What Does the Sanders and Trump Victory Mean?
A defeat of the establishment! Surely that is wonderful news. The prevailing political (and government in general) system has indeed failed, and that failure is more obvious than ever. The system is run for them and not us. Down with the ruling class! Up with the outsiders who are determined to overthrow the status quo!
At any point in my life, I would have celebrated.
But there’s a slight problem. Actually it is a big problem. Neither Trump nor Sanders favor a genuine alternative to an establishment-run administrative system of all-intrusive state power. Both favor a dramatic expansion of the grip that government itself has over the social and economic order.
They differ in presentation, emphasis, and appeal to different sets of grievances, but they both push for more centralization of power and increased autocratic management of the country and its citizens. If either gets his way — and this is highly doubtful — we end with less liberty than before.
What’s being rejected is awful and deserves to die the death. What’s being proposed as a replacement is more awful still.
In both cases, the realization of their plans — whether it is trade wars, surveillance of business, or looting of the rich — requires the empowerment of bureaucracies and their rule over the lives of the American people. Both have plans for the country that overrule your plans for your life, and to a much greater degree than it is taking place already.
It’s Napoleon vs. Robespierre, Mussolini vs. Mao, Batista vs. Castro. Pick your would-be central planner.
The hint in the case of Bernie Sanders is that he considers himself a “democratic socialist,” a phrase which means that your overlords are happy for you to agree with them as they pillage your property and force you into compliance with their vision of fairness and justice. It’s amazing that we should still be talking about socialism at all today. It’s a tribute to Bernie’s charm — and an indication of how skeptical people are of the prevailing order — that he was able to sell the greatest failure of the 20th century as a solution for the 21st.
And Trump. He is cut from the interwar cloth of nationalist/fascist dictators, rallying his people based on identity, resentment, and the promise of reclaiming some imagined greatness from the past. He promises more war: trade war, war on immigration, war on political correctness, war on the prevailing elite structure, war on anyone who earns his personal enmity. People get confused about his ideological loyalties because he has none that are well thought out. He is selling himself as some brilliant manager who will make all things right again in the same way he has built a wonderful business empire.
A victory for Sanders and Trump is supposed to indicate a deeply divided electorate. But this is true only as regards tone and emphasis. On all essentials, Trump and Sanders agree: they will make a bad system worse by making it bigger, meaner, and more driven. The script they are following is straight outta Hayek.
And yet, it is impossible to deny demographics here. In general, the educated back Sanders while the under-educated back Trump. There are plenty of people out there — not a silent majority yet — who are both smart and have a modicum of appreciation for the idea of human freedom, but they are stuck supporting the establishment while the masses on the move are pushing for a dramatic turn and decisive solutions.
There is an absurdist spectacle to the entire scene. The failures of public policy have never been so obvious. It brought us the housing boom and bust. It has failed to create a much-promised job boom. Obamacare has been a fiasco. The education system has never been less popular. U.S. foreign policy has created endless enemies. No one likes the bureaucratic class and those who make them powerful over us. Even the criminal justice system is newly doubted.
And what of those things we like? We like our gadgets. We like movies. We like our social groups, ever more heterogenous. We live on social applications on tiny devices in our pockets. We shop online and buy goods from all over the planet, disregarding borders as fictions on paper. Food has never been more plentiful and available thanks to a market that never sleeps. For security we depend on private services. Transportation comes to us thanks to mobile applications. This is the way life works in 2016, and it depends on our free associations and the dynamics of enterprise, not the bludgeon of public policy.
And yet the masses still march to the polls and punch their tickets for candidates that want to take it away from us. What are people thinking? Well, consider: what are the options? They are not viable.
Moreover, it’s not even clear that voters are sure about the nature of the system in which they are participating. Is this reality TV? Is it like sports? Is this like the Oscars? We are seeking leaders who delight us, charm us, perform well under pressure, have the best lines and comebacks. America’s Got Political Talent. Surely the winner should rule.
This is a very dangerous game. As much as I generally believe in the impotence of political leaders, getting the wrong person at the top — backed by angry masses with pitchforks — could change this pattern for the worse. Leaders have traditionally had very little power to cut the government but they do retain the power to expand the state in ways that fit with their vision for how the country ought to work. These people have the potential to be serious menaces to civilization.
Modern political decision making needs to be about damage control, limiting the chances that something could go very wrong.
The Economics of Life Itself : Beautiful Anarchy is the writing platform of Jeffrey Tucker, in which he covers economics, art, popular culture, and politics from a pro-liberty, anti-state point of view.