May 6, 2019 Reading Time: 12 minutes

Like the carnival side shows at the circus, the candidates for the Democratic party nomination — do I even need to name the more than 20 of them? — are all standing in front of their respective campaign tents trying to attract the potential voter onlookers to join them inside, hope for that campaign contribution and support during the primaries so they will enter the center ring of the political circus big top and face Mr. Congeniality, Donald Trump, come November 2020.

The prize? Long term, to occupy for four years that most famous public-housing project in the United States: the White House. Short term, to collect as many donations as possible that can later but used to hire your friends, wield influence, and build a political machine.

So what are these Washington, D.C., public-housing desirers offering to the all-too-gullible citizens, too many of whom always seem to be naively or connivingly on the lookout for something for nothing?

The Grab Bag of Democratic Party Campaign Promises

One of them stands in front of their sideshow campaign tent and says, “See this magic wand in my hand? It was given to me by a special group of climate-friendly scientists. It gives me the secret powers to make a world free of carbon-based energy in 10 years, and without any losses or inconveniences in the quality, standard, or costs of living for you. Indeed, with me as president you will have a cleaner, better, and more productive and more socially just country through my environmental policies. It’s all just a magic wand wave away — if I’m in the White House.”

Another stands in front of their tent, assuring the listeners that gender is always and only just a state of mind. They say, “Born biologically a woman, but you feel yourself a man? No problem. I will make it against the law to not accept you and interact with you, regardless of how others view such things. In fact, I will see to it that it is illegal for others to call you anything but the pronoun of your choice. But, wait! What if you feel not only like a man, but that you are ‘Napoleon’? No problem. I will issue an executive order requiring everyone to call you either ‘General’ or ‘Emperor,’ depending upon what period of that other Napoleon’s life you most identify with. Vote for me!” America! What a country — if only you’re “progressive” enough.

Still another attracts people to the front of their campaign tent, where they are standing on a soapbox. “Come around here,” they say, “all of you loaded with student debt, fearful of your old age, and concerned about your medical needs now and into the future. Have I got some free or discounted goodies for you, and all or most of it at someone else’s expense! Student loans — gone. Social Security benefits — guaranteed and even more of them ahead. Medical and health care concerns and needs — no problem. You have a ‘right’ to free education, medical services, and happy retirement years. Where’s the money coming from for it all? That’s what taxing the wealthy 1 percent is for, or I’ll just impose price controls to lower costs, with no decrease in availability or quality. In fact, they’ll be even better than under neoliberalism and capitalism. And don’t forget, there is always a monetary printing press to cover the expenses of everything you ever wanted.” Communism may crumble, the Berlin Wall may fall, but our lovely democratic socialism is here to stay (with apologies to the Gershwin brothers).

With their circus political-campaign tents all in a row next to each other as part of that presidential greatest show on earth, those candidates each shout out louder, following a new paternalistic giveaway promise from one of the others, that they will do everything offered by the others, plus more! “Did I tell you that I would see that government gives not only all of that, but in addition…?”

Any pander, any promise, any more needed coins to be picked from other taxpayers’ pockets, just so candidate “X” will be the chosen one. Truly, a cesspool of political corruption and ideological fantasy. Remember, when House of Cards first started playing on Netflix a few years ago, congressional politicians, when asked if Washington was really like that, mostly replied, “Yes, except for the murders, perhaps.”

Donald Trump’s Rhetorical Shock and Awful

Let’s not forget to be fair and balanced. Who is waiting in that center ring under the political circus big top? Donald Trump is there to face the lucky Democratic party choice — assuming, of course, that he is not impeached. You should never say never in politics. Just recall Richard Nixon’s huge landslide reelection in 1972. Poor George McGovern, he only won Massachusetts and the District of Columbia in the Electoral College, not even his home state of South Dakota. And then that little Watergate thing happened. You never know.

Think back to the 2016 Republican primary season. The GOP was hailing that never in many years had the party offered the voters such an informed, experienced, and thoughtful field of a dozen candidates for the Republican nomination. Surely it would be any one of them, other than — no, not him — Donald Trump. His rivals for the nomination fell like flies swatted by his bombastic bullying, his colorful name-calling, and his general rudeness and crudeness at his rallies around the country. When one of Trump’s rivals decided to fight fire with fire, and responded with the rhetoric of suggesting that not all of Trump’s anatomical parts were “huge,” he only came across as a copycat fool and simpleton.

Now, three years into his presidency, like a Pied Piper, Trump seems to have mesmerized almost all in the Republican party to follow him, with his in-your-face politically incorrect rhetoric and presence, leading many of those in the GOP away from whatever remnants had remained of their individual-liberty, free trade, and limited-government campaign promises, even if it was rarely matched with any actual in-office practices.

Tax Cuts, Entitlement Guarantees, and Growing Debt

What has been the essence of Trump’s time in office, so far? The tax cut of 2018 is hailed as his big win in domestic policy. Any friend of freedom must consider it a good thing when those who have peacefully earned income in their private marketplace dealings are allowed to keep more of what is honestly theirs. But any reduced government revenues resulting from the tax cuts not fully compensated by greater increased tax revenues from growth in work, savings, and investment is merely replaced with borrowed dollars.

Earlier in his administration, when Trump told his cabinet members to be looking around for across-the-board 5 percent cuts in their respective budgets, he made it very plain that Americans love their Social Security and Medicare-Medicaid benefits, and these were not to be touched. The problem is, they are the primary source of out-of-control government spending that will only become even more fiscally unsustainable in the years and decades ahead, as the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds have made very clear in their annual reports.

Either “entitlement” taxes will have to go up, or benefit increases will have to be slowed down, or the retirement age will have to be raised to be eligible for all these transfers, or some combination of these will be done, to keep kicking the can down the political road. Of course, the real and only sound solution, and one that is consistent with a politics of freedom, is the full privatization and de-politicization of these core programs of the welfare state. Even to suggest this drives all those in the Democratic party into apoplectic fits, and the Republicans either no longer can imagine a world without the redistributive state or are too cowardly to run for office telling their constituents the unvarnished truth. (See my articles “There Is No Social Security Santa Claus,” “Debts and Deficits Are Out of Control,” and “Abolish the Welfare State to Solve the National Debt Crisis.”)

Trump as the Pied Piper of GOP Paternalism and Protectionism

It is also worth recalling that when Trump delivered his inaugural address in January 2017, there were some words noticeably missing: liberty and limited government. Not once did he refer to these core ideas that were the basis of the founding of the country. Oh, there were references to “making America great, again,” and government intruding into the marketplace to steer industry and trade into those directions that Trump considered best. But gone was even the Republican rhetoric of restoring the spirit of individualism, liberating the market from government planning and redistribution, or returning to constitutional restraint on political overreach.

At that time and ever since he took office, the watchwords for Donald Trump have been “America First” through trade wars that are “easy to win” and pressuring businesses to invest in America where the president thinks manufacturing and jobs should be located. What happened to the Republican party mantra that free markets know better than arrogant and tax-spending bureaucrats? All down a memory hole of “, Trump knows best what is right for America.”

Republicans once offered themselves as the champions of free enterprise and free trade. Freedom of trade among nations widened the arena of global competition so all consumers, here in America and abroad, benefited from the creative rivalry of the international marketplace. Businessmen guided by consumer-demand-driven profit opportunities knew where and how to run their private enterprises better than the arrogant social engineers in Washington, D.C.

Trump has made them all into supporters of mercantilist market manipulation. They all now say how foreign competitors “steal jobs,” ruin American enterprises, and make America weak and small. Well, at least these Republicans are now more honestly “out of the closet,” since they publicly used to say they were for freedom and free enterprise, but more often than not voted for all the pork and trade restrictions their voting constituents wanted from them so they could stay in office. Now their words more accurately match their legislative actions. (See my articles “The Economic Nationalism of Donald Trump,” ‘The Zero-Sum World of Donald Trump,” “Trump’s Economic Warfare Targets Innocent Bystanders,” “Trade Deficits Don’t Matter — Unless Caused by Government,”Trump’s Protectionist Follies Threaten a Trade War,” and “Trade Wars and the Fallacy of the Balance of Trade.”)

Donald Trump vs. a 19th-Century Liberal on Immigration

Republicans, however inconsistently, again, in practice, used to say that we should be proud of an America that has been a beacon and the home to tens of millions of immigrants who came here for freedom and opportunity, and who added to the richness of what it meant to be an American by adding more human ingredients to the melting pot of the country. No more. They parrot Trump’s words that everyone trying to come from “south of the border” is a drug dealer, a rapist, or a murderer, if not some combination of all three. Even the little children are to be feared for these same reasons, no doubt, whichand is why Trump wants to separate them from their illegal-migrant parents so to teach “them” a lesson about against daring to cross a line or a river on the political map of the world.

Of course, this is nothing new. The fear of foreign workers, the concern of declining morals, the criticism of aliens on welfare and voting without being citizens, was all heard long ago. Traveling in the United States from 1834 to 1836, Harriet Martineau, the well-known British classical-liberal feminist and author of the widely read Illustrations of Political Economy (1832), found such arguments already prevalent in that much-earlier America.

She explained that every immigrant came with hands to do needed and desired work; that the experience of freedom educated those not culturally familiar with it; and that if political corruptions were seen in the form of these non-citizen immigrants voting in elections and sometimes more than once on the same day (!), or getting government welfare-type handouts, the problem was not with the migrant, but with an American political system that allowed or fostered such unethical things.

Harriet Martineau wrote in her Society in America (1837):

The immigration of foreigners was the one complaint by which I was met in every corner of the free [Northern] States; and I really believe I did not converse with a dozen persons who saw the ultimate good through the present apparent evil.… Every American acknowledges that few or no canals or railroads would behe in existence now, in the United States, but for the Irish labor by which they have been completed; and the best cultivation that is to be seen in the landlaud is owing to the Dutch and Germans it contains. What would housekeepers do for domestic service without foreigners?

If the American ports had been barred against immigration, and the sixty thousand foreigners per annum, with all their progeny, had been excluded, where would now have been the public works of the United States, the agriculture, the shipping? [The U.S. population was 12.8 million in 1830 and 17 million in 1840; about 538,000 immigrants came to America during the 1830s, making up about 15 percent of the population growth.]

The most emphatic complainers of the immigration of foreigners are those who imagine that the morals of society suffer thereby. My own conviction is that the morals of society, on the whole, are thereby much improved. It is candidly allowed, by all hands, that the passion of the Irish for the education of their children is a great set-off against the bad qualities some of them exhibit in their own persons; and that the second and third generations of Irish are among the most valuable citizens of the republic.…

My own opinion is that most of the evils charged upon the immigrants are chargeable upon the mismanagement of them in the ports. The atrocious corruption of the New York elections, where an Irishman, just landed, and employed upon the drains, perjures himself, and votes nine times over, is chargeable, not upon immigration, nor yet upon universal suffrage, but upon faults in the machinery of [voter] registration.

Again, if the great pauper-palace, over the Schuylkill, 
near Philadelphia be half full of foreigners; if it be true that an Irish woman was seen to walk round it, and heard to observe that she should immediately write over for all her relations; the evil is chargeable upon there being a pauper-palace, with the best of food and clothing, and no compulsion to work, in a country where there is far more work and wages than there are hands to labor and earn.

There is in New York a benevolent gentleman who exercises a most useful and effectual charity. He keeps a kind of registry office for the demand and supply of emigrant labor; takes charge of the funds of such emigrants as are fortunate enough to have any; and befriends them in every way. He declares that he has an average of six situations on his list ready for every sober, able-bodied man and woman that lands at New York.

She recounts, also, of scam artists and con men who would bilk the immigrant newcomer out of the meager savings with which they had come to America, leaving them with nothing to start their new life other than with the labor of their two hands and the desire to make good with their fresh start in the United States. But there was plenty of work to be done across this new land:; farms to settle on, towns to build, commerce and industry to develop, transportation means to form to offer to cut the distances and widen the markets connecting dispersed communities being formed. Virtually every immigrant was an asset, and not a liability.

It is no different today, in this vast and spacious land able to make room for tens of millions more in both existing communities and undeveloped or underdeveloped areas of the continental United States. If it be said, what new cities? How? Where? Harriet Martineau described her journeys to the American “West” — that is, to Detroit, Chicago, and Milwaukee, for instance, where there were only the starting rudiments of what we now consider metropolitan areas (with Milwaukee at that time only populated with a few hundred people out of which there were only seven women). All that was needed then and now were liberty and free market opportunities. (See my article “Freedom to Move: Personal Liberty or Government Control?” parts I and II.)

Donald Trump has reawakened in some all the worst instincts of fear and dislike of “the stranger.” It was captured in his remark that he couldn’t understand why there weren’t more immigrants to the United States that looked like Norwegians rather than people from Haiti. The government is to centrally plan how many come to America, from where, and with what skills or abilities. I would ask the reader to reflect upon where they might be today — or whether they would have even been born and alive right now — if their ancestors had not had the freedom to come from the “old country” to the United States at some earlier time.?

The Great Political Show on Earth — On the Road to Collectivism

So here we are, with the presidential election cycle already in full swing. The Democrats, one and all, are united in two things: dethroning Donald Trump in 2020, and an implied agreement that the way to get the American public to nominate one of them in the primary process and then put the chosen one in the White House in the general election is to sink to any means necessary by bribing various segments of the population to vote for them through promises of a political candy store that is full of regulatory, redistributed, and ideologically sanctimonious goodies.

No mention is given to the costs imposed, restrictions increased, or controls put in place over people’s lives that will follow through the extension or introduction of each and every one of these “progressive” programs leading to a promised social and economic paradise. “Tickets, get your one-way tickets to Utopia. All aboard. First stop, Social Justice Fantasyland, followed by Identity Politics Plunder Village, and ending with our final stop in Democratic Socialism Serfdom City.”

Or, take a return trip on the Republican Railway Line. Don’t miss your chance to once again visit Buffoonery Bluff with your host, Donald “I Can’t Stop My Fingers From Tweeting the First Random Thought That Comes Into My Head” Trump. Be sure to join him as he takes you on that Southern border tour of the Wall, or the Barrier, or the Reinforced Fence, or whatever he may call it at that time to justify that he did what he promised to his political base to keep “them” out, somehow, somewhere, with some amount of other people’s money.

And you definitely want to be with Trump when he shows you those “beautiful and huge” protectionist palisades looking over the rest of the world as you experience the higher costs and fewer varieties of all those attractive foreign-made goods that you used to enjoy to a much greater and less expensive extent before our Make America Great president explained to all of us that less is preferred to more, and buying high and selling low is the path to more prosperity. By golly, it makes me proud to be an American. How about you?

And let’s not forget Trump’s amazing foreign-policy sleights of hand. First, we are leaving Afghanistan and Syria, and then we are not — indefinitely. First, we say we are shocked by the murderous actions of the Saudi Arabian government in killing one of their own in their Istanbul consulate, and then Trump reminds us about what a good friend the House of Saud is because they buy so much military hardware from us. Remember, it’s all about good American jobs. And let’s not forget that Trump promised that America should not be a global policeman when other governments do bad things. But just look at the interventionist rabbit he says he may pull out of the executive authority hat to militarily remove the socialist government of Venezuela.

Yes, the greatest political show on earth. It’s just too bad that so few of the performers that are listed on the campaign-program flyers to entertain us have any belief in and policy platforms for advancing individual liberty, free markets, the impartial rule of law, or constitutionally limited government. Still, sit back and watch the show, and experience also being taken for a ride on the collectivism carousel.

Richard M. Ebeling

Richard M. Ebeling

Richard M. Ebeling, an AIER Senior Fellow, is the BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel, in Charleston, South Carolina.

Ebeling lived on AIER’s campus from 2008 to 2009.

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