January 18, 2021 Reading Time: 12 minutes

It has often been said that religious wars are the most unforgiving because one or both protagonists are absolutely, if not fanatically, certain that “the” truth is on their side. This is threatening to become the situation in America today with the ideological dogmatism seen in the mindset and extremism of the identity politics warriors and cancel culture crusaders, and their allies in the political party that has swept into controlling power in Washington, D.C. as a result of the recent presidential and congressional elections. 

We see that not only to the victor goes the spoils, but a vengefulness of taking advantage of the victory to seemingly condemn and exorcize all and everything viewed as part of the defeated “deplorables.” Not that Donald Trump and many in the Republican Party had not brought this down on themselves. In his manner and message from the time he began running for the office of the presidency, Trump aroused anger, shock, and contempt in many who listened to his words and watched his deeds.

Trump’s Arrogance and Ego

He told the media that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York City and his supporters would still vote for him. At a campaign rally in 2016, he encouraged his followers to physically rough someone up in the crowd, and assured any who might act on his words that he’d cover their legal expenses. His arrogance had no bounds. When asked during the 2016 campaign why he seemed to have so few policy advisors around him, he replied that he did not need them since he was the smartest person he had ever met. 

The man who ghost wrote Trump’s, The Art of the Deal, said that in the 18 months during which he followed Trump around at his home or his places of business, one thing seemed to be always absent among the furnishings: books of any type. Why bother reading anything written in the past or the present when you already know everything that is worth knowing? Even though he seemed to have put hardly any actual word on paper while the book was being written, “Trump appeared to have convinced himself that he had written the book,” said the ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz. Reality was what Trump wanted it to be. 

Trump the Carnival Hawker and Huckster

If I be accused of Monday morning quarterbacking now when Trump is down and out, and that it is easy to put his “imperfections” on display, I beg the readers’ indulgence and permit me to briefly quote what I wrote about him in early 2017, when his administration was just beginning:

“He [Trump] reminds me of the carnival sideshow hawkers enticing us into their attractions by promising wonderous things through exaggeration, deception, distortion, and prurient promises, and for the admission price of only . . .

“Trump is sort of a P.T. Barnum brought back to life. Someone who knows how to play to people’s desires, fears, erotic fantasies, and greed for getting something that is outside of the normal range of everyday life, and only for a few pennies. Hurry in, the show is about to begin in the inside . . .

“Trump preys on his potential supporter-victims by drawing upon almost every economic fallacy in the book. You lost your job? It’s because some manipulative foreign supplier stole away your American employer’s customers through a selling swindle of offering his version of the product at a lower price. Don’t worry, Trump is now in charge and he will create jobs by keeping the foreign goods out and by talking to the bad American businessmen who want to produce something, somewhere else. And if they don’t respond favorably to Trump’s words, he has a big stick of special import taxes just for them if they try to import back into America what they have produced outside the country at a lower cost. . . The con man and the huckster are masters at fooling people into believing that they can have something for nothing, or if not for nothing, then at half the usual price.”

The Anger and Outrage of Trump’s Opponents

If I be also accused of being blind to the conniving ambitions of those who opposed him from day one in the Democratic Party and the “progressive” movement, I also said:

“[Trump’s] opponents are primarily disgruntled Democrats, sore-loser lefties, and political trough-eaters who bet on the wrong political horse in the presidential race. It is especially hard on all of them, because they were all certain that Hillary Clinton was going to win and keep the horn-of-plenty of plunder coming their way.

“They want Trump gone because he offends the aesthetic niceties that form the veneer of altruistic kindness and concern for humanity beneath which they hide their plunder-lusting, while they pick taxpayers’ pockets and arrogantly tell those they have looted that it is all for their own good and the rest of mankind because they are too stupidly uninformed to know how to spend their own money or manage their own lives. 

“Their anger and fears do not come from a concern for the freedom and dignity of the individual person, or the sanctity of human relationships based on voluntary association and peaceful, market betterment. They do not come from a cherishing of the institutions and the heritage of a constitutional order based on the eternal concern for the threat of tyrants who would reduce mankind to slaves and serfs bound to the command of those possessing power.

“No, theirs is a frustration and fury that the reins of coercive control have passed into the ‘wrong hands’ – hands different from theirs and used for government planning and plunder purposes different from the ones they want and desire. Theirs is an insistence on the illegitimacy of Trump’s presidency, because all are illegitimate who do not share the values and views of those soldiers for ‘political correctness’ fighting for a bright and better collectivist future of their own imaginings.” 

Trump’s Mixed Bag of Economic Policies

There are friends of freedom who honestly and sincerely take umbrage at any such criticisms of Donald Trump. They point to the fact that he withdrew the United States from the Paris Accords concerning the environment; that he opened America to a fuller and more market-based energy policy that led to a boom of cleaner-air natural gas and which did not crucify fossil fuels on a cross of dangerous global warming central planning; he lowered corporate and individual taxes and introduced deregulation of many government restrictions on business activity. 

Also, by early 2020, before the coronavirus crisis and the government-imposed lockdowns and shutdowns of a good amount of the country’s economic activity, national unemployment had gone down to about 3.5 percent, with various minority groups and age groups reaching 50-year historic unemployment lows. The U.S. economy was operating at what most macroeconomists would normally have considered more or less “full employment.” 

At the same time, however, he drew the United States into various trade war situations, making some goods more expensive and sometimes less available to both American consumers and producers importing the inputs with which they manufacture their own outputs. His policies led to retaliations like those from China against American agriculture that resulted in Trump spending tens of millions of taxpayers’ dollars to shore up part of the farming community that his own trade policies damaged. 

Trump’s entire outlook on trade and competition was a populist neomercantilism in which the presumption was that if other countries prosper it must imply that some other country had lost. International trade was a zero-sum game. In his mind, the world was taking advantage of America; it was “them” versus “us” in which the “us” aggregated away all the particular microeconomic ways that trade barriers, restrictions, and manipulations resulted in harm to numerous economic “innocent bystanders” in the name of trying to target some chosen beneficiaries. (See my articles, “The Zero Sum World of Donald Trump” and “Trump’s Economic Warfare Targets Innocent Bystanders” and “America’s Economic Commissar of Trade” and “How Much Damage Will Come from this Trade War?”)

He publicly bullied senior corporate executives when they relocated or downsized manufacturing facilities and reduced workforces in those areas that Trump thought should have special treatment; basically, because he considered those states critical for winning a second term in 2020. He presumed to know where factories should be located and what products were essential for “American greatness.” In other words, he was an economic social engineer and central planner on these matters. (See my articles, “Presidential Hubris: ‘Let Me Run the Country’” and “U.S. Revives the Personal State”.)

He was not willing to rein in federal domestic spending, and indeed did nothing even to try. American voters, he said, liked their Social Security and Medicare, so he would not challenge their wisdom by making the case for entitlement reform or repeal. When Trump took office in January 2017, the national debt was about $20 trillion. At the end of his administration, the national debt has increased to over $27.5 trillion; a nearly 39 percent increase in one presidential term. Even not counting the additions to the 2020 fiscal year deficit spending due to the government’s increased borrowing resulting from Trump and Congress’s response to the coronavirus, the national debt would still have increased by at least 25 percent by the end of Trump’s four years in the White House. 

The Song Says, It Ain’t What You Do, But the Way That You Do It

But, say some of the free market-oriented supporters of Trump, his personality and his bombastic, rude, crude, and offensive manner and mode of expressing himself should be irrelevant. Results and outcomes, not rhetoric and demeanor, should matter, at the end of the day. 

The intellectual take on things is that ideas and their applied results should be judged on their own merits, separate from who or how someone may have articulated their implementation. In theory that is absolutely a reasonable insistence so debates and discourse do not degenerate into ad hominem attacks that never grapple with the ideas rather than simply assaults on their expositor. 

But in the real world, certainly in the realm of democratic politics but also even in the rarified heights of academia and the intellect, who and how ideas and policies are presented taints how they are received and taken seriously or not. Every word out of Trump’s mouth, every insult and offending phrase, every declaration of contempt for anyone and anything that failed to hail him as the “great American” and questioned his decisions, colored people’s judgment of what policies he wanted or actions he undertook. 

A lot of people have come to seriously dislike him. They would not want him as a next-door neighbor, and they certainly would not want him dating their daughter! That it was Trump that many people were voting against is seen in the fact that in spite of his negative standing with so many voters, Republicans gained seats in the House of Representatives, retained a numerical stalemate in the U.S. Senate (with the vice-president as the tie-breaking vote for the Democrats), and did not lose control of any state legislatures already in their hands. It’s you, Donald! It’s all you!

Trump’s Responsibility for the Events at the Capitol

He was his own worst enemy. This culminated in the events of January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Constitutional scholar Anthony Turley and Judge Andrew Napolitano have made reasonable arguments that Donald Trump’s words to his supporters before the violence at the Capitol Building were not incitements to violent action under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and therefore should be considered “protected speech.” 

However, something may be legal, but unwise. It may not be subject to criminal prosecution, but it might be, nonetheless, an influencing factor on the conduct of others. Both before and after the presidential election on November 3, 2020, Trump insisted that if he did not win it only could be because of voter fraud and cheating. Then when the votes were counted and results were announced, the fact that he was declared the “loser” – one of Trump’s favorite terms to dismiss and demean his opponents – this, then, showed the outcome had been rigged. 

Even when his appeals to state-level electoral boards, to federal judges, and finally to the Supreme Court were all turned down due to lack of sufficient evidence and proof of voter tampering to challenge the result, this, too, was a demonstration of the conspiracy against him. When the three justices on the Supreme Court who he had nominated to that office rejected his appeal, in Trump’s mind this showed their lack of loyalty to the man who had put them there. How could they not overturn the election when they clearly “owed him?”

Angered, indignant, frustrated, and desperate to right the wrong that Trump repeated night and day that their man in the White House was being removed unjustly and therefore all that he promised to do for them and the country would be denied, some of those who drank Trump’s Kool-Aid decided to take things into their own hands. Yes, those who broke into, disrupted the Congress’s business, and vandalized the Capitol Building are the ones legally responsible for their own actions before the law. But even if Trump is not legally culpable, his was a voice whispering tales of treachery in their ears for a very long time. It was time to try to save the country, because their “savior” said the country would be in danger without him remaining in the White House. 

The Releasing of the Collectivist Demons

And now the collectivist demons have been set loose. Democrats, “progressives,” “democratic” socialists, and the huge cadre of identity politics would-be totalitarians in the halls of higher education who see racism and sexism everywhere from the moment they wake up to the minute they fall asleep, see their chance. 

Like “enemies of the people” being airbrushed out of photographs in Stalin’s Russia when they had fallen out of favor with the “best friend of every Soviet child,” those on the political “left” in America see their chance to erase from existence the last four years of U.S. history. Even before taking the presidential oath of office and delivering his inaugural address on January 20, 2021, Joe Biden outlined his agenda for nearly $2 trillion of additional federal spending. Tens of millions for the full centralization of federal control and distribution of the anti-Covid-19 vaccines. Hundreds of billions of more borrowed dollars for continued subsidization of many of the very millions of people the government lockdowns have thrown into unemployment, depleted savings, and ruined lives.

At a time when many businesses in, especially, the service sectors of the economy are hemorrhaging revenues due to state governments once again ordering their closing or reduced activities, Joe Biden promises to raise the national minimum wage to at least $15 per hour; pricing even more people out of existing or potential employment in the market shows just how much Joe “cares” and assures more dependent people on government largess, people who will owe their votes to the Democrat hands that feed them their handouts. (See my article, “Freedom and the Minimum Wage”.)

What presidential executive orders and discretionary power have done can then be undone by the next occupant in the White House. For instance, Joe Biden intends to reverse Trump’s U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accords on climate change; and he will reintroduce increased regulations of businesses and government land use by appointing different heads to the federal departments, bureaus and agencies tasked with the duty of restoring the “taming” of private enterprise. 

A push will be made for greater federal control and direction of health insurance and medical care. The new president and Democratic-controlled Congress will, no doubt, go for versions of the Green New Deal, which means government central planning of what and how private enterprises do their business in the name of “saving” the planet. “Corporate Social Responsibility” will become the watchword to rationalize and justify more government intrusion into how businesses manage and operate their enterprises for purposes of racial, gender, and income “equity.” (See my articles, “The Green New Dealers and the New Socialism” and “The Nightmare Fairyland of the Green New Dealers” and “The Case for a Coercive Green New Deal?” and “Stakeholder Fascism Means More Loss of Liberty”.)

Tribal Collectivists on a Mission to Purge Racist and Sexist “Capitalism” 

What is driving this is not simply the “usual” desires for political power and traditional presumptions behind dreams of social engineering. More deeply, by those at the more radical end of the Democratic Party and “progressive” movement, is a determination to destroy the philosophical, political, and economic premises and foundations upon which the United States was based. 

At the beginning of this article, I suggested that religious wars are the most unforgiving because one or both of the protagonists is certain that the “truth” is on their side. It is a battle between good and evil, salvation or damnation. For the identity politics warriors and the cancel culture crusaders, they are on a “mission” for an ideological cause: The delegitimizing and destruction of philosophical individualism, of political freedom, and of economic liberty. 

In their secular holy roller hysteria, the entire history of “America” is tainted with slavery, racism, and oppression of women and “people of color” for the benefit of a male, white elite of capitalist exploiters. All the talk about personal freedom, civil liberties, and free market opportunities are the smokescreens of creating a “false consciousness” among all those harmed by “the system” to accept their unequal and abused statuses in society. 

All of it, of course, is merely the new variation on the stale and old wine of Marxian class conflict analysis, but relabeled into a story of race and gender oppression and conflict. Social class, per se, does not determine your identity and place in capitalist society. No, it is your race and gender classification that mold who you are, how you think, and give you meaning and relationship to others. The individual disappears in the collectivist pigeonhole into which identity politics warriors have assigned him. Welcome to the new hybrid: Marxo-Nazism. See my articles, “Tyrants of the Mind and the New Collectivism” and “An Identity Politics Victory Would Mean the End to Liberty” and “Collectivism’s Progress: From Marxism to Race and Gender Intersectionality” and “The New Totalitarians” and “‘Systemic Racism’ Theory is the New Political Tribalism” and “Save America from Cancel Culture” and “Self-Censorship and Despotism over the Mind”.)

The Ideological Faith of the New Tribal Collectivists 

For the “true believer,” reason and evidence have little or no place. He has been “born again” with the certainty that “real” understanding of the world has been given to him. He is called to deliver humanity from its “original sin” in white privilege and oppression. What rational discourse does one apply when a professor in New York insists that 2+2=4 is a concept that “reeks with white supremacist patriarchy?” (See my article, “Watchwords that Threaten Liberty”.)

Tearing down statues, renaming buildings, silencing and slandering people, from a salesman to a scholar, for saying a word, using a phrase, repeating a witticism, or cracking a joke that the “woke” people consider an abomination against the “marginalized,” are all elements and aspects to erasing “America” from the knowledge and history of humankind. The entire experience of the United States is to be made into an Orwellian-like “non-person.” 

And Trump’s words and deeds that have offended, put off, and repulsed so many in the country has provided the “hook” for our Marxo-Nazi fanatics, in conjunction with their Democratic Party and “progressive” allies, to brand and tar anyone and anything with the racist and sexist label for expulsion from any hearing or respectable place in society. Since if you are not with them, then you are against them. And, therefore, you must be an explicit or implicit “Trumpist,” which has rapidly become as damaging to one’s character and future as being called a “Hitlerian.” That is, an enemy of decency and democracy. Would you want one of “them” sitting, working or living next to you? 

Friends of liberty must gird themselves for an intellectual and ideological battle the likes of which very few of us have experienced outside of a totalitarian state and its campaign of mind-controlling propaganda.  

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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