– April 6, 2020
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Every late afternoon, the American people have been able to tune into a presidential press conference detailing the day’s events and governmental decisions concerning the coronavirus. Donald Trump is usually joined by vice president Mike Pence, and medical experts, Dr. Anthony Fouci and Dr. Deborah Birx, who are on the president’s coronavirus taskforce, plus other members of his presidential team. But President Trump is always center stage, claiming credit for all the “good” news and usually trying to shift blame to others for any of the “bad” news.   

While he attempts to tone it down, Donald Trump is still Donald Trump, that is, overly bombastic, boorish, and blustery. He first denied the seriousness of the danger of the coronavirus for America, and then recently said we will be lucky if only 100,000 to 200,000 people succumb to the virus, while many more suffer from its effects while finally recovering. He suggested that it should be “business as usual” and then called for people to cautiously stay at home in “hotspots.” 

Trump reminded us that private enterprise and its innovative abilities is the core of American society as well as an engine of creativity to help get over the health crisis, but then invoked a Korean-War era executive power to command private business firms to start manufacturing particular products considered by him to be essential for healthcare givers working with victims of the crisis. 

Budget Busting Bills and Heavy-Handed Regulation

The president said that a few billion dollars would possibly do the trick to help affected businesses suffering the financial fallout of the coronavirus, but then was happy to sign a $2 trillion government giveaway for practically everyone in the entire country. Reports were afloat that he might at least temporarily rescind some or many of the import tariffs he had already put in place, but he then publicly declared that tariffs are still a wonderful thing for America, and he might add more for the energy industry. 

The cumulative effect of all of the federal government’s activities up until now have been to make fighting the coronavirus worse than it has had to be. Future historians will, hopefully, write many devastating accounts of how government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) seemed to do all in their power to hinder and restrict private sector responses of more rapid and effective virus testing kits, the development of alternative quantities of usable ventilators that have been in short supply in various places, and hampered other private companies from producing additional supplies of commodities such as hand sanitizers because that didn’t meet certain FDA standards having nothing to do with their effectiveness or the safety of the substitute product.   

The friend of freedom can only despair over the direction the country is moving in, in the face of growing and often arbitrary political power being used by state governments, as well as by the national government, in the face of this tragic and terrible health crisis that is plaguing the world. 

Belief and confidence in personal liberty and economic freedom are being increasingly shunted aside in the name of the politicians at the various levels of government doing “something.” It is not unreasonable to be fearful for the future of freedom when this crisis will have finally passed.  

What If Donald Trump Believed in Freedom?

So, at a time like this, the mind wonders, what if Donald Trump woke up tomorrow and by some amazing miracle was transformed into a friend of freedom, free markets, and constitutionally limited government. How might he then carry out his next daily coronavirus crisis news conference update?

The President: Ladies and gentlemen and other members of the press, now is not a time for my usual criticisms of most of you. So for all of you fake newsmakers in the media, you bankrupt losers in the has-been Democratic Party, and in the corrupt deep state bureaucracies, I am not going to insult or even mention you today, no matter how much you continue to deserve it. Vice president Mike Pence will be communicating with the state governors about some of the details of what I want to share with you today, since I do not directly talk to many of them because very few have publicly shared their appreciation of me. 

Jim Acosta, put your hand down or I’ll have it put into permanent mandatory quarantine. One of my staff members sent me a tweet that I have the authority to do that under a never rescinded Civil War emergency decree. When I’m finished I may or may not continue to ignore you. 

To start with, I am still determined to make and keep America great, but what is it that makes a country great? I realized that in all my speeches and rallies around the United States over the last several years, both before and after my election to the presidency, I seem to have never referred to either individual liberty or limited government. 

Liberty is What Made America Great

What makes a country and its people great are the ideas and principles that it stands for, not whether it necessarily has a particular industry or type of employment. What made America different and unique in human history was the conscious and intentional desire to establish a political system that recognized the right of each and every individual to their life, liberty, and honestly acquired property under an impartial rule of law. None of us needs to be reminded how inconsistent and sometimes egregiously hypocritical Americans have been in the nation’s history in recognizing, respecting, and protecting everyone’s rights to these things. 

But the principle of individual liberty and freedom of enterprise, along with their accompanying civil liberties, have been the ideas and ideals that we have attempted to live by and implement, however imperfectly. Those ideas and ideals have always prodded America and its people over the years and the decades into practicing more of what we said we believed in. 

Aroused into appreciating this spirit of liberty in the midst of this terrible coronavirus crisis, I am now going to set the tone for a different group of ideas from those that have guided attitudes and government policies up to now. To begin with, I have asked for and accepted the resignation of Peter Navarro as the Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy. The reason for this is that I am abolishing that position. 

Freedom of Trade Instead of Tariff Barriers

After decades of wrong thinking on this policy, I now understand that the best foreign trade policy for America or any other country is free trade. Nor am I asking for any reciprocities from our trading partners. I am eliminating all the import taxes and related trade restrictions that I have imposed by executive order during my current term in the office of the presidency. And I shall be submitting to Congress legislation to remove all other barriers to freedom of trade between the United States and the other countries of the world. 

Especially at a time like the present, our businesses and enterprises do not need these political and artificial increases in their cost of doing business when so many are struggling to find ways to remain financially afloat, without which they cannot keep producing and employing their workers. Neither Peter Navarro nor I nor anyone else knows the most efficient, competitive and profitable lines of production and employment other than those enterprising and hardworking businessmen and workers in an open and truly free market economy. 

Ending Bureaucratic Planning and Allowing Competition

Keeping this last comment in mind, I am instructing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to immediately remove all rules and regulations prohibiting or preventing the ability of private firms throughout the economy to unrestrictedly use their knowledge, skills and talents and resources to develop and devise ways of meeting the needs of our medical centers and the public at large in terms of ventilators, face masks, hand sanitizers, and the research and experimentation with possible anti-coronavirus treatments. 

This is a first step for future legislation that I will propose to Congress for the repeal of the Pure Food and Drug Act. It is time to directly face the reality that such bureaucratic monstrosities are responsible for the delays and hindrances that have prevented more rapid responses to fighting this deadly disease that threatens so many of us. 

It is time to finally realize that central planning does not work, not only in the making of toilet paper and other daily needs of life (as we have recently seen, once more, in Venezuela), but even here in America with the rigid regulatory structure of the FDA. The private sector should not be hamstrung by bureaucracies and vested interests, inside and outside government, who pursue personal gains and ideological goals through a spider’s web of regulatory restrictions that prevent the research, testing and manufacturing of pharmaceuticals essential for the saving and betterment of human life. 

There are many avenues for privately based regulatory standards that would have none of the encumbrances of the existing regulatory state, and all the benefits of adaptive flexibility and innovative discovery that comes from giving free minds a free rein within the traditional bases of legal responsibility.

Market-Based Prices, Not Anti-Gouging Laws

Also reflecting the desirability for dynamic and adaptive free enterprise, I am revoking vice president Pence’s call for federal oversight and action against what is misguidedly called “price gouging” during an emergency. Free and competitive prices are absolutely and unconditionally essential to provide the information and serve as the profit-making incentive to tell people the various goods that are most needed, and to provide the private sector motivation to be moving the available supplies to where they are most needed without bureaucratic backseat drivers and threats of punishment for actually serving the interests of society far better and more adaptively than any government planner. 

It also sets loose the possibility of gain to provide the added incentive to find or manufacture substitutes to fill these unexpected and urgent requirements, until added supplies of the usually used products can be geared up on the assembly lines. Higher market prices in such emergency situations, likewise, serve as an economizing incentive precisely to make sure the available supply more reasonably gets in the hands of those who need or want them, while not creating artificial shortages that only make the bad situation worse. 

Federalism Rather Than Centralized Government

A foundation stone of the American constitutional system is federalism, that is, the division powers and responsibility between the national government and that of the state governments. In fact, there is nothing in the text of the Constitution, itself, giving the national government in Washington, D.C. any responsibility or authority to introduce restrictions and controls or commands over the conduct and behavior of the citizens of the country during a natural disaster or even a health emergency. The power and responsibility for facing such tragedies lie with the people, themselves, and the state governments.  

It may be in the purview of New York State governor Andrew Cuomo to announce his intention to seize any medical equipment and supplies in the ownership and possession of private companies and medical institutions to, then, redistribute them among health and medical establishments around his state, as he arrogantly sees fit. But as president of the United States, it is not in my authority to stop him, if the New York State law and court system permit such dictatorial and arbitrary power to the person sitting in the governor’s mansion in Albany. 

However, as a citizen of these United States, I will say that I consider this a dark and dangerous power to allow and acquiesce in the use of by any government office holder. It upends the very principle of private property and asserts the right of a democratically elected “king” to do as he pleases with the persons and possessions of the people of his state, regardless of the rationale of a serious emergency.  

There are many other matters that I could talk about today in the context of my changed views concerning the role and responsibility of government in such an emergency, including the $2 trillion budget buster bill that Congress recently passed and which I signed, but which I now wish I had not. I have made up my mind that I will not sign future such spending bills coming out of the Congress. 

I will now take some of your questions. 

Free Markets Instead of Straightjacketing Government

(Several of the handful of mainstream media reporters who are “social distancing” in the press conference room go into hyper-ventilating shock. What better proof, they murmur to each other, that Trump is a racist and sexist who hates freedom and anyone making less than six figures each year. Other more “conservative” reporters are confused on how to phrase a softball question to show how much they still love the president, even though what he is saying today is not what they were cheering for him doing yesterday.)

Jim Acosta, CNN: (He starts raising his hand, but shifts to putting his hand on his ear and waving his elbow): Mr. President, these policy proposals are a total turn away from everything that other governments around the world have been and are doing. Aren’t you risking the lives of tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of Americans so rich companies can make even more unethical millions? Doesn’t what you now say prove that you hate “the little guy” and still have no respect for reporters like me, who may be biased against you, but thereby demonstrate their moral superiority over all those who do not vote enthusiastically for any and all Democratic Party candidates? 

Trump: Keep your hand on your ear, Jim. The sergeant-at-arms right over there can arrest you if I just move my little pinky. But to your question. It is precisely because I care about my fellow Americans, especially the most in danger at a time like now, that I call for these policy and regulatory changes. I now have a better understanding of how free markets can work when left free from heavy-handed bureaucratic controls and regulations. 

We need to set every creative and innovative mind to work in every possible corner of society to deal with the many-sided facets of the coronavirus crisis. Adaptation, adjustment, and coordination of all that is and can be productively done in the society cannot be limited and reduced to what a handful of regulators decide is the right thing to do on the basis of their own judgment and that of the advisors they choose to listen to, within the government playbook of rules and regulations.

Freedom is the only institutional mechanism that enables the process to work to the best that is humanly possible. I will not accept any more bottlenecks and barriers to price-guided market opportunity and possibility, so we can get ahead of this disease. This is the path to saving lives, supplying needed equipment and safety garb. At the end of the day, this will do far more to make it possible to get this virus behind us than all the centrally dictating and directing decrees from Washington, D.C.  

 If, as it is sometimes said, a virus like this one is the “great lever” because it recognizes no social, economic or political distinctions in bringing healthy people down, the free market is the great uplifter of people that not only eliminates poverty in general but places all the knowledge, wisdom and ability of everyone in society at the disposal of all to escape from want and illnesses like the present one. 

Social Authority Instead of Political Authority to Solve Problems

Hallie Jackson, MSNBC: Mr. President, what about presidential leadership with a call for everyone, everywhere, to stay at home, except for essential services and consumer needs? Don’t we need national guidance to help stop the transmission of the coronavirus? Doesn’t your failure to endorse and follow “progressive” paternalistic policies of bigger and more expensive and intrusive government in the present crisis for people’s own good, show that you disrespect women, hate “people of color,” and are an anti-Semitic, race-baiting bigot? I’m just the reporter of facts, here, Mr. President, I have no opinion of my own. 

Trump: I will repeat part of my opening remarks that there is a division of powers in the American Constitutional system of government. The text of the Constitution, itself, and the 9th and 10th Amendments to the Constitution, which were part of the original Bill of Rights, makes it very clear that these are matters for the people and their state governments; not the national government. 

Under my watch, given my new understandings of freedom and a free society, I have no intention of reinforcing the misguided precedent that the national government can do anything it wants as long as the rationale seems justified in the eyes of enough people, including among the intellectual elite, too many of whom in modern America have lost any sense of the meaning and purpose of a limited government. 

Furthermore, I am not convinced that in this matter as well as many others a “one-size-fits-all” approach is the most wise and helpful. A free society is not sustainable, both in normal circumstances and in times of adversity, if we assume that the people as individuals and in voluntary groups and associations are unable to reasonably and judicially find the best means to advance their safety and health in such a situation. 

I want to be clear; I am not saying that informed and expert opinion is not useful and even vital at a moment like our present one. But it is necessary that we distinguish between social and political authority. We draw upon the knowledge and experience of those with specialized expertise all the time. We consult with and often follow the advice and recommendations of the medical doctor, the trained lawyer, a realty expert when looking for a house, or a psychiatrist when we are suffering from some psychological problems and difficulties. 

We accept their “authority” in the sense of their knowledge and experience in this corner of life better than our own. But we also take for granted the right of people to reject or accept the advice offered. We all know that in these and many other specialized areas of professional life, there are wide differences of opinion and judgment as to the best way to deal with the problem for which the individual is looking for a solution. 

Just in the current coronavirus crisis, should we all be using face masks when out in public, or not? Is it all right to associate in small groups of, well, which is it – 50 people, 10 people, only two persons, while keeping 6 feet apart, or is it 25 feet away? Or should we not go out of our homes at all, based upon our age, our medical preconditions, our sex, whether we are living in rural areas or in dense urban communities? And do not the answers change with new information, including the regional growth of the virus, and is there still not differences of recommended opinion among the experts even with this new information? 

I have more confidence in the making of right decisions on these and many other matters when the decision-making is made by free individuals, in local and voluntary associations of the community and the marketplace, and all based on the “authority” of those who have built up confidence and trust through their professionalism and proof of accuracy in the past and in the present situation. 

This is different from the political “authority” of those who wield the power of force to make all conform to that one-size-fits-all, who if they are wrong can bring both medical and economic disaster upon the entire society over which they have coercive jurisdiction. Decentralized competition of discovery and improvement in all areas and aspects of life, including in a medical emergency like the present one, is always superior and more trustworthy to find the answers to our joint problems than when we rely upon and get confined within what the political leaders and their experts decide is “right” and to which they can make all of us conform. 

So, no, Ms. Jackson, I do not think I should take the lead in straightjacketing the entire country into what I think is right – even though I am the smartest person I’ve ever met. Just ask me!

Let’s Make Americans Free Again

Chanel Rion, OAN: Mr. President, so these are the policy shifts that will continue to make America great again? Many Americans drawn to your message four years ago were looking to you for leadership, and still do. So how would you encapsulate your new stance on these issues, which we will show over and over again on the One America News Network, until every one of our viewers can repeat it from memory?

Trump: I have a new campaign slogan more in keeping with my new political view of things. It is, “Make Americans Free Again.” This is an idea and an ideal truly worth fighting for and reestablishing here in the United States. It is what made America different from all the other countries of the world, that made America a beacon for those still living under various forms of tyranny in other lands and made many of them want to come to America. And, yes, under my new view of things, I will stop the building of that wall along the Mexican border. We should want bridges to freedom and free trade, not barriers and blockages. 

These are dangerous times. Not only because of a terrible, life-threatening virus. But because there are many in our society who see this as an opportunity to move the country even further in a radically collectivist direction, even more removed from the founding ideas and practices that made America great as a free country of free people, associating in freedom in the marketplace and in the arenas of voluntary association of civil society. 

Coming out of the coronavirus crisis more dedicated to and successful in restoring a society of liberty really would be huge and beautiful. Our slogan: Make Americans Free Again. 

Please be sure to air this message as many times as you can on OAN. This time my words are words of liberty and limited government. Thank you, until tomorrow’s press conference. 

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Unfortunately, this is not like any press conference or public address that Donald Trump or any other recent president has had or made, certainly no president in the 21st century. But it is the press conference or public address that any friend of freedom should wish a president would make, both to confront the coronavirus crisis, and to reestablish a free America when this terrible health tragedy has finally run its course. 

Richard M. Ebeling

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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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