The overriding lesson to be learned by the right and left and the pro and anti Trumpsters is the nature of power and what happens when a centralized national government assumes too much power. For eight years of the George W. Bush presidency, America’s leftists and Democrats railed against Bush’s policies of illegal surveillance, terrorist detentions, tax cuts, and extra-judicial assassinations of terror suspects. This was followed by eight years of the Obama presidency, one of the most lawless and secretive administrations in history, and which witnessed mass illegal surveillance, accelerated and expanded drone assassinations around the planet, indefinite terrorist detentions, and aggressive prosecution of government whistle-blowers. The American right watched in horror as the federal government seized control of the medical industry, left Iraq without an American military presence, and doubled the national debt (With the full cooperation of the Republican Party).
Now comes the Trump presidency, which is unprecedented in modern American history; not since Andrew Jackson won the election of 1828 has such an iconoclastic populist outsider occupied the White House. Trump is in the unusual position of being despised by the elites of both the opposition Democrats and his own Republican Party. He ran mainly as a conservative, appealing to traditional American values of self-reliance, personal responsibility, and modern America’s powerful currents of chauvinism and militarism. Now once again it is the left’s turn to watch in horror Trump’s efforts to repeal Obamacare, lower taxes, end illegal immigration, and reduce governmental regulations; all the while of course hurling the standard charges of racism and homophobia.
As this back and forth political theater plays out every eight years in presidential administrations and congressional chest beating, the American people as a whole are watching their economy, infrastructure, and social fabric disintegrate before their eyes. Those Americans who have been trying to reverse the American leftist counterrevolution since electing Ronald Reagan in 1980, have placed their hope in two Bushes and now Trump. Americans who want the government to control all aspects of human existence in order to enforce their concept of equality and fairness and usher in utopia have had sixteen years of the Clinton and Obama administrations to achieve their ends.
Yet despite the past 37 years of political savagery, pronouncements of the end of days with the election of one president or another, and the shifting control of congress between Republicans and Democrats, America has continued on a very steady course toward ruin; a downward spiral which will ultimately consume us all. The lesson to be learned is the nature of political power and the danger it poses to human happiness and liberty; a lesson we seemed doomed to never learn. We live under an all-powerful government that recognizes no real limits on its power and views the constitution as an irrelevant museum piece. This government is 100 percent controlled by a political cartel known as the Republican and Democrat Parties - no other viewpoints are permitted.
In this piece, I am using the terms left and right in the most simplistic terms, denoting the media-defined dichotomy between so-called conservatives and liberals. This is another part of the lesson of the nature of power; it divides people into competing groups for the purpose of manipulation. We see ourselves as competing groups; left versus right, white versus black versus Latino, straight versus gay, Republican versus Democrat. What we fail to see as a society is that we are all arguing about the wrong things. We are passengers on a train hurtling toward a destination not of our choosing, with none of us having any control over where it goes, nor even any knowledge of who’s actually driving the locomotive. We are in the steerage class cars fighting and clawing at one another’s throats over issues like gay marriage and whether or not to say Merry Christmas, while the engineers and their few corporate cronies live it up at our expense in the first class cabins up front.
We, as a society, are arguing from a false premise; that is that government is the solution to every problem. Sure, Republicans generally talk a good game about “limited government,” but they still want to order society and control people’s behavior - just a little less than Democrats and in slightly different ways. Democrats and Republicans have enjoyed periods of complete control of both the presidency and congress several times over the past four decades and what has changed? The income tax has remained and grown ever more complicated and burdensome; we continue to maintain a global military empire we cannot afford, with troops stationed in nearly every country on the planet; we continue to start wars and engage in acts of war around the globe, yet have not won a war since 1945; both parties conspire to raise our debt limit time and time again - albeit with a bit of kabuki theater these days; our infrastructure is crumbling; our wages have stagnated for decades; and the web of laws and regulations we struggle beneath grows more complex and soul crushing with every passing year.
The lesson is this; government is a necessary evil, not a force for good. This is the maxim that underpinned the American Revolution and set humans free for the first time in the history of civilization. This simple understanding - that humans are endowed with the right to be free from the hand of government and to pursue their own course in life, insofar as they do not interfere with the same rights of others - catapulted the entire western world from subsistence farming and the horse and buggy, to modern luxury and men on the moon in less than 200 years. George Washington said it best when he described the nature of government power, “like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”
This is the lesson for Trump cheerleaders and Obama worshippers alike. All of you that are still staring, mouth agape, in horror at the ascension of Trump to the presidency, and cringe in shock and outrage at his every word and action, now know what the other half of the country felt like for the past eight years under Obama. Yet neither side seems to be able to grasp the lesson that it is the vast and unchecked power of government that is the problem - not the transient occupant of the White House. Rather than stand together for human liberty and against tyranny, Republicans and Democrats, right and left, conservatives and liberals, struggle to seize the mantle of power and use it to bash in the skulls of their opponents.
Meanwhile, the people who really control the government carry on unseen and unmoved by the political theater played out in the entertainment news media. Those on the left cannot see that eight decades of socialism has failed, and will not usher in the utopia they anticipated; instead they clamor for the government to seize more power to enforce their version of fairness. They express outrage at dragnet government surveillance, illegal wars, and drone assassinations under George W. Bush, yet fully support Barack Obama’s dragnet government surveillance, illegal wars, and drone assassinations. Those on the right cannot see that the nature of state power is the problem and that simply fighting for control of government institutions is not a solution. They demand “limited government” yet many want to ban gays from marrying one another, and jail people for burning a flag or smoking or eating certain plants.
Were America to return to being a constitutional federal republic as we once were, Donald Trump being president would not be such a cause for either alarm or celebration. If our federal and state governments concerned themselves with the business of government - that is protecting our natural rights to life, liberty, and property - we would not be arguing about things like who can marry whom and what bathroom a cross-dresser should use. We would not need to fear the person who sits in the White House, because he or she would not have the power to pick up the telephone on a whim and launch a war; whether that president is Obama attacking Libya or Trump bombing Syria. We would not need to fight desperately for control of the state to get public money for the things we want; because we could keep the money we honestly earned, rather than having it vacuumed up by the IRS for distribution by the federal congress. We would not have a backlash of hatred against our police officers because they would no longer be aggressively trying to arrest people for having a joint in their pocket or failing to fasten their seatbelt. We would no longer argue about which country to invade next, but rather would return to a foreign policy of peaceful coexistence with all nations as we did for our first 122 years as a country.
Sadly, we seem doomed to never learn the lesson. Our arguments are not about freedom versus tyranny, but about how best to use the brute force of the state to order society. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Under George W. Bush and Republican and Democrat-controlled congresses, the national debt nearly doubled from $5.7 trillion to $10.6 trillion. During the Obama administration and Republican and Democrat-controlled congresses, the national debt nearly doubled again from $10.6 to $19.9 trillion. Today, American voters have the anti-Obama as president and a Republican-controlled congress, yet the current budget passed by congress calls for adding half a trillion dollars to the national debt, increases spending for nearly every government agency, and has no provision to build Trump’s signature border wall. Obama’s “opponents” in the Republican Party, now in the majority in congress, have not repealed his odious government healthcare law, but rather have simply passed their own version of nationalized healthcare. President Trump ran on keeping the US out of the Syrian civil war, and yet was convinced to jump in with both feet in less than 100 days by the people who actually control our government. Like the man said, “If voting made any difference, it would be illegal.”
While the left screams for free college and medical care, and the right demands more wars and no transvestites in public toilets, and Americans sit mesmerized by split-screen cable news bickering between party mouthpieces, our collective freedom and wealth is being drained away. The Federal Reserve continues to print worthless currency, bleeding the value out of the dollars we possess and placing it in the hands of their corporate benefactors; the welfare state and its bureaucracy continue to expand, and the military-industrial complex continues to grow and prosper as hundreds of billions flow from your paycheck directly into the bank accounts of defense contractors.
Frédéric Bastiat said it best more than 150 years ago; “Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” Instead of the law being used strictly to protect our lives, liberty, and property, it has become a club that we struggle to wrest from our opponents’ hands to beat them with it in our turn. Bastiat too saw this potential, “As long as it is admitted that the law may be diverted from its true purpose - that it may violate property instead of protecting it - then everyone will want to participate in making the law, either to protect himself against plunder or to use it for plunder.”
Unless and until Americans wake up and realize that the game is rigged, and start having debates based upon principles rather than policies and which government boondoggles to fund, we will continue to be ruled by the shadow government that takes very little notice of all our howling and protesting. We passengers viciously fighting in that train will be driven right off the cliff, without ever knowing who was driving the train we rode to our destruction.