So, I’m looking right now at an article on the Washington Post website, Breaking from GOP orthodoxy, Trump increasingly deciding winners and losers in the economy by Steven Mufson and David J. Lynch. In it, the two writers make the interesting point that Conservatism (at least as that complicated word is defined in the United States) has preached the Free Market as a central tenet of its social gospel. The government, say conservatives, should stay out of the economy, business people should be able to do or not do pretty much anything they like, and no one should profit from any special favor from whatever despot is running things at the moment.
But, with Trump, we see a very different situation. He, and his minions, make no pretense of even handedness, much less free enterprise. The business professional who is most successful at flattering or benefiting Trump thrives. The one who doesn’t, fails. And, by like token, those industries which the Orange One happens to like (or that employs his supporters) …like, for example, oil and coal…is supported and coddled, even though wind and solar are cheaper, and so, in a genuinely competitive situation, should succeed.
In fact, I begin to suspect that we are in the midst of something very important right at the moment. Specifically I wonder if we aren’t seeing the death throes of a concept. I wonder if we aren’t seeing the abject moral and intellectual bankruptcy of that unique collection of conflicting ideas which Rightists are pleased to call Libertarianism, or Objectivism, or Anarcho-Capitalism, or what have you…and whose prophets and proponents are Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard.
The central theory of that ideology, and of those men and women, is that “government doesn’t work,” (how often we have heard that reframe in the last forty years!) and that if we just leave the rich alone to work things out, everything will be just ducky. No matter how wretched things are now, eventually, Atlas Will Shrug, wealth will trickle down, Mammon will be in his heaven, and all will be right with the world. No wonder the wealthy and the powerful were so quick to adopt the Randian Religion. It made them only a little less than gods.
But what actually happened? What genuinely occurred when a “real” businessman was in the White House, and all the John Galts and Dagny Taggarts were running things? Answer: corruption, waste, abuse, and a weirdly post-capitalist age in which entrepreneurs were displaced by oligarchs and kleptocrats.
And maybe that was the point all along. Maybe that’s what the John Galts and Dagny Taggarts really wanted. They didn’t really believe that government didn’t work. They just wanted it to work for them alone. They didn’t really mind taxes…so long as someone else paid them. And they didn’t really mind regulations, so long as they got to be the regulators.
Thus libertarianism is revealed as a lie…a queasy falsehood propagated by the rich and banal, and believed by the naive and the misinformed. The irony, of course, is that this means that libertarianism/objectivism is exactly what the Right always claimed Social Democracy to be, a false religion, cynically preached by men and women who sought only to enrich themselves at public expense.
An ugly picture, indeed. Yet, there may be some small light on the horizon. To wit, now that Trump and his followers have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that government does work, that it is powerful, and that, in spite of all the claims of globalists and corporate managers, the economy is subject to it and not the other way around…
Maybe, just maybe…
People will remember that fact, and once Trump and his sycophants are gone, they will employ the vast and awe-inspiring power of the state…
But this time….this time…for themselves.