Digital website, is headlined “A Pox on One of Their Houses”; Matt Welch’s piece, published in the November issue of Reason, is entitled “The Case against Trump: Trump Is an Enemy of Freedom.” Both writers aver that they plan to vote for Biden. Why? Greer’s answer: the GOP “has hitched its wagon to an aspiring if not yet actual authoritarian, and as a lover of freedom and liberal democracy, the desire to see him thoroughly defeated has taken precedence over other competing values.” Not only is Trump “not libertarian, not even somewhat,” maintains Grier, he is “a boor, and not very bright, and needlessly inflammatory, and corrupt, and incompetent, and racist, and credibly accused by more than 20 women of various acts of sexual misconduct.” In short, the usual tiresome Democratic litany. Welch pretty much agrees.
Both writers criticize Trump’s high levels of spending – without mentioning that the cost of Biden’s proposals, including the Green New Deal, would dwarf Trump’s expenditures. But both writers’ real concern – surprise! – is trade. “Free trade,” writes Grier, “has suffered mightily under Trump, with tariffs on steel, aluminum, and worst of all, whiskey.” Grier bemoans the “forced sale of TikTok,” without mentioning that the reason for the sale was that the previous owner, the Chinese government, was in a position to use the TikTok app to spy on Americans. Grier also laments Trump’s “threats to use the power of the state to punish his enemy Jeff Bezos of Amazon and The Washington Post.” What did Trump do to Bezos? Because Amazon knowingly sells Chinese knockoffs of American products, Trump’s administration placed several Amazon platforms on a blacklist of websites that sell counterfeit and pirated items. In both cases, then, Grier takes the side of Chinese malefactors against legitimate U.S. interests.
Welch carries water for China, too. attacking Trump for turning the GOP “into a vehicle for big-government nationalism that’s openly suspicious of free markets and perceived enemies” – the obvious implication being that China is only a “perceived” enemy and not a real one. Welch lambastes Trump’s assertive response to Chinese tariffs, calling him “the first GOP presidential candidate to successfully campaign on trade protectionism since Herbert Hoover.” No mention that Trump’s “trade protectionism” resulted in much fairer trade and brought back jobs in a spectacular way, yielding the best employment figures in generations. Welch even gripes about Trump having “spent precious time dubbing COVID-19 the ’China virus.’” Exactly how much more time does it take to say “China virus” than to say “COVID 19”? And exactly how much can a self-identified libertarian shill for a Communist state without drowning in shame?
From trade, both writers proceed to do a lot of hand-wringing about Trump’s immigration policies, keeping up the standard libertarian pretense of caring about immigrants (including illegal aliens) when their real concern is for employers out to suppress wages. Trump’s immigration policies, Grier charges, make Americans “less free to work with [foreigners], hire them, and welcome them than our neighbors.” The president, writes Grier, “has shamefully shut our doors to refugees,” has instituted “policies of intentional cruelty at our southern border,” and has enacted a “notorious Muslim ban.”
Welch is also upset about the “Muslim ban.” (It’s interesting that while libertarians profess to cherish freedom, they’re never honest about the likely consequences of welcoming sharia enthusiasts into the U.S.) He protests Trump’s efforts to reduce chain immigration through “family reunification,” even though such policies have been a disaster for Western Europe. And he speaks of Trump’s “opposition to the free movement of people from countries he disfavors,” without admitting that if the President “disfavors” these countries it’s not because of some odd personal animus but because the people who come to the U.S. from those countries are more likely than travelers from other countries to be spies or terrorists. Grier makes a special point of decrying Trump’s restrictions on foreign students in U.S. universities, which, he contends, makes America “less humane and less rich.” Again, given that many Chinese students (and faculty) have been unmasked as spies and that more than a few terrorists started out as foreign students, this policy, quite simply, makes America safer.
Some of these writer’s claims parrot Democratic and media talking points. Grier accuses Trump of “cheering on of violent policing,” of “gassing…peaceful protesters,” and of lending “tacit support [to] white supremacists.” All lies, of course. Grier denounces Trump’s “‘enemy of the people’ rhetoric toward the press,” but doesn’t acknowledge the media’s full-bore disinformation campaign against the president.
Both writers reach the same conclusion. Here’s how Grier puts it: electing Biden, “a moderate centrist with a 50-year career in public service,” might usher in “unlibertarian” policies, but would at least “preserve the institutions that make liberal democracy and normal politics possible.” Um, what? What about Biden’s participation in the Obama White House’s treasonous, unprecedented coup attempt? Or the Democrats’ plans for massive government overreach, including the elimination of private health insurance, the outlawing of gas and coal, and the overhaul or even reconstruction of millions of buildings to meet new energy-use rules? Neither Grier nor Welch addresses these matters seriously.
Moreover, while both of them smear Trump as an authoritarian, racist, white supremacist, and enemy of freedom, neither has a thing to say about the Democrats’ support for Antifa and BLM, their contempt for the Bill of Rights, their enthusiasm for the institutionalization of Critical Race Theory in the government and military, and their eagerness to lock in Democratic control in perpetuity by packing the Supreme Court, eliminating the filibuster, and giving statehood to Puerto Rico and D.C. Neither Grier nor Welch is willing to face the fact that a Biden or Harris administration would expand the state, punish errant thoughts, transform America’s democratic institutions to an extent that Wilson or FDR never imagined, and allow the U.S. to become a second-tier power in a Beijing-dominated world.
Is an America governed according to the ideas of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders really what libertarians want? Judging by these two pieces, alas, yes. Which goes to show just how little concern our leading libertarians have for liberty, and just how much their views reflect the short-term financial interests of their short-sighted and unpatriotic paymasters.