Donald Trump

Steve Bannon Hates Libertarians Because *We're* Not Living in the Real World?

"Economic nationalist" Trump adviser blasts people foolish enough to believe in "Free Minds and Free Markets."


The first of the two times I've met Donald Trump was at a 2015 rally protesting the nuclear deal President Obama had announced with Iran. As he rumbled off the stage past the press area, I asked him, "Hey Donald, what do you think about libertarianism?" "I like it, alotta good things," he said, shortly before brushing me and saying, "I don't want to talk you right now."

Assuming he still likes libertarianism and thinks it comprises "a lot of good things, a lot of good points," he's very much at odds with his senior adviser Steve Bannon. From Robert Draper's masterful New York Times Magazine account of the relationship among Trump, Bannon, and House Speaker Paul Ryan:

"What's that Dostoyevsky line: Happy families are all the same, but unhappy families are unhappy in their own unique ways?" ([Bannon] meant Tolstoy.) "I think the Democrats are fundamentally afflicted with the inability to discuss and have an adult conversation about economics and jobs, because they're too consumed by identity politics. And then the Republicans, it's all this theoretical Cato Institute, Austrian economics, limited government — which just doesn't have any depth to it. They're not living in the real world."

Don Irvine, Flickr, Wikimedia

It's always nice to be attacked as delusional and out of touch, especially by a Hollywood-cum-Wall Street millionaire whose boss falsely insists that cities have never been less safe, that American manufacturing has never created so little, and that we're just one or two border walls and torn-up free trade deals away from once again being a nation of factory workers. (Side note: I'm younger than Bannon but old enough to remember when the factory jobs I worked as a teenager and young adult weren't romanticized.)

President Trump is so famously post-factual that he cites riots that never happened as pretexts for executive orders, invents crime statistics out of thin air, and insisted for years that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. But it's libertarians who are nuttier than a squirrel's turd? Sure, why not.

Earlier today, Matt Welch mapped out some of the political problems that the Trump administration is creating and compounding for itself by reviling libertarian-leaning Republicans and congressional budget hawks. On a broader cultural stage, it's worth underscoring that Bannon is simply wrong that libertarians are living in a "theoretical" world of, what, exactly? Across-the-board calls for lower levels of regulation in all aspects of life (also known as believing government is trying to do too many things that should be left to businesses and voluntary groups such as churches and nonprofits)? That increasing majorities of Americans are comfortable with pot legalization and gay marriage even as they are losing trust in law enforcement, the education system, and the federal government (now headed by, er, Donald Trump and his own GOP party that can't even pass a healthcare reform bill they've been promising for nigh-on seven years)? That most people in America—including self-identified Trump supporters!—actually like immigrants and want to see even illegal immigrants given a chance to live legally in the United States? These are not small things, and neither is the fact that libertarians as an ideological group (as discerned by Gallup) are the single-biggest bloc of Americans.

The tell in Bannon's way of thinking is how he confuses Tolstoy with Dostoevsky. Neither Russian novelist—OMG, is he channeling Putin or what!—is particularly sunny but the Christian apologetic Tolstoy allowed for some sort of transcendence while about the best-case scenario you find in Dostoevsky is getting marched off to pre-communist Siberia with your prostitute-wife for a life sentence. Like Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick, Bannon looks around and only sees himself and his own obsessions.

His vision of a post-apocalyptic America where folks are so scared of crime that they don't walk down city streets anymore; where living standards are declining year over year in absolute terms; and where resentment against the Other is the only thing keeping hearts beating is as fundamentally false as it is opposed to a broad-based libertarianism that has always animated America. Yes, Donald Trump eked out an impossible electoral victory mostly be playing to the fears of a handful of non-representative voters in the dead, old, post-industrial Midwest (a place I call home at least half of the year, by the way). Yes, of course it helped that Trump ran against Hillary Clinton, a candidate who was as unliked as she was arrogant (seriously, she visited Chipotle more than she did Wisconson in 2016!). But that doesn't take away from Trump winning in the end.

Still, the president (and Bannon) will not be able to govern by pursuing economically nativist policies that raise prices for food and items at Walmart, and they certainly won't create many jobs either.