Let me state a few things upfront that will answer the title of this article in the negative: Trump is not a libertarian. There are a number of policies and things he has achieved or attempted to achieve that would not be consistent with libertarian thought. He supported the ban on bump stocks (and likely would support other gun-related bans); he has never insisted on a reduction in federal spending; his trade policy is horrendous; and I hate his immigration policy (I’ve already written about my strong opposition to the wall).
So, this article should not be construed as support for President Donald Trump. I would not argue that he should be supported by libertarians. I would also not argue that he should be reelected. I have a birthday today, and so just as an analysis, I present my argument as to why he might be the most libertarian-minded President in my own lifetime.
First, let’s stack up the other presidents that I have seen during the course of 48 years, and to which we are comparing Trump:
- Richard Nixon
- Gerald Ford
- Jimmy Carter
- Ronald Regan
- George HW Bush
- Bill Clinton
- George W Bush
- Barack Obama
This is not a very libertarian list of political faces. Most libertarians would agree with that. Many of them supported major attacks on liberty and grew the size and scope of government in big ways. So, Trump doesn’t have a lot of stiff competition, at least insofar as my lifetime is concerned.
Deregulation has been a major plan of Trump’s from the beginning. The amount of regulation or deregulation under any president is difficult to determine in an empirical manner, but here’s a couple of sources to consider:
A study done by the Competitive Enterprise Institute determined that in 2017, major deregulation exceeded new regulation by a ratio of 12 to 1. In 2018, the ratio was 4 to 1. Considering Trump made the claim he would remove two regulations for every new regulation put in place, I would say he has far exceeded those expectations.
The Brookings Institute has issued a tool to track all of the Trump era deregulations. I don’t recall such tools being created for other presidents in the age of the internet (going back to Bill Clinton). It would have been more likely to have something that tracked new regulations.
According to Investor’s Business Daily, during Trump’s first year in office, he reduced the number of pages in the Federal Register of Regulations from 95,894 pages to 61,308 pages, a 36% reduction that rolls the Register back to a 1993 level. It’s safe to say that the Register has increased under every president in the list, except for Trump.
While there has been no reduction in federal budget spending under Trump, his fiscal policies have been in favor of significant tax cuts. Most notably, the income tax code was simplified to include just four tax brackets that reduce taxes on most US citizens. There was also a reduction in the corporate tax rate, even though some new policies offset some of those reductions. The benefits have found their way into corporate savings, increased corporate spending, and a greater amount of cash profits being reported in the US, as opposed to offshore. While it might be argued that Reagan tax cuts were greater after reducing absurd top rates that occurred under Carter, Trump’s cuts have had a greater impact across all income levels.
None of the previous presidents listed ever succeeded at having a face to face, real, concrete and actionable meeting with the leader of North Korea. Trump has. For the first time since the armistice, there are signs of cooling tensions, much to do with Trump’s foreign policy. This has been indicated, vocally, by leadership in South Korea.
For the first time in my lifetime, a US president has called for an end to war in places where the US has no real direct interests. Every previous president has called for hostilities and made threats to other nations under auspices of “threats to national security” when, in fact, it would have been very unlikely for such threats to ever reach our shores. For the first time, a US president seems intent on withdrawing from such regions and is even considering closing some foreign military bases. Not one of the above presidents ever made an effort to close bases.
Although his public fight with the Federal Reserve seems to stem more from their criticism of his policies than from actual opposition to a central bank, he has suggested that the country eliminate the Fed and go back to the gold standard. There isn’t a more quintessential libertarian policy I can think of. It’s been a libertarian rally cry for decades. Regardless of Trump’s motives, it a very positive thing and one that would be a huge deal. Whether it will actually be accomplished remains to be seen.
In the minds of most Republicans, Reagan would be the prior ultimate hero. He managed to usher in the breaking apart of the USSR and forever change the landscape of socialism and its strength in the world. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
However, let’s not forget that it was an enormous game of brinksmanship that came as a result of threats and, in the end, boiled down to walking out on an absolutely-critical meeting that could easily have gone the other way.
Is it really libertarian to threaten nuclear war to get another nation to end its socialist policies? That wasn’t the whole of it, of course, but it was a part. Let’s also not forget the shadow government and meddling in the affairs of countries around the world. Perhaps in my lifetime, we could assign Reagan the number two spot.
If anyone can argue that there has been greater libertarian policy under any other president in the past 48 years, I’d like to hear it.
Donald Trump is no libertarian. I will very likely not be supporting or voting for him in any upcoming election. However, it’s nice to revel a little bit in the fact that the US has become ever so slightly freer than it was a couple of years ago. I truly hope that this trajectory continues, although I would much prefer to see some changes in trade policy and immigration policy as well. I guess we can’t have it all right now, but Trump has definitely done some good.
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