For a few beautiful days last week, Americans could bask in the knowledge that President Donald Trump was likely on his way out without yet confronting the reality that former Vice President Joe Biden was on his way in. But with the election called on Saturday for Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.), the pair have begun releasing plans for their administration, delighting dancing-in-the-street Democrats and leaving libertarians, once again, with a lot of dread.
We knew this was coming, of course. We have decades of history to tell us how Biden and Harris will govern. We know, for instance, that they want top-down solutions to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, will be bad on free speech and internet regulation, are always ready to spread some new sex panic, support harmful regulations for independent contractors, and don't even pretend to be realistic about government spending. We know they're still cowards when it comes to ending the drug war and enacting meaningful criminal justice reform.
And now, we're already seeing rumblings around many of these dangerous fault lines. Biden is working on plans to get state and local governments to universally enact mask mandates, according to NBC News:
President-elect Joe Biden in the coming days will begin calling governors and the mayors of major cities from both parties to encourage them to institute mask mandates as the coronavirus pandemic enters a potentially deadlier phase with winter arriving, according to a senior Biden adviser who briefed NBC News.
"If a governor declines, he'll go to the mayors in the state and ask them to lead," the official said. "In many states, there is the capacity of mayors to institute mandates."
On a new transition website, buildbackbetter.com, the Biden team lists four priorities: COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate change. There are a few encouraging bits, such as a section pledging that "the Biden-Harris administration will work with Congress to pass police reform legislation," including "a nationwide ban on chokeholds" and "stopping the transfer of weapons of war to police forces." But promising parts are rare.
Among the many promises under each category are a pledge to "establish a U.S. Public Health Jobs Corps," "fully use the Defense Production Act," and give states money for basically anything they need under the guise of pandemic readiness. The administration also wants to see a minimum wage of "at least $15 per hour," and the end "the tipped minimum wage and sub-minimum wage for people with disabilities," plus regulations that make "it easier for workers to organize unions and collectively bargain" and a mandate that businesses provide "universal paid sick days and 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave."
Libertarians who were less than 100 percent psyched about a Trump win this year have been taking gruff from some right-of-center types, who suggest anyone who didn't help secure Trump a second term must intrinsically support Biden, or at least has no right to complain about anything Biden does.
But libertarians who opposed Trump did so precisely because he deviated from limited government and classical principles in significant ways, whether we're talking free markets, free expression and other civil liberties, or foreign policy. Refusing to vote for Trump wasn't a vote for big, overzealous, and unaccountable government; it was a vote against Trump's version of it.
And—it should go without saying—there were ways to vote against Trump without voting for Biden, literally and metaphorically. Among Reason staff, Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen and no one emerged as the top personal choices this election (with a few folks voting for Biden and one for Trump).
Few libertarians harbor any delusions that a Biden administration will be good for liberty and limited government. Everyone knows we'll have our work cut out for us as watchdogs and non-partisan analysts of government shenanigans—undoubtedly more than during the past four years. A lot of journalists eager to point out Trump's flaws and question federal law enforcement authorities during his tenure will, under Biden, suddenly rediscover the joys of regurgitating government press releases and calling it a day. A lot of people will assume good motives, and will assume that a good motive means good policy.
It's going to be…well, basically, the Obama years all over again. Which won't be very pleasant, but also won't be new. This is a thing we recognize. This is a thing we know how to fight.
On some things—like internet and First Amendment issues—Biden and Harris are neither worse nor better than what Trump-era Republicans were offering. On others, I am more fearful of their administration than of Trump's (if in part only because of the latter's incompetence). Still, they are unlikely to keep stealing immigrant kids from their parents and sending federal agents to snatch Black Lives Matter protesters off the streets. They may be better on trade. They are less likely to directly stoke so many untrue conspiracy theories on social media. They will be bad, but in predictable ways. They will lie, but perhaps not as much.
We know how the battle lines will shake up again now, too. Trump may still be a big force in conservative politics, and that's sort of a wild card. But a swath of Republicans will be (and already are) pivoting to anti-spending and anti-big-government rhetoric. That is, if nothing else, more welcome than the alternative, though we don't know how seriously any of them will actually take this rediscovered libertarian streak.
Still: A Republican Party at least nominally concerned with cutting regulations and spending, a Democratic Party trying to steer to the center after not getting the blowout they expected, and a (probably) gridlocked Congress may not be a libertarian dream, but it isn't all that bad.
"The election will be deeply disappointing to die-hard Trumpers, Democrats hoping for a landslide and Never Trumpers eager to see the Republican Party burn. That's a lot of people, probably even most voters," writes Liz Mair in a New York Times op-ed. "But for some of us, it will be a win—a silver lining out of the country's political divisions."
That's putting it a little strongly for my taste. But it's probably the best we could've hoped to get out of what was on the table this year.
Trump is still spinning conspiracy theories and refusing to concede the election, as his campaign challenges the results in battleground states he lost. But some have suggested that his "heart doesn't seem in it," as The Washington Post puts it:
The funding and spending for the Trump legal efforts also speaks to the possibility that this isn't all it's cracked up to be.
For instance, the campaign is soliciting donations for its "official election defense fund," but the fine print shows half of the donations are to be used for another purpose: to retire the campaign's debt. That's a particularly conspicuous clause given Trump had previously said he might put up his own money for his reelection effort; even as he swears he has a legitimate legal case, he's not just declining to use his own money, but he's diverting half the money raised for it to another purpose tied to the winding down of the campaign. (The imbalance is even bigger for a related effort, with 40 percent going to the Republican National Committee and 60 percent going to retire Trump's campaign debt.)
Over the weekend, the Trump campaign held a bizarre press conference in Philadelphia. Trump initially tweeted that it would be at Four Seasons Philadelphia—as in, the luxury hotel—but this tweet was quickly deleted after the hotel tweeted that it was not taking place there. The press event was actually held at a local landscaping business called Four Seasons Total Landscaping, located in a remote area of the city between the Fantasy Island Adult Bookstore and a crematorium.
"The mistake was not in the booking, but in a garbled game of telephone," reports The New York Times. "Mr. Giuliani and the Trump campaign adviser Corey Lewandowski told the president on Saturday morning their intended location for the news conference and he misunderstood, assuming it was an upscale hotel, according to multiple people familiar with the matter."
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