George Will: Brace Yourself for Donald Trump & the Authoritarian Moment

The libertarian-leaning pundit despairs of Trump's rise in conversation with Nick Gillespie & Matt Welch.


These days, people are less hyped about "The Libertarian Moment" than they seem worried about an "Authoritarian Moment" that's exemplified by Donald Trump's political success.

"He's an authoritarian," says Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor George Will. "He believes that government we have today is not big enough and that particularly the concentration of power not just in Washington but Washington power in the executive branch has not gone far enough."

In late February, Will sat down with Reason's Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch for an opening-night interview at the International Students For Liberty Conference, which was attended by nearly 2,000 people from all over the world.

The official topic was "Is The Libertarian Moment Over?" and the conversation was as wide-ranging as it was at times depressing. "Today, 67 percent of the federal budget is transfer payments," announced the 74-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner. "The sky is dark with money going back and forth between client groups served by an administrative state that exists to do very little else but regulate the private sector and distribute income. Where's the libertarian moment fit in here?"

Gillespie and Welch, who coined the "Libertarian Moment" term in a 2008 Reason story and expanded its meaning in The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America (praised by Will, incidentally), argued that many things are moving in a decidedly libertarian position. As Welch pointed out, in 2008, recreational pot legalization, marriage equality, and criminal-justice reform were barely discussed at the national level. Now, all three have proceeded or are proceeding apace, as is judicial support for liberalized gun rights. And there's this: "In the last 25 years, a historical number of people—1 billion people—have been lifted out of extreme poverty," said Welch. "Even the United Nations says this is because in large part due to globalized reductions in tariffs and barriers to trade."

For all his gloom, Will acknowledged that "there are good signs underway." Specifically, he cited Reason Senior Editor Damon Root's Overruled: The Long War for Control of the U.S. Supreme Court (2014), which makes the case for "libertarian judicial engagement" as a constitutionally legitimate way of reining in government action. Root and others such as Georgetown Law's Randy Barnett and Institute for Justice's Clark Neily argue that "what we need is an engaged judiciary asserting the fact that the essence of America is not majority rule, it is liberty," said Will, who applauded the rise and power of this argument. He also cited the Supreme Court's controversial ruling in the Citizens United case, which invalidated many campaign-finance rules. "The court," noted Will, "overturned prior decisions and overturned certain clear principles enunciated by elected officials around the country by saying that when Americans band together in corporate form, they do not, for the purpose of advocacy, forfeit their First Amendment rights."

What happens if Donald Trump actually becomes the Republican nominee? Will, who had few kind words to say about leading Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, prophesied that the GOP will be reduced to a "husk" and there will almost certainly be an independent run by a leading Republican.

About 37 minutes long. Cameras by Meredith Bragg and Todd Krainin; edited and produced by Krainin.

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Nick Gillespie: All right, thanks very much. Thank you for coming out, Students for Liberty. I know I spoke at one of the first conferences, I know Matt has been speaking at these for a couple of years. Thank you guys all for coming out and for giving us on the stage at the very least some hope for the future.

OK, so what we're going to be talking about is whether the "libertarian moment" is over or did it never exist?" Matt and I, in 2008 coined the term "the libertarian moment" to describe what we talked about as "a time of increasingly hyper-individualized, hyper-expanded choice over virtually every aspect of our lives."

We were talking about, at the depths of the financial crisis, hopefully a world in which it was more possible than ever to live on your own terms because of technology, because of change happening in politics globally, technological innovation and what not. And since then, the idea of the libertarian moment captured the public imagination.

In 2014, for instance, the New York Times Magazine wrote a cover story "Has the Libertarian Moment Finally Arrived?" It was on the heels of Rand Paul's ascendancy–he had been the called the most interesting man in politics by Time Magazine, and we of course know what happened to Rand Paul's candidacy. And now we're being told that Rand Paul and the libertarian moment never existed. The libertarian moment wasn't really happening. The false rise and fall of Rand Paul. What we're going to talk about tonight is the ways in which the libertarian moment is or is not happening and whether or not we're going there.

And with George Will, we're going to be talking about whether we should be actually confronting "The Authoritarian Moment" rather than the libertarian moment.

And what I want to do just to set the scene: In 2013, Matt and I interviewed George Will for Reason and we talked about him having written, again this is a few years ago, "America is moving in the libertarians' direction not because they have won an argument, but because government and the sectors it dominates have made themselves ludicrous. This has opened minds to the libertarian argument."

And we asked Mr. Will–Dr. Will–whether or not he still thought that in 2013 and you answered, "Yes, for several reasons, the first is that I've lived in Washington now 44 years and that's a lot of folly to witness up close. Whatever confidence and optimism I felt towards the central government when I got here, January 1. 1970 has dissipated at the hands of the government."

And second, you said, "I participate, although I'm in my 70s and too old to learn to much, in the changing technological assumptions. Give you an example, when I was growing up I wanted to hear the songs of the day, Bill Haley and the Comets, the Platters and all that stuff. I would turn on the radio and hope the disc jockey would play three or four of the songs I wanted to hear in the next hour. When my daughter and other children want to hear songs, they just go on the internet and have 50,000 at their fingertips."

So before we get into trying to convince you, George, that the libertarian moment is still happening, what is your sense of things? Are we past the libertarian moment and have we entered the authoritarian moment? And if so, what's the leading indicator of that?

George Will: Well, the leading indicator is in the moment the leading Republican candidate for president. That is the leading candidate of the party which, if there is a party with a libertarian streak, it would be it.

Gillespie: Can we name this man? Or will he appear?

Will: He's like Voldemort. (laughs and applause) By last August, he was pledging to have a new federal police force, a new federal police force, charged with fulfilling his promise to deport 11 and a half million people in two years. That's about 225,000 a month. He will need a new police force for that. Five, six hours ago he was on Fox Network, Fox Television, and he said that he wanted to "open up" the libel laws to make it easier to sue people for writing negative things, which is by the way, how I earn my living. In the debate the night before, the man we are thinking about giving nuclear codes and Lincoln's chair, said that his sister, who's a "brilliant lawyer,"–we have his word for this, she's a judge actually–that she signed the same bill that Justice Alito signed. Now we have a man who's the leading candidate of one of our two major parties to be president of the United States who thinks judges sign bills. In other words, this candidate would flunk an 8th grade civics exam.

If this is your libertarian moment, you can look at the other party. The other party has a socialist running. Now he's of course nothing of the sort. Time was socialism meant the public ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange. You could understand that. Then they watered it down a bit, particularly the post war British socialists to say no, socialism is government ownership of the "commanding heights" of the economy: heavy industry, steel, railroads, communications combined. Then they watered it down- and this is Bernie Sanders' socialism- it is heavy government regulation of the private sector and ambitious redistribution of wealth which is what we've had for at least 40 years in this country. Today, 67 percent of the federal budget is transfer payments. The sky is dark with money going back and forth between client groups served by an administrative state that exists to do very little else but regulate the private sector and distribute income. Where's the libertarian moment fit in here?

Gillespie: Well that is, uh Matt, you're up. I'm off the book. So why don't you talk a little bit about some of the signs of the time?

Matt Welch: I'm going to defend a headline here. We're getting a lot of guff here now that Rand Paul kind of stalled out at 3 percent and never went any further. Everyone loves to proclaim libertarians to be full of dookie because we don't fit normally into the political categories of Democrat and Republican and so they're having a lot of sport at our expense.

As Nick mentioned, this piece that we wrote in 2008, we wrote for the 40th anniversary of Reason magazine, which like all great revolutions started in May of 1968. And we were coming up with various things to put in this issue and right as we were writing this essay, the financial crisis happened and George W. Bush, head of the Republican Party on September 24th I think it was, 2008 stood in front of the world and said "Normally, I'm in favor of free market capitalism, BUT…." There was no hope.

John McCain, the Republican who was running for president at the time, the Republican who, in a way, influencing George Will here very strongly [to be in favor of ending campaign-finance laws], was someone who believes in censoring political speech. That was the major achievement of his senatorial career. He suspended his campaign so he could go back to Washington to support the bailouts. There was no hope in September of 2008.

So when we wrote the headline "The Libertarian Moment," what we were telling people was "Look, we know it's super, super dark right now" just as it was in many ways, as we lead the essay with, in 1971. There's a lot of dark business happening in America in 1971. There's wages and price controls which we can't even fathom right now was happening in 1971. And yet, if you look in the right places, you would notice that there were glimmers of hope happening and by the end of that decade, there was all kinds of interesting, very explicitly libertarian action happening, not least of which was the abolition of the military draft, which is a pretty amazing accomplishment.

Gillespie: And can we get some of the slides up on the side so that we can, Matt do you want to talk about some of the–

Welch: Yeah yeah, so we said this isn't a moment to despair. We're actually in an era, going forward, in which good things happen. So in September 2008, no one in America was talking about legalizing recreational marijuana. It wasn't even on anybody's radar. That wasn't happening. We heard earlier today two great congressmen, I hope they're here, they're probably not, Justin Amash and Thomas Massie. Very funny, very principled people, those people were not in Congress in September 2008. There was a popular revolt against large government known as the Tea Party Movement, that produced people like Rand Paul, produced these things. Criminal justice reform, which is on the verge of happening and I hope still can happen, wasn't on anyone's lips in 2008.

So even though we're living in this dark moment and an authoritarian and scary moment as George Will rightly points out, a lot of very promising, great things are happening, including some things that were unfathomable to some of us older people for years, for decades. The fact that guns were recognized, now recognized that the Second Amendment gives an individual right, was not something that a lot of people were thinking about back then. So all of these things are happening and this is something that is worth thinking about since you are younger than me out there and I heard questions earlier with Congressmen Amash and Massie, that were like "Well, how do you affect change?" and these kinds of things and a lot of these changes happened with some politics in it and some of the changes happened because people were rooting all around politics. Politics, major party politics, is not the only game in town to try to make these changes happen.

This slide here talks about something–and I want to spin this into a question for you George, which is that we live in this really weird moment where in the last 25 years, a historical number of people, 1 billion people, have been lifted out of extreme poverty. Even the United Nations says this is because in large part due to globalized reductions in tariffs and barriers to trade. It's an amazing human accomplishment and yet we are living in America at a time when Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton increasingly (although her heart's not necessarily in it) are running as heavy protectionists.

How is it that America, in your judgment, lost the plot about what is literally the most tremendous story in modern times, which is the liberation of the individual and the de-povertization around the world, by people using policies that have absolutely nothing to do with Bernie Sanders?

One quick [aside] before I actually ask him the question. When Barack Obama went to Sweden a couple of years ago, three Swedish Social Democratic trade unions asked to meet with him in order to tell him, "Please President Obama"–this is in Sweden, this is in Bernie Sanders' Sweden– "Please President Obama, can you make sure to reduce trade barriers because that's the best way for trade unions in Northern Europe to work?" So why have we Americans lost the plot of what made the prosperity that's helping the rest of the world?

Will: I don't think they have. I think the political class has clearly lost it. Donald Trump thinks the way to make America great is to retaliate against Oreos being made outside the country. (laughter)

Welch: Did you watch it? He said that last night!

Will: And he believes it, about as much as he believes anything. Look, it is a fact that for non-college educated white males, their wages have been stagnant–not yours I'm sure. Their earnings have been stagnant for 40 years. You'd be irritable and you would be wary and you would be anxious about immigration and you'd be susceptible to protectionist arguments too if you felt that you were treading water and making no progress.

That said, I don't think the American people are that open to protectionism. The last time we went through one of these was 1980 when John Connally, running against Ronald Reagan, decided that he would stake out a protectionist position. He won one delegate, some woman from Arkansas, for his efforts. In 1984 I believe it was–or was it '88?—[Iowa Rep. Richard] Gephardt decided to be a protectionist and he got nowhere. I think the American people understand this. I mean, Donald Trump is waging war on China, which is to say waging war on Walmart, which is the biggest importer of Chinese goods, and is, by the way, with 1.4 million employees, our largest private sector employer. [Walmart is] where a lot of Donald Trump supporters or voters presumably shop. So there's kind of madness in the air. But I don't think the American people are really swept up in it.

Welch: So why is [protectionism] expressing itself politically? Is it just that the last 15 years have been lousy for private sector job growth for everybody and the aforementioned 40 years of badness for my fellow college dropouts?

Will: I think so. There's nothing wrong with this country in a major way that can't be cured by the difference between 3 percent and 2 percent growth. I think the political class believes that the difference between 2 percent and 3 percent is 1 percent. It is of course, 50 percent and it makes an enormous difference. Any institution in this country, anyone on the board of a school, a museum, a symphony orchestra that has an endowment knows that at 3 or 3.5 percent growth, America is happy because we don't have the politics of allocating scarcity, about which our institutions are not very good. But at 2 percent growth, everyone is sour, elbows are thrown and government becomes a matter of carving with increasingly sharp elbows and nastiness a stagnant pie.

Gillespie: Well let's got to the next slide which feeds into this. George, you were saying, or you were implying if not outright saying, that Donald Trump is an effect of the breakdown of the way the political class, or the way the economy is working. He's not the cause of it.

Will: Partly. His people say, "Well, we're mad because nothing's getting done in Washington." Then you say, "Well, what do you want to get done?" and you get this blank stare. I think it's entertainment. I think there's been a kind of rage machine cranked up in this country and people get addicted to rage and whatever part of the brain is engaged with that.

Gillespie: We'll call it the Trumpimum.

Will: Well, before there was Trump in politics, there was Bill O'Reilly in journalism and it's the kind of constant sense of indignation. We're not quite clear about what, but indignation becomes its own pleasure.

Gillespie: I cannot disagree.

Welch: Great historian I hear though, that Bill O'Reilly.

Will: Terrific. I'm waiting for his new book.

Gillespie: You're trashing your own partial employer: Aren't you with Fox News?

Will: Yes, yes. (laughter)

Gillespie: So here is one of the things that Matt and I in our book, The Declaration of Independence, which grew out of the "Libertarian Moment" essay. Over the past 40 years or so, the number of people who are willing to tell random strangers on the phone that they belong to either the Republican or the Democratic Party has been shrinking.

Welch: And it's not just belonging to a party, it's general affiliation, like "do you feel like a Democrat or do you feel like a Republican?"

Gillespie: Do you identify with one of these parties, not necessarily if you're registered with them or if you vote for their candidates all the time. Gallup does a couple of polls once a year, and in their governance poll one of the things that they found recently is that there is a recent record low number of people who call themselves Democrats. It's at 29 percent. It had been in the high 30s just a few decades ago. Republicans are at 26 percent which is one point up from their lowest point, which you can see in this chart. Independents, people who are either unaffiliated or say they're Independent, has been growing. [The numbers of] people who are willing to talk about being a member of the GOP or the Democratic Party have been failing.

On top of that, Gallup also does a thing where their pollsters use two questions to key in on people's perspective about the role of government. From those answers, they create typologies, four typologies: you're either a conservative, a libertarian, a liberal, or a populist.

And they ask these two questions. The first one is "Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think the government should do more to solve our country's problems. Which comes closer to your view?" So that's one question. The other is "Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think that the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your view?"

And if you look on the chart here, for the first time, the libertarian group, which came in at 27 percent based on that index, is the highest. There's 26 percent that call themselves conservatives, 23 percent that call themselves liberals, 15 percent populist, and 10 percent for any other category that fits into that.

So I guess my question then to you, George, is: Where does the Trump–and in an odd and interesting way the Sanders–anger element, where is it coming from? Or how does that counter the idea that government or a strongman is going to solve all our problems, very authoritarian, how does that fit with some of the developments that Matt was talking about both in U.S. politics and globally? And with attitudes that we're seeing in the American population where they're leaving the parties and they seem to be moving towards libertarianism?

Will: I think the explanation is cognitive dissonance. That is a fancy way of saying people hold in their minds with equal fervor and sincerity flatly incompatible ideas. The American people have always talked like Jeffersonians but they have almost invariably wanted to be governed by Hamiltonians, by a large, omnipresent, omniprovident state.

Gillespie: Now Hamilton, he's that rap artist on Broadway, right? (laughter)

Will: Today, I think 42 percent of Americans identify as Independents. First of all, most of them are behavioral Democrats or behavioral Republicans. It's a pose. They may really think they're Independents, but they're always going to vote one way or another. The Pew Research Group recently did a survey. They gave a huge sample of Americans a list of 19 things and they said, "Do you want spending on them increased, held the same, or cut?" Most of the categories they said "please increase." A few said "hold the same." The one thing [everyone] said to cut was foreign aid which is 1 percent of the federal budget. So limited government with Americans is a rhetorical position. It's avowed but not constraining I'm afraid.

Donald Trump said in South Carolina at a town hall, "I am the only of the Republican candidates who won't cut the hell out of your Social Security." Of course no one can even get either party to move [simply to link the increase in benefits to the] CPI [Consumer Price Index], which would be a minuscule reduction of the inflation adjustment of Social Security. Everyone acknowledges it would be a more accurate measure of inflation. But no one will go near that.

And Social Security of course is the small problem compared to Medicare. We have 10,000 baby boomers every day becoming eligible for Social Security and Medicare. They vote and they vote increasingly for the Republican Party, which means the Republican Party is least apt to make a serious attempt to reform the entitlements. And Donald Trump again, since he's no longer unmentionable, Donald Trump's social policy in a few words is "we're gonna take care of everybody." That's a quote, that's his view.

Gillespie: And it's gonna be great. It'll be beautiful. (laughter)

Will: It'll be huge.

Gillespie: The deficits will be huge. Matt, how do you respond to—or what is the interplay–between "we're going to take care of everybody" but first "we're going to remove 12 million people, or 11 and a half million people from the population"? And does that actually play well?

Welch: I think that it's very interesting when you look at exit polling or entrance polling in the first primary states. They asked in Iowa and New Hampshire: What issues do you care about? The biggest issue in Iowa, I believe, was the size of government. No one really was campaigning on that in Iowa or talking about it. That wasn't driving media cycles partly because Republicans control both houses of Congress so any conflict between Republicans and Democrats over spending is out the window. Republicans just put things in omnibuses, tear up the sequester. We're no longer talking about spending anymore. The debt ceiling? Remember when we had that? We don't have one anymore. They got rid of it in October. We'll talk about it again in March 2017. So that political conflict is gone, yet that thing which animated a lot of the early Tea Party Movement is still a large concern for GOP voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. Immigration was not.

So what does that tell us about Donald Trump? I think, and this is just a postulation here, people saw immigration for him as a kind of threshold or signaling issue–not necessarily that they want to deport illegal immigrants. Actually I think the majority of Republicans generally don't want to.

Gillespie: I get that all surveys are subject to you know, phoniness, but Gallup has found among others, that the majority of Republicans favor a path to legalization, maybe not citizenship.

Will: I think they favor a path to citizenship.

Gillespie: Citizenship, even. Among the general population, it's even higher.

Welch: So I think what's going on here more is that it is a cultural situation. Donald Trump, God bless him, God damn him, whatever, every single day, several times a day, he says things that you're not supposed to say. That the people who have been talking about politics, who have been making written and unwritten rules about what's between the 35 yard lines and all that kind of stuff. They've all just decided there's a way that we do this. There are certain mores that you have. And you can see, some candidates do have those mores; Marco Rubio has those mores. He is always declared the winner of every debate by journalists because they can recognize themselves in him. He talks about policy with a certain kind of mastery. He wants to bomb a lot of countries, and journalists love that. (laughter) Sadly, it's true.

But Donald Trump breaks those rules. He broke the rule when he said Mexicans were rapists. He broke the rule when he said he was going to deport Syrian refugees who are already here. He's going to deport the 4 million kids [of illegal immigrants]. But it's not only that.

It's also just the use of language, you know. Repeating it when someone called Ted Cruz a "pussy." You know, every little thing like that is a rebuke to those who have looked down on everybody who speaks in a way that the elites find to be kind of unwashed and hinky.

So I think it's more that. It's not necessarily that there's this rising tide. If you look back, Republicans had a pretty good election in November 2014, right? They retook the Senate, that's kind of a big thing. They had record gains in state houses and everywhere. Democrats have no bench because of this. Did they do that because of Trumpism? There's maybe one Trumpish politician in this country, the governor of Maine, right? LePage, whatever his name is, he's kind of this crazy character like Rob Ford up in Toronto. It wasn't because of Trumpism. So I think it's because he broke through those thresholds and people respond to that culturally. "Yeah, he's saying stuff that's wrong, that I personally disagree with" people will tell you. But he's saying it and he has the chutzpah to say that. That is more important than the actual content of his policies, I think.

Gillespie: George, do you think if we go back actually to the party identification and recognizing that there's limits to this data, are we in a place where if Trump proceeds to the nomination of the Republican Party that the Republicans become the Whigs of their day? [The GOP] came out of the Whigs, who disappeared before the Civil War. I mean, can the Republican Party withstand Trump actually being their standard bearer?

Will: No. Well there'll still be a husk of the Republican Party, but there would I think be a third-party candidacy if it's still possible at that point to get on enough ballots. And if the sore loser laws [don't] preclude some of these candidates from holding the banner for that party.

Furthermore, if he's the nominee, it'll be the first election in a very long time when there's no one remotely conservative at the top of the ticket. Should he run, he'll run, I think, to the left of Hillary Clinton because he'll be after the Bernie Sanders vote and he'll get a fair amount of it. He'll be running against one of the most unliked candidates the Democrats have put forward ever. And therefore, it's conceivable he would be elected. If elected, he would run presumably for reelection in 2020 which would mean that it would be at least until 2024 when there would be a conservative choice for president.

Gillespie: How are you defining conservative in that? Because on issue by issue, he's pretty conservative. Trump says he's anti-abortion, which is a big issue. He's super anti-immigrant and National Review now says that your attitude on immigration is the key issue for conservatives. He talks about bombing foreign countries, very identified with conservative foreign policy in the 21st century. How is Trump not conservative?

Will: He's an authoritarian. He believes that government we have today is not big enough and that particularly the concentration of power not just in Washington but Washington power in the executive branch has not gone far enough. Conservatism, it seems to me is the congressional supremacy of the Article 1 Project that Mike Lee and others are fostering. It is to tame executive power, particularly the prerogative, the royal prerogative that has crept back into our life from George III now with–

Gillespie: George III or George W.?

Will: All three of them. It's free markets. There's no free market dimension to Donald Trump. If we ever see his "beautiful"–his words– "his beautiful tax returns" we're going to see that he is a crony capitalist through and through.

Gillespie: On the free market issue: The conservative Republicans–when you look at somebody like Ted Cruz (Marco Rubio I'm not sure about), but Ted Cruz is against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is more or less the inheritor of NAFTA. You know, there are questions about it and what not, but it's clearly a free trade agreement. It seems the Republican Party is against that as long as President Obama is going to get the credit for it.

Will: That is part of it.

Audience Member: Intellectual property provisions!

Gillespie: Yeah, they're terrible. I said there's problems with TPP, but still it's a free trade agreement in a way that is recognizable the way these things get parceled out.

Will: That's right. And Cruz, who to his great credit became the first person in modern history to run against the ethanol industry in Iowa and carried Iowa, knows better than this, would have to know better. It's part of the depressing response of the political class to the needs of the nominating season.

Gillespie: Well, if we can go back to the slides for a second…you know, I had quite honestly expected this conversation to go differently. I thought we were going to be talking about how libertarian everything is and, you know, "Come on kids, catch a rocket ride here!" I put together these slides of three recent issues of Reason Magazine. After talking about how great and how libertarian everything was getting–you know free ponies and all of that kind of stuff (laughter)–we were going to talk about threats to the libertarian moment.

But I think instead what we're talking about are the people who are vying for the Authoritarian Moment here.

Will: Well, let me try and cheer you up. Rand Paul did the country and the Republican Party a favor by making foreign policy heterodoxy possible within the Republican Party. And because of that rethinking, you can see it in Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz is not quite as bellicose as Marco Rubio. Rand Paul's campaign died the day that ISIS released the first beheading video. It was over. Because he was going to stake out a rethinking that we much need because of Libya particularly.

Gillespie: Do you think that it died because he did not double down [on non-interventionism] or explain why even if freelance journalists are being killed, we should not invade? Or just, it was over?

Will: [South Carolina Sen.] Lindsey Graham is the only guy I know who really wants to invade, who has had the courage of his convictions. No, it died because people didn't want to hear that anymore. Because instantly, national security went above all other issues.

There are good signs underway. For example, your colleague, Damon Root, has written a wonderful book. Overruled, I believe is the title, everyone here ought to read it.

The most interesting argument in American governance today is not between Republicans and Democrats, it is between conservatives–using the term inclusively here– who believe that we need, as conservatives have been saying for years, a deferential judiciary, passive and deferential to the majoritarian branches of government and, on the other hand, those like Clark Neily, who wrote the wonderful book Terms of Engagement.

Gillespie: He's a lawyer at the Institute for Justice.

Will: Damon Root, me, others–Randy Barnett–who argue on the contrary that what we need is an engaged judiciary asserting the fact that the essence of America is not majority rule, it is liberty. And that it is a dereliction of judicial duty not to squat down, not to presume that government has a burden of proof that when it acts, it has reason to act. (applause)

The libertarian premise, as I understand it, is that before the government interferes with the liberty of the individual or the liberty of two or more individuals contracting together voluntarily, it ought to have a good reason. And it ought to be able to demonstrate that to a court which says you are violating not only the enumerated rights of the Constitution but those unenumerated rights affirmed in the Ninth Amendment.

And therefore we need a more robust judiciary.

What are the two decisions that we most enjoy in the 21st century so far from the Supreme Court? One that we hated the most was Kelo, wherein the court behaved the way conservatives have urged the court to behave, which is deferential to an elected body. In this case, it was the city government of New London, Connecticut when it stole the property of the people in that neighborhood. The good decision we like most is Citizens United, wherein the court overturned prior decisions and overturned certain clear principles enunciated by elected officials around the country by saying that when Americans band together in corporate form, they do not, for the purpose of advocacy, forfeit their First Amendment rights.

We need a more engaged judiciary. This is a rising intellectual force in this country with a libertarian purpose and with libertarian consequences. On the one hand in foreign policy, it's now discussable to say Libya was a mistake, second only to the invasion of Iraq in perhaps [all] American, and certainly recent, American history. Domestically, there is an understanding that our first duty is not to preserve majority rule, which is just another way of saying "might makes right" but to protect the enumerated and unenumerated rights, which is what America's about.

In that sense, we have a new vocabulary, a new intellectual movement. And that's why, if I can say parenthetically, why I think it's a shame we're not going to have hearings and a floor vote and a full debate on an Obama nomination. A) because that would educate the country as to what the issues are and B) it would force the Republicans to decide what they think. Most of them have no clue on the subject.

Gillespie: We are just about out of time. Matt, could you talk about some of the ways to break the authoritarian tendency in American politics? When you look at the three major candidates–Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders–they all have authoritarian tendencies. They're majoritarian or they're authoritarian in the way that Trump is. Where do you look for a moment of optimism?

Welch: I'm in the business of arguing with and of not supporting politicians. But I find that it's very valuable, especially in this moment where there's no one to really think about rooting for in any tangible way, to say, "OK, great, let's talk about every single one of these issues. Let's talk about a $15 minimum wage, imposing that in Columbus, Ohio in addition to Seattle, Washington, and how absolutely utterly bonkers that is."

This election is a great chance to talk about Kelo v. New London, which Donald Trump totally supports. (impersonates Donald Trump) "Great decision, love it, why not?" (audience laughs). So to have these kinds of discussions about what these people stand for. Hillary Clinton has one of the worst track records on free speech in the country, if not the worst. Great, so let's talk about that on an individual basis. And also always recognize that political change happens in many cases outside of politics, not inside of it, and taking some comfort in that. (applause)

Gillespie: We're going to leave it there, thank you very much for listening to us. I want to thank Matt Welch, my Reason colleague, and George Will of the Washington Post, maybe of Fox News on Sundays. Thanks so much.

I also want to thank Students for Liberty. This is a group that is young and vibrant and you are the change not that Obama wanted you to be, but whatever you want the world to be. And do it in politics, do it outside of politics, but for God's sakes, do it. Thanks so much.


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  1. George Will a libertarian-leaning pundit ? That’s a huge stretch.

    1. That was my 1st reaction too.

    2. Graded on the curve apparently.

    3. He has consistently moved in a more libertarian direction over the last 25 years. He’s also written about how the GW Bush presidency really made him reconsider many of his previous assumptions and positions.

      But Fuck it, no True Scotsman.

    4. No, not really. He’s a libertarian conservative and has grown more the latter than the former in recent years.

  2. Didn’t Reason just post a study the other day showing that Trump supporters actually aren’t the most authoritarian leaning (but rather Cruz supporters are)?

    1. Yeah, all I saw in the article is the fact Trump supporters had no principles to pin them down with 😀

    2. They’re just feeling out all the angles before finally doing the big ‘Libertarians For Hillary’ cover story.

      1. Eh, I doubt Reason will jump the shark that hard. There’s really nothing about any of Hillary’s positions that can be remotely construed as Libertarian-esque.

      2. The graphic on this story undermines that theory. At least with regards to Nick and Matt. Now it wouldn’t surprise me if Shikha Dalmia does a “I reluctantly support Hillary Clinton, because Trump is a monster” article.

        1. ‘Now it wouldn’t surprise me if Shikha Dalmia does a “I reluctantly support Hillary Clinton, because Trump is a monster” article.’

          Chapman also.

          1. Chapman’s not a Libertarian, and has been “ready for Hillary” for some time now.

            1. There isn’t enough Cialis in the world . . . .

              1. You are assuming penetration in the wrong direction. Hillary will be strapping on something big and black for Chapman.

      3. Thanks for the trigger warning. I will read the headlines between my fingers, and pass that one up.

    3. The criteria that determined that seemed suspect. Though honestly, whether or not that data is true, I am more concerned about the authoritarian inclinations of the candidate themselves, not their supporters.

      1. Trump is old, has all the money and prestige in the world, a pretty wife, etc. I doubt he’s aping that hard in this stage of his to be the next Mussolini. Psychologically it wouldn’t make sense.

        1. *in this stage of his life

        2. You also forget to mention his obama-esque thin skin or penchant for doing whatever needs to be done to get what he wants, his love of revenge, and willingness to say anything anytime for any reason.

          I don’t know if formal fascism is the end here, but it will be at least a continuation of Obama’s authoritarian tendencies and probably a further consolidation of executive power.

          1. Maybe so. But I suspect that consolidation of executive power was/is the inevitable outcome of our system anyhow regardless of Obama or Trump, i.e.

          2. it will be at least a continuation of Obama’s authoritarian tendencies and probably a further consolidation of executive power.

            This. Although you could say the same about Her Cankleness, Shrillary.

            1. True, at least with Shrillary you can count on partisan hackery to slow her down. Trump will get more dumb shit through because he has an R after his name.

              1. Trump will get more dumb shit through because he has an R after his name and he’s a self-proclaimed Deal Maker with no principles whatsoever who will therefore have no problems enacting the worst of whatever both parties want to do.

              2. True, at least with Trump you can count on the partisan press to slow him down. Hillary will get more dumb shit through because she has a D after her name.

                1. at least with Trump you can count on the partisan press to slow him down

                  Not necessarily. Just ask Republicans from Nevada how well that works. They vote in R majorities into both houses, elect an R governor, and then proceed to get sodomized by the largest tax increase in Nevada history. Couldn’t get it through with Dems in control because it was opposed by Repubs, but you know when Republicans decide it’s time to raise taxes, retards in the media and Dems aren’t going to stop it…it plays into their hands perfectly.

        3. there is far more money to be made once you are no longer president. Obama’s eyes are gleaming with $ signs so that he can go on a speaking tours.

        4. So why does he want political power?

          To punish his enemies. Right now, all he can do is frivolous lawsuits to drain their bank accounts (which he’s bragged about doing).

    4. “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

  3. Trump is an authoritarian that won’t be able to get jack shit done. Hillary is too and, with the cooperation of politicos and the media, will be able to. Just vote your conscience and by that I mean fuck them both.

  4. I still take exception with the Libertarian Moment and some of the revisionism going on here. The term implies that we have reached some sort of turning point in American history, or maybe just in the minds of a very significant number of Americans, that government has grown too large, and they should get out of our lives and our wallets. That we live in a world where people want more choice and freedom and have a greater distrust of large institutions. But as George Will said, Rand was toast as soon as ISIS killed a journalist. Some moment of freedom when people rush back into the arms of the authoritarians because ME nutjobs act like ME nutjobs.

    The Libertarian Moment is a bit like cold fusion. Periodic moments where it appears it’s possibly around the corner but never quite there. And just remind me again – Did Obama raid dispensaries in California? Is MJ still illegal? Can MJ growers do business with national banks? Bread and circuses. We have iphones, internet porn, and some of us have joints. Meanwhile, Balko’s page is still overflowing with tales of no knock raids gone awry.

    1. Actually, MJ is still illegal on the federal leverl. Anyone using it is still subject to arrest. They just aren’t doing it.

    2. Most people have their one thing they’re libertarian on. Drug users want more lenient drug laws; landowners hate eminent domain; business owners want an influx of cheap and/or skilled labor. Supporting one libertarian cause does not mean you support others. I’m afraid the libertarian moment is a myth, although on a few individual issues we’re doing pretty well.

      1. For every MJ legalization there’s a vaping ban or a sugar tax or a GMO label. Marriage equality just means an expansion of the welfare state. For every Heller (for however many more months it lasts) there is a Kelo or NFIB.

        There’s a liberal moment which some confuse as libertarian.

  5. No one really knows what Trump stands for. It changes daily. I think he stands for getting elected. I suspect he will stand for crony capitalism, not authoritarianism.

    1. What’s the difference?

    2. No one really knows what Hillary stands for. It changes daily. I think she stands for getting elected. I suspect she will stand for crony capitalism, not authoritarianism.

      Seriously, I can do this all day.

  6. The official topic was “Is The Libertarian Moment Over?”

    I would think that would be a really short discussion: “Yes, next topic.”

    Or “What Libertarian Moment? I must have blinked and missed it.”

  7. Donald is less authoritarian than Obama or Hillary or Sanders but we know your job is to keep the statist in office.nobody likes to listen to talking heads when they are always wrong.

  8. I’m not so sure the libertarian moment is truly dead.

    Think about it this way. The likely Democratic nominee is someone running under the cloud of possible felony indictment by the Justice Department. Of her own party. The likely Republican nominee is a reality television host whose major campaign plank is that he’s going to build a really big wall to keep the Mexicans out. The likely Libertarian nominee is a popular two-term governor who’s running on a platform of fiscal responsibility, foreign policy restraint, and broad social tolerance. Christ Almighty, I never thought I’d live to see the day when the Libertarians were the grownups in the room.

    1. I’d think a candidate that promoted 1% annual growth in federal spending or something like that as a compromise toward balancing the budget would be a popular candidate. I mean, surely Independents would get behind someone like that.

    2. I don’t think that’s a good sign.

  9. It appears that Cosmo Kramer was right after all…….

    JERRY: Elaine and I were just discussing whether I could admit a man is attractive.
    KRAMER: Hmm. Oh! Yeah. I’ll tell you who is an attractive man: George Will.
    JERRY: Really!
    KRAMER: Yeah! He has clean looks, scrubbed and shampooed and…
    ELAINE: He’s smart….
    KRAMER: No, no. I don’t find him all that bright.

  10. Look, what does a brother have to do around here to get some Trump news?

  11. you can folder paper seven times but only with a hydraulic press and it explodes on the seventh fold.

  12. I see aren’t done soiling trousers yet. I can’t wait to see what happens if Trump wins – will their be any poop left to make pants dirty?

    1. Now now, everyone on Reason knows it’s only “pants shitting” if you say something critical of open borders.

      1. Now now, everyone on Reason knows it’s only “pants shitting” if you say something critical of open borders.

        No. The pants-shitting was related to people who said the U.S. needed to stop accepting Muslim immigrants and maybe even deport all current Muslim immigrants as a reaction to San Bernardino. A hysterical overreaction to the event was the pants-shitting.

        Bitching about the inanities of Donald Trump is just like bitching about the inanities of any political candidate. Maybe some reactions to Donald Trump are within the boundaries of pants-shitting, but no so much as the pants-shitting after San Bernardino.

        1. I believe the original pants-shitting moment was over the failed Ebola outbreak.

          1. Well it’s actually been happening over dysentery outbreaks for years.

  13. Oh hey, I hear lots of stuff about Trump being awful, Trump being racist, Trump being this or that… I don’t hear a lot of hand-wringing from my Democratic friends about Trump being too authoritarian. Anecdotal, FWIW.

    1. Me neither, in fact, many lefties want an authoritarian who agrees with them on most issues.

    2. Well yeah, most of my friends on the left want to ‘feel the Bern’ because he fits in with their more cosmopolitan view of what should be done with my money.

      Conversely, they dislike Trump because it’s apparently off-putting to hear shit you love coming from a ‘Rethuglican’.

  14. This was a missed once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Matt to have worn a Bow-Tie and be ‘cool’ while doing so

  15. “He’s an authoritarian,” says Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor George Will. “He believes that government we have today is not big enough and that particularly the concentration of power not just in Washington but Washington power in the executive branch has not gone far enough.”

    That is just because all of low-class denim aficionados are his biggest supporters, isn’t that right, Georgie?

    Put the suits back in charge right, you pompous fuck?

  16. “the Most Interesting Man in Politics” has gone the way of The Most Interesting Man in the World.

    Stay thirsty my friends.

    1. They took his jerb!

  17. “Cognitive dissonance”

    I’m with George Will on this one.

  18. Is this the same George Will who interviewed Oswald Mosley?

  19. Trump is a deal-maker. I think that if he is on the verge of nomination and the GOP threatens to sit on its hands and not support him, and if some GOP insiders make it clear to him what powerful ammo the Dems are poised to unleash on him at full volume continually, he might tell his delegates to vote for a compromise candidate–probably some dark horse.

    Fun fact: On the (University of) Iowa Electronic Markets, the odds on a dark horse or “rest of the field” candidate (apart from those who have campaigned) are 18%. See These prediction markets have a good track record.

    You can bet up to $500 there legally. Click on one of the links.

    1. If that’s the way the GOP tries to play it, what are they going to offer him to go away? What kind of a deal is it when you tell him that you and the Dems are going to gang up on him?

      Hell, he’s already running against, and beating the shit out of, the Republican Party establishment. He already knows he’s going to run against the Dems, and they are going to go full apeshit crazy to try and beat him. I don’t see such an approach inducing him to quietly drop out, at all.

      Plus, if they do this, they have to know he’s going to go straight to the public with it, and incite a rebellion against the GOP establishment.

      1. The GOP establishment has published volumes of stuff about Trump’s personal and business failings, flip flops, gaffes and bad taste in architecture, all without result with his primary supporters. Maybe there’s more that they haven’t published, but there can’t be much left so the stuff is public and will lack the element of surprise if the Ds want to use it.

        There are 40 years worth of skeletons in the crawl space under Hillary’s double wide which the press has assiduously kept quiet about. A vicious fighter like Trump with his resources and connections will drag them out and force the media to cover them.

        For this reason, I expect Hillary will not run if Trump is nominated. The Ds will swap her out for Biden who is likely immune to Trump’s trashing campaign style.

        1. Maybe there’s more that they haven’t published, but there can’t be much left so the stuff is public and will lack the element of surprise if the Ds want to use it.

          There’s nothing requiring the Dems print truthful narratives.

          I’m sticking with my prediction: We haven’t seen the kitchen sink yet.

        2. For this reason, I expect Hillary will not run if Trump is nominated. The Ds will swap her out for Biden who is likely immune to Trump’s trashing campaign style.

          Oh, and uh, no.

          1. We’ll see in due course. There’s that potential indictment, and Obama could drop the hammer before the convention if it looks like Hillary would lose. Biden would be easier to manage than Hillary.

            1. There is no way in hell Hillary is going to abandon the race and the pursuit of power. This IS her stock and trade. Deflecting scandal IS her stock and trade. To her, this whole email scandal is some noise in the background she and her supporters merely need to shout over until Fox News gets bored.

            2. The Obama administration is not going to indict Clinton. That’s just not happening. And if Trump has proven anything, it’s that voters don’t care nearly as much as you think about ‘skeletons in the closet.’ Skipped a few years of taxes? Lied under oath? Maybe took a bribe? All trifles in an election with Trump. If the GOP ran a ‘respectable’ candidate, maybe dirt would still mean something, but so long as Hillary isn’t on video eating children alive, Democrats and moderate independents will turn out in force to elect her just to keep Trump out of the White House.

              And Trump will be in the worst position to go against her, since he won’t have the resources of the party establishment; the big donors won’t show up for him and many will go over to Hillary. All he can doing is keep ranting inanely like he’s done for so many months, and that won’t have the same affect as it did when competing for the GOP base. He is a hopeless cause.

        3. What is this parallel universe you hail from in which dirt sticks to the Clintons? Hillary has weathered worse accusations than anything yet hurled at Trump and has emerged unscathed.

          As for Trump being a “vicious fighter” — please. He’s a pussy. Ask him a tough question and he babbles like an idiot. His appeal stems entirely from the fact that the GOP leadership has alienated its base. That’s fine for appealing to angry Republicans, but less useful for appealing to the two-thirds of Americans who think the Republican base are douchebags too.

          1. He’s vicious when he attacks.

            1. So is every other politician in the world.

            2. So are Hillary and her supporters.

            3. Which will work in her favor. She’ll play the woman-under-attack role and feminists women and chivalrous men will rally to her side. Even that third-tier Fiorina managed to surge when Trump attacked her. Nothing in Trump’s proverbial arsenal works against Hillary. His only chance is a big recession that gets pinned on Obama and the Democrats (and even that’s a stretch).

    2. The last trade was at 14.3% It’ll probably drop to 10% within a week.

  20. “He’s an authoritarian,”

    So is Obama.

    1. You probably shouldn’t vote for Obama this year, then.

      1. If I say Trump is authoritarian, it means he’s authoritarian compared to me.

        I’m not sure he is particularly authoritarian vis a vis Hillary.

        1. Yes, we know you “aren’t sure” of that. But can you actually name something Trump is on-record saying the Presidency is forbidden from doing?

          1. I don’t reverence our rights because they’re in the Constitution. I reverence the Constitution because it protects our rights. When the Constitution does a poor job of protecting our rights, the Constitution is wrong.

            I’m not limited to calling Trump authoritarian only if what he wants to do is forbidden in the Constitution. There are plenty of authoritarian things that are also perfectly Constitutional.

            Congress could declare war on Canada tomorrow. Obama could subsequently invade and annex Quebec, and do so within the bounds of constitutionality.

            Does that mean doing so wouldn’t be “authoritarian”?

            Trump has made numerous statements that make me believe he doesn’t value our individual rights as much as I do. He’s attacked the First Amendment from multiple angles. He’s also promised to cut me off from foreign trade–because what I buy from overseas, he says, isn’t in the country’s best interests collectively. I say fuck that, and fuck Trump, too. He’s an authoritarian.

            He’s certainly authoritarian compared to me. Hell, I stand up for the individual rights of people I despise all the time, and I’ve been doing it for more than ten years on the this website–day in, day out. I’ve even been standing up for Trump’s rights over the past week, and I despise him. I’m much more considerate of Trump’s rights than he is of mine, and, yes, that almost certainly means he’ll be an authoritarian President in my eyes.

            And no one else’s view matters as much to me.

            1. well said, Ken.

  21. If there is an independent run by a leading Republican, that would probably be more damaging than a Trump Presidency, just like Teddy Roosevelt’s ill-fated independent run handed the Presidency to a leading candidate for worst President ever, Woodrow Wilson. Wilson did more damage to the Constitutional order than, arguably, any President in history.

    1. Other than Obama.


    Reason is getting a bit authoritarian itself.

  23. I envision of sea of people surrounding the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on July 18th …. all wearing camouflage t-shirts emblazoned with the words, “I would DIE for Donald Trump!” in big white letters.

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  26. Is someone around here trying to imply Hillary and the Democrats are not Authoritarian?

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  29. RE: George Will: Brace Yourself for Donald Trump & the Authoritarian Moment

    A republican becoming an authoritarian slaver?
    Who would’ve thought?

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  31. For example, your colleague, Damon Root, has written a wonderful book. Overruled, I believe is the title, everyone here ought to read it.

    Clark Neily, who wrote the wonderful book Terms of Engagement


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