Donald Trump

Liberals Can't Decide if Trump Is an Autocrat or Anarchist

The president has a complicated take on big government, based on grievances not philosophy.

|

The Trump administration's approach to big government seems positively schizophrenic. But then you'd expect that, wouldn't you? The president has no coherent political philosophy. He has a collection of grievances.

So what excuse do his critics have? They haven't sounded much more coherent than he has lately, either.

We are led to understand, from about 9 billion different ominously titled think pieces, that Trump is a brutal authoritarian who is only waiting for the right moment to declare martial law and round up the dissidents. Some of that is good old-fashioned fear-mongering—the same sort of thing you hear from the right when Democrats are in power. (Remember Obama's "FEMA camps" or the NRA's Wayne LaPierre warning about "jack-booted thugs" during the Clinton administration?)

But there also is some truth to the charge: As noted in this column about a year ago, Trump is perhaps the most maximum of Maximum Leaders the country has seen since FDR. In Roosevelt's defense, at least he was trying to stop the Nazi war machine. Trump has gone to war against Latino fence-jumpers looking for work and members of the media who don't kiss his ring. Not quite the same.

Moreover, Trump is engaged in some rather martial projects, such as a big hike in Pentagon spending and a hugely expensive wall along the southern border. He also wants to hire 5,000 more Border Patrol agents and 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. (And this after the number of border and customs agents already has doubled during the previous two administrations.) Oh, and the president also wants to build a huge tariff wall to stop the Yellow Peril of Chinese products from invading our shores.

Trump's vision of America isn't so much a shining city on a hill as it is a fortified garrison.

At the same time, we are all supposed to recoil from the recent assertion by Trump's Rasputin, Steve Bannon, that the administration aims for the "deconstruction of the administrative state."

Some of the White House's critics seem to be rather fuzzy about exactly what that means, while others seem to think it means "literally dismantling the departments of Education and the EPA and Energy." It's no big secret, though: Georgetown Law's Jonathan Turley explained it clearly when he testified before Congress a little while back. The administrative state is the unaccountable part of the executive branch that has arrogated to itself the functions of the other two branches by (a) cranking out rules far faster than Congress writes laws, and (b) conducting judicial proceedings 10 times as frequently as actual federal judges do.

Policy wonks contend that this has been made possible by excessive judicial deference to executive agencies, and particularly by a Supreme Court decision known as Chevron. Whether Chevron deference is good for America or not is a fair question, but as topics go it's drier than chalk dust.

Still, assume for the sake of argument that Trump's critics are right and he does want to dismantle much of the apparatus of the federal government. (After all, he did say he would like to cut regulations by 75 percent.)

If that's true, then much of the concern about Ein Trump Autokratie goes away. Take the Federal Communications Commission: Trump recently named Ajit Pai its chairman. Pai opposes tight regulatory constraints on the internet, which makes progressives sad. But it also makes autocratic rule harder. If Trump wanted to control the internet, he would have renamed Pai's predecessor, Tom Wheeler, a progressive who favors stringent government oversight.

Likewise, if Trump really were to eliminate the Department of Education, then people who draw devil's horns on pictures of Secretary Betsy DeVos could stop worrying that she would ram school choice down the throats of liberal enclaves. By the same token, shuttering the Department of Energy would make it virtually impossible for the administration to manipulate research or to stop the energy market's shift away from fossil fuels and toward renewables.

Shutting down the EPA also would take a big stick away from Trump's meaty paw. Remember, it was only a few years ago that EPA administrator Alfredo Juan "Al" Armendariz was caught on videotape saying that his philosophy of governance was "kind of like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean. They'd go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they'd find the first five guys they saw, and they would crucify them. And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years." (He later resigned.)

Nor could the EPA do what it tried to do to Mike and Chantell Sackett: Force them to obey a compliance order, or face ruinous fines, without so much as a court hearing. The EPA insisted that its bureaucratic edicts lay beyond the reach of judicial review—a stance that epitomizes the worst of the administrative state. A unanimous Supreme Court ultimately ruled otherwise.

Granted, it's possible to impose a military junta while leaving the private-sector economy alone. But for real old-fashioned totalitarianism you need a huge, centralized bureaucracy. Liberals who fear right-wing presidents might be wise to keep that in mind.

This column originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

46 responses to “Liberals Can't Decide if Trump Is an Autocrat or Anarchist

  1. we are all supposed to recoil from the recent assertion by Trump’s Rasputin, Steve Bannon, that the administration aims for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”

    We were? I thought this was a libertarian website. What the fuck is that?

    1. The WaPo article it’s referring to is linked right there, dude.

      1. I get that but it isn’t clear from the piece that this is something we should support, which is insane.

        I don’t understand why so many libertarians want to completely ignore the things Trump has proposed that would shrink the size of government. I get that he’s proposed other things that would do the opposite, but why not give more support to the things he proposes that WILL shrink the colossus?

        1. Because for some purity trumps everything. Thankfully it is a reason why sanders hasnt done anything in congress prog wise

        2. I get that but it isn’t clear from the piece that this is something we should support

          Do you have to be told what you should or shouldn’t support?

          1. No, but I was hoping for more a robust defense of the ideas behind dismantling the admin state when mocking the left for opposing it. That’s my issue.

            I get that he’s using it to show that if you dismantle the state you can’t be an authoritarian, and thus he debunks the notion that Trump is a fascist. But this trivializes the principle in the first place, as if the only reason to do this is so that Trump won’t become too powerful.

        3. isn’t clear from the piece that this is something we should support

          I thought it was clear but to be fair, the article seems like something the writer was contractually obligated to squeeze out at short notice, perhaps for a weekly column. Maybe I’m missing something but it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere or saying anything but it loaded with non-clarity and hyperbole.

    2. You are mistaken. Not a libertarian website. It’s a hip, urban, libertarianism-as-insouciant-motif website.

    3. It is a libertarian website. What it is not is an authoritarian Trump worshipping alt-right racist media organ. Hail Hoppe!

    4. You do realize Hinkle doesn’t write for Reason? Also, he’s making a statement about what other people are saying, and in a clearly mocking tone. You have to be deliberately obtuse to think he was agreeing with that notion.

      1. I get that he’s mocking the piece, it just sounds to me like he’s playing devils advocate more than supporting the idea in the first place. I get he’s critiquing the liberal reviews of Trump but I don’t understand the angle he’s coming from. Aren’t we supposed to be FOR dismantling the admin state?

        1. I get much more of a vibe that he’s for rolling back the admin state than against it. I certainly don’t think any progressive would be happy reading this article, or think the writer is on “their side.” I think the main point of the piece though, is to dismiss some of the hyperventilating about Trump becoming dictator.

  2. “in Roosevelt’s defense, at least he was trying to stop the Nazi war machine.” Roosevelt was pretty thuggish pre-WWII.

    1. Yea if someone wants an example of a fascist fdr is it. At least in economic sense

      1. I agree. FDR was still enamoured of all the great things that private enterprise brought the country. Like 25% unemployment. Most of the left leaning professors I know regard him as a dangerous counter-revolutionary.

        1. Caused by the federal govt and the new deal didnt do anything to actually end depression. It kept it going on longer

          Fdr doubles down on derp of hoover such that entire 1930s is considered the Great Depression. Good work!

          Funny you love govt decree when it is team blue in charge via central planning

        2. GLEEMORE?|3.1.17 @ 1:03PM|#
          I agree. FDR was still enamoured of all the great things that *government* brought the country. Like 25% unemployment.

          Fixed just for slimy lefties!
          He liked government-caused poverty so much, he kept it around as long as he could

        3. Did “private enterprise” order/pay businesses to scale back production (to the point of burning food rather than sell it cheap to starving people; see Grapes of Wrath) in an attempt to bring down deflation? No, no, that was FDR who did that.

  3. This is a bit of hyperbole and strawman i think

    “Trump has gone to war against Latino fence-jumpers looking for work and members of the media who don’t kiss his ring. Not quite the same.”

    Their priority has been criminals and arrested. And it is blowhard media bashing…not really going after them.

    Why is everything a war?

    1. We need a war on using war to mean something other than war.

  4. Pffft. Silly question. It’s whichever one Hitler was, obviously.

  5. Trump is not really near (yet) fdr, lbj and woodrow in past 100 years. Obama and bush weren’t either thankfully.

    1. Also FDR was a Maximum Leader long before WW2. Court Packing, New deal, Commerce Clause as far as the eye can see?

      1. Gleemore slobbers all over that authoritarianism which trump hasnt come close yet

  6. FDR also monitored the press every word had to be approved by the government for the war effort

  7. Liberals Can’t Decide if Trump Is an Autocrat or Anarchist

    Neither can Trump.

    1. Let’s pray he listens to his anarchist side.

  8. The good thing about this President is that whenever he doesn’t sound like Il Douche, meandering on about how he’s being oppressed by CNN, and merely spouts 20 year old Republican platitudes on the teleprompter everyone just collectively breathes a sigh of relief and maybe gets some sleep. Look at the stock market today. Hey, the President isn’t a complete nutcase and is merely a typical Republican looking out for the same special business interests. Buy, buy, buy!!

    1. And lefties who hate anyone making money are tearing their hair out at the thought of it.
      Thanks for reminding us.

  9. Trump has gone to war against Latino fence-jumpers looking for work…

    Enforcing existing immigration law. If you don’t like the law, contact your congresscritter. I’m not going to shed a tear for someone whose first action in this is to break the law.

    …and members of the media who don’t kiss his ring. Not quite the same.

    He has rhetorically/verbally assaulted some news orgs/reporters. Who cares? Not me. Also, not the same as what?

    Trump is perhaps the most maximum of Maximum Leaders the country has seen since FDR. In Roosevelt’s defense, at least he was trying to stop the Nazi war machine.

    Enforcing immigration law and berating reporters is worse than stealing peoples property and putting them into concentration camps because of their national origin? (among other awful aspects of FDR…) Get a grip, bro.

    1. And the priority is criminals and folks arrested.
      Not people looking for just work

    2. Maybe we should care if the President ‘verbally assaults’ the people who report on his actions? Bush 43 just recently objected to Trump treating the press as ‘the enemy of the American people.”

      Please, accept my apology on behalf of that girl wearing the “Free Tibet” button who turned you down for a date all those years ago. I’ sure her life has been blighted ever since. In the meantime, don’t inflict your neuroses on the rest of us.

      1. Bush 43 just recently objected to Trump treating the press as ‘the enemy of the American people.”

        Bush said no such thing. You are putting someone else’s characterization of him into his mouth.

      2. So Bush ’43 is one of the ones now?

  10. No one understands him like his Woman.

  11. “In Roosevelt’s defense”

    The hell you think anyone want’s a defense of that guy??

    1. I know. People give him too much credit for WW2. He sat at a desk. Men like Eisenhower and Marshall actually fought and won the war, they’re the ones who should get the praise for it.

  12. “Trump’s Rasputin, Steve Bannon”

    I really haven’t been paying too much to Bannon to be honest. I take it from this comparison that he healed Baron with the power of faith??

  13. But for real old-fashioned totalitarianism you need a huge, centralized bureaucracy. Liberals who fear right-wing presidents might be wise to keep that in mind.

    Liberals still intend on controlling and using this huge centralized bureaucracy themselves. They certainly aren’t going to oppose it.

  14. Wow a President actually doing something and not spewing rhetoric WHAT ARE WE TO DO

    1. Most of us want to have good income but dont know how to do that on Internet there are a lot of methods to earn huge sum, but whenever Buddies try that they get trapped in a scam/fraud so I thought to share with you a genuine and guaranteed method for free to earn huge sum of money at home anyone of you interested should visit the page. I am more than sure that you will get best result.
      !!@@~
      Best Of Luck for new Initiative
      ???????????????????????????????????????????????? http://www.jobmax6.com

  15. I made a mistake. When I first scanned the title I thought it said: Libertarians Can’t Decide if Trump Is an Autocrat or Anarchist. Upon reading the article I felt the author was making the mistake of thinking Donald is a rational person. Once I corrected my reading of the title to “Liberals”, not “Libertarians” the article still sounded like the author thought Donald is rational. So I tried to read the article as a conservative and again it still sounds like the author thinks Donald is rational. Next was reading the article as if Donald is NOT rational, and it makes perfect sense. Am I looking at this all wrong?

    1. Try comparing the platforms instead of second-guessing party sockpuppets.

  16. Little tip, A., talk about what “the EPA tried to do to Chantell Sackett”. Two reasons:

    1. the case is styled “Chantell Sackett et vir” (“and man”), the husband’s name isn’t mentioned
    2. Michael Sackett is doing a year in the Federal lockup for trying to have sex with a 12-year-old

  17. I see the looter press STILL does not know the definition of “liberal” and hasn’t a clue that the Liberal Party formed in 1930 forced the Dems to come out for repeal of prohibition and Sharia blue laws. It was either that or lose the election and starve in the Depression.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.