I will be frank. I do not like Donald Trump or his presidency, so that will obviously influence the contents of this article, which will answer the question “Is Trump’s presidency meeting libertarians’ ends?”
There were a variety of reasons for libertarians to support Donald Trump, ranging from a genuine fondness towards his platform, to being disenfranchised with the Johnson/Weld campaign. Walter Block claimed that Trump was the most pragmatic option because “It is our goal to throw our weight behind the candidate who has a reasonable chance of actually becoming President of the United States whose views are closest to libertarianism.”
But this comparison would be alike to my ordering a chicken sandwich and receiving chicken flavored ramen noodles, while the waiter explains that I should enjoy it because there’s chicken in it. The ramen is not satisfactory though because it is missing the key things that make it a sandwich, like the bread, meat and any vegetables or condiments that may have accompanied it.
Libertarian Party chairman Nicholas Sarwark is also a fan of Donald Trump, but only because he thinks the President’s actions are “[…] the best recruiting tool for the Libertarian Party we’ve ever had” and that “He’s shown that the success of republicanism is the death of liberty, which is a good way to show people that there’s an option from the two-party system.”
But is the President actually enacting policies that are conducive to libertarianism? I would conclude that he is not for a variety of reasons.
The number one thing that Donald Trump has done that hurts liberty is appointing Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Since being sworn in, Sessions has attempted to bring back mandatory sentencing for drug offenders, defended a need for federal civil asset forfeiture, and essentially renew the War on Drugs.
Sessions seems bound and determined to expand the government’s power to dictate his view on what moral actions are, even if it destroys peoples’ freedom to choose which substances they may put in their body.
Repealing NAFTA and restricting trade with China were also focal points of Trump’s campaign because of the job losses it allegedly created. According to USA Today, the real estate mogul wished to “renegotiate NAFTA and impose a 35% tariff, a tax on imports, from Mexico,” or pull out of the agreement entirely should Mexico disagree, and with China he proposed a 45% tariff.
Imposing tariffs would only transfer costs back to consumers and are counterintuitive to libertarian’s value of free markets and low or non-existent taxes. International trade only helps an economy by allowing nations to use their comparative advantage to bring products to consumers at the lowest price, and placing enormous taxes on imports would only hurt U.S. citizens.
Freedom of speech has also been a shaky topic for the President, who called for NFL players to be fired for kneeling during the national anthem. Opening libel laws was also a policy suggested during the 2016 campaign, with Trump claiming “One of the things I’m going to do if I win [is] to open up our libel laws, so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. […] so when The New York Times writes a hit piece […], we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”
The ability to express one’s ideas without government interference is part of the foundation of libertarianism. If politicians (or anyone) can sue companies and people who write negatively about them, then the freedom of speech and of the press is gone. Ron Paul famously said “We don’t have the freedom of speech to talk about the weather. We have the first amendment so we can say some very controversial things.”
Donald Trump’s ideas and policies laugh in the face of the libertarian values of property rights, self-ownership and non-aggression. While many may champion the means of the Trump administration as fulfilling libertarian ends, I have to respectfully disagree, and I hope libertarians are learning that we can’t settle for close enough when close enough is a toe in the water of liberty.
* Luke Henderson is a composer, economics enthusiast and educator in St. Louis, MO. He is a budding Libertarian, joining the party in 2016, and has contributed to Being Libertarian and The Libertarian Vindicator, in addition to being an editor for the Libertarian Coalition.