Writing in the March/April issue of Politico Magazine, Tim Alberta’s headline poses a question that has been all too popular nowadays. Namely, does the age of Trump signal “the end of the libertarian dream?”
After generations of being relegated to the periphery of American politics, they are seeing some of their most precious ideals accepted and advocated for at the highest levels of government. But in many policy areas, there has never been a president who poses a greater threat to what they hold dear—one who is poised, potentially, to reorient the GOP electorate toward a strong, active, centralized and protectionist federal government.
Indeed, so far the Trump administration has been pretty schizophrenic when it comes to liberty. On one hand, the confirmation of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is the greatest political victory school choice community has experienced on the federal level. Similarly, President Trump’s “two-for-one” deregulatory special, while questionable on its implementation, signals a serious effort to dismantle the regulatory state.
On the other hand, Trump is so far removed from libertarian ideals on other issues, it boggles the mind. He wants to spend $1 trillion on big government infrastructure projects. He wants to build up the military and once threatened to “bomb the shit out of” ISIS. His protectionist agenda threatens less immigration, travel, and trade across America’s borders.
This split in policy has similarly split libertarians politically and professionally. As a young professional in Washington, I’ve seen many close friends and acquaintances in the libertarian network get tapped by the administration for a potential job. Some say yes, reasoning that it’s better to have a seat at the table than be on the menu. Others say no, reckoning that there’s no need to abandon their ideals if they’re already satisfied at a job where they can keep them.
Of course, there’s no right or wrong answer. A well-functioning administration should ideally have both practical libertarians on the inside doing the hard work implementing pro-liberty change as well as idealist libertarians on the outside holding them to their most cherished values. This dual dynamic seems to only avail itself during Republican administrations, presenting libertarians with a rare opportunity in the age of Trump to actually achieve some policy victories.
In short, anyone bemoaning the end of the “libertarian moment” in the age of Trump isn’t looking close enough. Certainly, libertarians may have seemed stronger when we were a united opposition front to the Obama administration. After all, it’s much sexier to be a critic than than an actual agent of change. Nevertheless, Trump’s ascent to the presidency is itself a vindication of libertarian policy on certain issues (education, regulation) and an invitation on others to join the team and fight for liberty (taxes, spending).
The movement is sure seem silent or even fractured in the next few years, but looks may be deceiving. Behind the stillness are hundreds of libertarians infiltrating the administrative state, influencing federal bureaucracies that haven’t been subject to internal restraint for years. Behind the split are libertarian think tanks and advocacy groups who have the ear of the ruling Republican party and can successfully pressure them to make pro-liberty policy victories.
In short, Mr. Libertarian has gone to Washington, and the opportunities are endless.