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The Case for Optimism About Trump's Presidency

Leading libertarian thinkers say the billionaire bully might be better than Obama and Hillary on foreign policy, education, and more.

Since the election of Donald Trump, we've been talking to libertarian policy experts about what a Trump presidency will bring to health care, education, foreign policy, and the justice system. The people we talked to are Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute, Lisa Graham Keegan, former head of education in Arizona, historian Thaddeus Russell, legal scholar Randy Barnett, and defense attorney and legal blogger Ken White of Popehat.

To our surprise, the mood is one of skeptical optimism. All agree that Trump is likely to hand off the details of policy and day-to-day operations to his cabinet secretaries and administrators. In many cases, those people are almost certain to be preferable to ones selected by Hillary Clinton. And even when when they are not, there's reason to believe that a resurgent Congress and bureaucratic inertia will put a stop to Trump's worst desires.

Here are excerpts from recent Reason podcasts. To hear the full conversations, subscribe to the Reason podcast at iTunes and don't forget to rate and review us.

Hosted by Nick Gillespie. Produced by Jim Epstein. Graphics by Austin Bragg.

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  • Zunalter||

    I agree. The guy is a world-class tool and douche, but not a calculated train-wreck like Hillary.

    Possibly being good is better than for sure being shitty.

  • ||

    He's a fascist. Fascists always take the "pragmatic/realist" tack initially. Moreso than Hilary.

    I'm definitely NOT optimistic.

  • Brian||

    Sure, you can be optimistic.

    What about me?

    I'm going to die.

    I'M GOING TO DIE AND YOU'RE NOT CARING ABOUT ME!

  • ||

    TRUMP JUST TOOK 40 YEARS OFF MY LIFE EXPECTANCY DUE TO CLIMATE CHANGE!!!!

  • Tundra||

    *walks by, stops, hands Brian and Apatheist each a cookie, continues on*

  • Citizen X||

    Why do you have to other those with gluten sensitivities or diabeetus, shitlord?

  • bacon-magic||

    Thanks Citizen, I was pretty sure that my diabeetus was my one way ticket to the camps.

  • Citizen X||

    You do NOT want to find out what SugarFree gets up to at those camps.

  • Chipper Morning Wood||

    I am auditioning for my new show Diabeavis and Glutenhead.

  • Episteme||

    Until his infrastructure plans involve building subterranean cities, deporting the molemen along the way.

    (The upside of having a non-politician elected out of private sector is that he's got less of a chance of being a secret lizard person)

  • Chipper Morning Wood||

    There is no case for optimism from a libertarian perspective for a Trump presidency. Anyone that thinks otherwise is a fucking moron.

  • ||

    Yeah, if the "cabinet secretaries and administrators" he hands day to day operations off to are people like Giuliani and Christie we're fucked.

  • Zero Sum Game||

    Depends on who we get for SCOTUS. That is possibly cause for optimism because no matter how bad Trump is, a Supreme Court justice is a lifetime appointee and they tend to stick around a very long time on the bench.

    Yeah, it's a last-ditch defense against tyranny before the electorate has to take things into their own hands, but SCOTUS did alright by us for a while there. Not perfect, but better than the other two branches.

  • Peter Verkooijen||

    The big government authoritarian Trump presidency will ensure that the blame for the collapsing bankrupt welfare state will fall on Republicans, conservatives and by association libertarians.

    Trump will pave the way for a millennial dogmatic socialist to take over in 2020 or 2024, like GWB paved the way for Obama.

    Libertarians have no chance to be build a majority around individual liberty and limited government.

  • Shirley Knott||

    The case for optimism is that the Donald is far more likely to unite opposition than Hillary would have been.
    He's the president everyone can hate. And we have desperately needed a president *everyone* can hate.

    Whether we survive his presidency is an open question. Whether we would have survived a Hillary presidency seems rather more clearly to be an emphatic 'no!'

  • Peter Verkooijen||

    The united opposition against Trump will be socialist. Libertarians have no path to building a majority coalition.

  • Free Society||

    You've been singing a new tune lately, Nick. So all that histrionic writing, making an ass of yourself as debate moderator and later as an actual debater versus Walter Block, just some kind of ploy?

  • bacon-magic||

    The Jacket has resumed control.

  • ||

    He should nominate Alex Epstein to head the Department of Energy. He would actually be awesome for, would be outside the establishment, and would generate enough salty tears from the left to get me through the next 4 years.

  • Chipper Morning Wood||

    No, Jeb Bush for Department of Energy.

  • ||

    This is supposed to be the thread for optimism!

  • Tom Bombadil||

    Chipper, I see what you did there.

  • Episteme||

    Low energy secretaries is what we need to shrink the size and influence of executive departments!

  • lafe.long||

    Well there was a glimmer...

    ...of perhaps the left shifting to supporting constraints on the executive branch, or an interest in the privacy rights of citizens.

    But all I'll seen so far is the great "Doubling Down of Derp™" of 2016

  • T.F.G.||

    I am extremely optimistic that he will betray the trust of the Americans who elected him.

  • bacon-magic||

    ^This. The clown won. He was the better alternative but he is still a clown. Let's just hope he is not a puppet.

  • DarrenM||

    Many of people who voted for him will be disappointed. I predict they will not vote in 2020 making a Democratic win more likely.

  • Citizen X||

    Oh, it's gonna be a shitshow. But at least it won't be a shitshow that has a bunch of my friends/family and all of pop culture cheering it on.

  • bacon-magic||

    And you have to admit that the tears are delicious. That alone makes it worthwhile.

  • Citizen X||

    Delicious and nourishing. But they won't last forever.

  • Chipper Morning Wood||

    All the prog crying is blanketing the troposphere and accelerating climate change!

  • Quincy Three||

    But ratings for the AmericaShow will be higher than ever in Foreignlandia! Soap will be sold!

  • Ken Shultz||

    The case we should be making isn't for Trump.

    Let Trump make the case for himself. I'll believe it when I see it.

    The case we should be making is for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    The Republicans took absolute control of two more state legislatures in the last election, bringing the number of legislatures they control outright to 33--an unprecedented number.

    It requires 34 states to propose amendments to the Constitution--surely with 33 Republican legislatures calling to propose a non-wedge issue like a balanced budget amendment, one of the legislatures with mixed control would join those 33.

    Get a balanced budget amendment proposed, and it takes 38 states to ratify it. That might seem like a stretch to get the additional five states, but once the amendment is proposed, local elections for the state legislature would be more important than who we send to Washington DC.

    Let the balanced budget amendment take effect in 2050, but get it ratified in 2018--and I'll show you a real libertarian moment to talk about.

    Sick of seeing politics be all about wedge issues and nothing about spending?

    Want to see the government have to think about where they're going to get the money before they take on another war, expand medicaid, bail out banks, do another stimulus, or take on climate change?

    Right now they can do that by just floating more debt. Starve the beast, baby!

  • DarrenM||

    Yes, we need to have some (reasonable) Amendments. The problem as we've seen is that they can so easily simply be reinterpreted to get the desired result. For a BBA, it would need to be simple without fuzzy language or exceptions than could be twisted and abused.

    I'd like to see a new independent 'branch' of the government responsible for auditing financial matters of all agencies, etc., and with the authority to declare a budget to be balanced or not. The way it is not, politicians can juggle the books for purely political purposes to make a budget appear 'balanced'.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I think there are already enough people who are behind a balanced budget. It isn't something people need explained to them that much. It isn't even a new idea. We wouldn't have to explain to average voters what it means. It would mean that by 2050, the politicians will have to make the tough choices on the budget instead of floating more debt.

    We should understand a few other principles too that I'm not sure everyone does.

    For one, the situation where the government becomes so flush with cash that it decides to retire debt instead of spend it is ludicrous. It's never going to happen. The government will always spend every penny it gets. Once we realize that's the case, we can stop with this ridiculous naive hope that somehow our representatives will choose to stop spending out of principle.

    The only reason we've gotten away with so much spending over the past 15 years is because the world has beaten a path to our door to lend us money are historically low interest rates. Someday, inflation will rear its ugly head, and the interest rate the world demands will move back into its historical norms, and when that day comes, it will become too expensive for the government to borrow--and we'll start cutting spending.

  • Ken Shultz||

    But that's an ugly world. That's what happened to Greece. If we want to avoid Greece's fate (and there isn't anyone big enough in the world to bail us out), then we'll need to cut spending of our own free will. If cementing their power through spending is too much of a temptation for anyone to resist, then we'll have to find a way to force them to resist.

    And that's what a balanced budget amendment is all about.

    Yeah, it has to be simple, so that local voters voting for state legislators understand who they should vote for and why. It has to be simple so that it minimizes the opportunities for shenanigans on interpretation. It could require a budget surplus of 1% over the average of some number of years--similar to what they do in fiscally conservative Sweden. It shouldn't be implemented until sometime in the future--so the economy and the treasury markets have time to adjust. Make it 2050, and no one needs to oppose the balanced budget amendment for fear that it will destroy the economy next year.

  • Ken Shultz||

    These are stipulations that are required in order to get a balanced budget amendment done. But we cannot have small government or a vibrant economy over the long run so long as the government can continue to expand in size to whatever extent the world markets are willing to prop us up. And there is no other way to stop our politicians from spending more money for long enough to get our budget deficit back under control. It has to be done by balanced budget amendment, or it will be done to us by inflation. There is no other realistic option. Like Greece, our politicians in both parties will keep spending until the world is no longer willing to underwrite our debt or the world is no longer capable of underwriting our debt. Our budget will eventually be slashed dramatically. The only question is whether we want to make tough choices on our own terms or have the terms of surrender inflicted on us by forces beyond our control.

  • CE||

    LOL.... Trump and "balanced budget" in the same paragraph!

  • Peter Verkooijen||

    Republicans don't care about debt and deficits and the size of government again. "Just print the money" to build yuge walls, roads and bridges to nowhere, shiny airports like the Chinese have.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Look on the bright side. When the aliens finally come to enslave humanity, it will be an improvement over the Trumpocalypse.

  • Jerryskids||

    The question for me has never been whether Trump or Hillary is better, it's who's better for libertarianism in the long run. I still think Trump is far worse because he'll unite the GOP behind a "just win, baby" banner and there goes any last pretense of being a small-government party. We now effectively have two Democrat parties, one a populist and the other socialist, and neither one of them gives a shit about limited government. Where does that leave the few of us who mostly just want to be left alone and don't think the government has any business messing with most of the crap it spends an ungodly amount of money messing with? Had Trump lost, we'd probably have the company of a hell of a lot more small-government ex-Republicans because a hell of a lot more people would have woken up to the fact that the GOP has been lying their asses off about what they believe for at least the last 40 years. You think the likes of Amash and Paul and Lee and Flake are now playing a stronger hand within the GOP than they would be if they were leading the opposition to a President Clinton? I don't think so, I think they're more apt to get purged from the party as being a turd in the punchbowl.

  • Peter Verkooijen||

    Exactly.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Yeah, I briefly felt optimistic about Obama having some upsides too, despite not voting for him. Maybe less war, more civil liberties... ha, ha, ha, silly me. The only positive thing about the Trump presidency is going to be watching his supporters and the Democrats being made to suffer for their foolishness and/or wickedness.

  • CE||

    And more open relations with Cuba. If Trump doesn't end that.

  • DWC||

    At least it's not "The libertarian case for Trump".

  • Darth Squirrel||

    If 'The libertarian case for Bernie' write they can, 'for Trump' cakewalk should be.

  • John Galt II||

    Right. If the world exploded into dust tomorrow, Gillespie would shout, "MORE proof of a libertarian moment."
    But any honest human must accept that the libertarian establishment TOTALLY fucked up the best opportunity for major change we're likely to see for the next 50-100 years,

    In 2012, Gary Johnson insisted that Ron Paul was no libertarian, in 2016, he ran on the anti-gummint mentality ... NOTHING on jobs and the economy, health care, tax and government overhauls ... just mindless slogans to send a tingle up the leg of "movement libertarians" (5% of the voters) and SHIT on (again) the 53% of Americans who are Nolan libertarians.

    Anti-gummint libs have NO interest in governing/ transitioning to a free society. They instead want to move someplace else with mostly their kind (libertopia or New Hampshire) ... like the Moonies who moved to Oregon, the Branch Davidians to Waco., and the People's Temple to Jonestown ... juts another wacky cult, sipping on the Kool-Aid ... eager to be manipulated,

    You tell 'em Nick!

  • CE||

    Ron Paul has the best pro-liberty voting record in the history of the US Congress, and earned 2 million votes in the Republican primaries in 2012, good for 10 percent.

    Gary Johnson was by far the best candidate in the 2016 general election, and earned 4 million votes, good for 3 percent.

    I voted for both of them. Too many libertarians and small government conservatives didn't.

  • John Galt II||

    Ron Paul has the best pro-liberty voting record in the history of the US Congress,

    He's a blatant fascist, using the southern racist version of States Rights and calling it federalism. Says states have powers which have NEVER been delegated, and tells his cult that SCOTUS has no power to defend constitutional rights. So he lies about the Constitution, pretends the Ninth Amendment does not exist, never heard of balance of power, checks and balances and three co-equal branches.

    He's the worst bigot to sit in Congress since Jim Crow. Sponsored a bill to forbid SCOTUS from even hearing any appeals to DOMA. Totally shameful, would deny fundamental rights to an entire group of citizens ... IDENTICAL to Jim Crow. Totally shameful.

    In 1957 Arkansas Gov, Faubus activated his state militia, overwhelming force to keep nine black kids from registering at Little Rock's Central High School. President Eisenhower sent armed troops ordered to use force if necessary, to defend the rights of nine kids, Faubus caved. He later defended his action by claiming he was defending his states voters (segregation) from an overreaching and intrusive federal government .,.. the same bullshit Ron Paul uses today, putting him with Faubus, George Wallace and the KKK.

    BTW, what does that have to do with what I posted?

  • AHunter||

    I really hope that Nick and everyone who is a reader of Reason and is beginning to feel optimistic about Trump, and/or is ridiculing those who are concerned about his presidency, reads this excellent piece in the NYRB by Masha Gessen:

    http://www2.nybooks.com/daily/.....vival.html

  • ArbutusJoe||

    controlled hysteria, but hysteria nonetheless

    I went through Masha's other writing on NYRB and didn't see anything about Obama's actual autocratic extension of executive power. Instead, we get speculative concerns. I'm concerned too, but let's see the autocracy first before we start "prepping".

  • The Elite Elite||

    Here's the real case for optimism for President Trump. Before even getting into office and doing anything, he already has some of the troglodytes crashing the Canadian Immigration site and trying to get the whole state of California to leave the union. If the only good thing his presidency does is remove MILLIONS of statists from voting in US national elections, he'll have done a great job.

  • Voxpo||

    Alternative titles for this article:

    Apocalypse Not?

    The Case for Optimism About Hangnails, Diarrhea

    The Bright Side of That Unthinkable Catastrophe You Tried to Prevent

    Nixon Opened Up China Amirite

    An Inquiry Into Low-pH Grapes

    Making America--Wait, Hear Me Out...

  • bacchys||

    Putting lipstick on a pig.

  • ||

    If you compare the common signs of Fascism to where things are headed, you would not be optimistic at all. All in an effort to cull the work force...

  • s7te2013||

    The Bright Side of That Unthinkable Catastrophe You Tried to Prevent
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