June 27, 2019

Trump Isn’t Hitler; He’s Hamilton

trump hamiltonAs Donald Trump closes in on the Republican nomination for President, comparisons to Hitler continue. And while references to the dictator are never absent from political hyperbole, one can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a bit more legitimacy to them when it comes to the Donald. Even the creator of Godwin’s law won’t dismiss the comparison out of hand.

Superficially, there is something there. Trump appeals to the same kind of nationalist worldview that inspired Hitler’s supporters. Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” isn’t substantively different than Hitler’s. Neither are his arguments for what has caused the decline: corrupt politicians who have sold out the nation, the presence of subversive or merely unwanted elements (Jews and communists for Hitler; illegal immigrants and Muslim refugees for Trump), and inept economic policy, meaning not enough of or the wrong kind of state intervention.

Like Hitler, Trump touts himself as the only hope to save his country, a strongman-type leader who will run a command economy, rid the country of subversive elements, and restore lost international respect. His disdain for civil liberties like free speech and open support of torture are an even more chilling similarity. For Trump, government isn’t the problem, it’s the solution, as long as the right leader is running it.

But for all the similarities, there are important differences. He certainly can’t be accused of sharing Hitler’s racial beliefs. Trump’s wall to keep out illegal immigrants from Mexico will have a yuuuuge door in the middle to admit legal immigrants of the same ethnicity. He has repeatedly voiced his admiration and respect for the Chinese, because “you can still respect someone who’s knocking the hell out of you.”

Most striking is Trump’s foreign policy differences with the Fuhrer. While Trump does advocate some sort of military action against ISIS, he’s strikingly noninterventionist in general. His willingness to come out and admit the Iraq War was a mistake – in South Carolina no less – and his general view that America should start questioning its ongoing military posture everywhere, including NATO, are the opposite of the aggressive military component integral to Hitler’s plan from the beginning.

So what do you call Trump’s brand of nationalism, if not outright fascism? If you take away the boorishness of Trump’s personality and insert more thoughtful, elegant rhetoric, you’d call it traditional American conservatism, before it was infiltrated by more libertarian ideas. American conservatism was always about creating an American version of the mercantilist British Empire and it really never changed.

Since the founding of the republic, American conservatives have argued for a strong central government that subsidized domestic corporations to build roads and infrastructure, levied high protectionist tariffs and ran a central bank. This was Alexander Hamilton’s domestic platform, championed by his Federalist Party. Henry Clay and the Whigs adopted it after the Federalist Party died. From the ashes of the Whigs emerged Lincoln and the Republicans, who were finally able to install Clay’s “American System” after decades of electoral failure.

The Republican Party has remained startlingly consistent in its economic principles, despite incorporating free market rhetoric in the 20th century. Republicans from Lincoln to McKinley to Coolidge to George W. Bush have been protectionists. Hoover reacted to the Depression by signing the Smoot-Hawley tariff, for all the same reasons Trump threatens tariffs now. And what was the first thing Republicans did in the 1950s, after two decades of Democratic Party domination? A huge government roads project that had Hamilton smiling in his grave.

Trump promises more of the same, justifying his stance against nation-building by saying, “I just think we have to rebuild our country.” Make no mistake, Trump isn’t suggesting cutting military spending and allowing the private sector to build what it chooses to build. “We” is the government, with Trump as its intellectually superior leader.

Trump isn’t Hitler; he’s Hamilton, advocating the kind of centralist government Hamilton spoke about in secret at the Constitutional Convention and attempted to achieve surreptitiously throughout the rest of his political life by eroding the same limits on federal government power he had trumpeted to sell the Constitution in the Federalist Papers. Trump wants to be Hamilton’s elected king, running a crony-capitalist, mercantilist economy just as Hamilton envisioned. Even Trump’s campaign slogan is Hamiltonian. Hamilton’s stated goal was “national greatness,” something he referred to again and again in his writing.

And while Hamilton was certainly a more eloquent and well-mannered spokesman for conservatism, Trump is actually superior to him in at least one way: Hamilton was a military interventionist, whose ambition to conquer the colonial possessions of Spain was much more like Hitler’s desire to seize the Ukraine for Germany than anything Trump wants to do internationally.

One has to wonder: Is that the real reason neoconservatives like Bill Kristol, John McCain and Lindsey Graham are so anti-Trump?

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Conservatism Is Not What We Need

conservative-liberal-road-sign-cropped-proto-custom_28If you are going to listen to Washington politicians at all, it is always best to listen to the party that is currently out of power. After each election, it is the job of the losers to try to attack the winners in any way they can. Often, they inadvertently advocate genuine principles of liberty in the process.

During the 8-year nightmare that was the Bush administration, it was the Democrats that stumbled upon these principles in their efforts to regain the throne. It was they who pointed out that the government should not be spying on its own citizens, that the president was assuming un-delegated powers through executive order, and that it was neither morally justified nor prudent to invade a third world nation that had committed no acts of aggression against the United States and lacked any reasonable means to do so. Their hysterical mouthpiece, Keith Olbermann, even went so far as to cite a long-forgotten document, the U.S. Constitution.

Of course, it is now abundantly clear that these arguments were made simply out of expediency. With the Democrats in power, it is now the Republicans’ turn to “fight City Hall,” and they have rolled out their usual rhetoric about small government, free markets, and traditional family values. Moreover, they, too, have rolled out the U.S. Constitution and waived it around in opposition to the Democrats’ plans to “spread the wealth around.”

Let’s take note that the Republicans are now correct in opposing the main tenets of the Democratic agenda, including expansion of government involvement in health care, “Cap and Trade,” and other wealth redistribution schemes. Amidst all of the usual noise coming from Washington and its media pundit class, it is only the Republicans that are making any sense at all.

Unfortunately, this is shaping up to produce familiar results. There is a growing movement for “change” that promises to “throw the bums out” in the next two elections. However, those who are part of this movement do not stop to consider what the Republicans’ true agenda will be once they regain power. As they have for over 100 years now, Americans are dashing to the other side in their perennial political game of “pickle in the middle.” They still haven’t learned that the pickle never wins.

The Republicans are having remarkable success in painting President Obama’s agenda as socialist and their “conservatism” as its antithesis. Most average Americans who identify themselves as conservatives accept this argument. If socialism redistributes wealth through the force of government, then conservatism, being its opposite, must oppose such redistribution of wealth. If socialism means that the economy will be centrally planned by government “experts,” then conservatism, being its opposite, must leave those decisions with private citizens. If socialism results in big government, conservatism, being its opposite, must result in small government. These are the assumptions that inform the political decisions of most conservative American voters.

There is only one problem. None of them are true.

The conservative-liberal dichotomy is as old as politics itself. It was present at the founding of the American republic. However, despite the Republicans’ claim to represent America’s founding principles, America was actually founded upon radically liberal ideas. The secession from the British Empire was in essence a complete rejection of conservatism.

Most Americans today believe that the primary motivation for the American Revolution was a separation from the British government. However, the revolutionaries only acquiesced to the necessity of complete separation as a last resort. Even after Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, the colonists were still making attempts to settle their differences with the British king and remain in the British Empire. The primary objection of the colonists was not the British king being their executive, but the conservative, mercantilist economic system that the British government enforced. The colonists objected to the policies of corporate welfare, protectionist tariffs, a central bank, militarism, and the taxes levied upon them to support these and other aspects of the worldwide British Empire. Had the British not imposed this system upon them, they would have been content to remain British citizens.

As soon as the Revolutionary War was won, the exact same debate erupted within the new American political system. Alexander Hamilton and his Federalists wished to replicate the British mercantilist system under an American government that would closely mirror the constitutional monarchy of Great Britain. The Federalists were the party of big government, national debt, corporate welfare, militarism, and central bank inflation.[1]

They wished to preserve the status quo insofar as the role of government and the nature of civil society was concerned, which benefitted a privileged, wealthy elite. They were the conservatives.

Socially, this party was the less tolerant of dissenters and tended to promote religion as useful in informing public policy. During Adams’ presidency and with the Federalists in control of Congress, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed, making it illegal to criticize the government. These also are core conservative principles.

Their opponents, Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republicans, promoted exactly the opposite ideas. They wished to radically change the role of government in society to one that was strictly limited to enforcing the non-aggression principle of liberty, most importantly economic liberty. They were opposed to corporate welfare or any other government redistribution of wealth, railed against the dangers and injustice of standing armies and the national debt, and opposed the central bank. Over and over again when asked about the role of government, Jefferson consistently applied the non-aggression principle to arrive at an unambiguous answer. Always his answer supported each individual’s right to do as he pleased as long as he did not violate the rights of others, and to keep the fruits of his labor.

Jefferson and his followers insisted upon a “wall of separation” between church and state and denounced the Alien and Sedition Acts. They advocated free speech, civil liberties, and tolerance. These are core liberal principles.

While the conservatives gained the early lead due to George Washington’s election as president and subsequent appointment of Hamilton as treasury secretary, it was not a decisive victory. Washington, who along with Vice President John Adams was certainly a more moderate Federalist, also appointed Jefferson to his cabinet as secretary of state. This set the stage for an epic battle between the two ideologies after Washington departed from politics. Adams eventually broke with Hamilton and his party, costing him the 1800 election, and resulting in a decisive liberal victory by Jefferson and his Democratic-Republicans. For the next 60 years, it was the liberal ideology of individual liberty, limited government, and economic freedom that dominated federal politics.

During this time, the conservatives constantly fought to establish bigger government, the central bank, and the other tenets of mercantilism that defined American conservatism. After the Federalist Party disbanded, they were replaced by the Whigs, a party made up of the same people and advocating the same principles as the Federalists. By this time, Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans had also had a split, and had emerged as the Democrats.

The Whigs were never successful in achieving their goals, and eventually disbanded. However, as before, the same people and the same principles of big government were back again in 1860, this time calling themselves “Republicans.” They finally won a decisive victory in electing Abraham Lincoln to the presidency and a majority in Congress. Immediately, the Republicans began implementing their agenda of corporate welfare, protectionist tariffs, and higher taxes. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it was this economic agenda (particularly the tariff) that motivated the southern states’ secession from the Union, not a disagreement over slavery.

It is vital to understand that the Republican Party was born as the party of big government, inheriting traditional, conservative big government principles from its conservative philosophical ancestors, the Whigs and Federalists. For most of its history, it has remained true to these principles, up to and including the Bush II adminstration. Barry Goldwater’s more libertarian platform during the 1960’s was a divisive anomaly in the conservative movement. Its popularity was later exploited by Ronald Reagan’s administration to implement the usual conservative philosophy of bigger government, militarism, and debt.

The problem for Americans today is that there is no longer an opposition party that represents a true antithesis of these principles. By the dawn of the 20th century, the Democrats had completely abandoned their core principles of individual liberty and economic freedom and adopted a socialist, democratic ideology of popular wealth redistribution. Where the Republicans continued to promote a system which plundered the many for the benefit of the privileged few, the Democrats no longer objected to government as an instrument of plunder and now merely fought to divide up the loot differently. They were no longer truly liberal, although they perverted that word in popular culture to mean exactly the opposite of what it really means. Since then, Americans have had to choose between two parties whose ideologies are fundamentally hostile to liberty.

One week ago, Congressman Ron Paul gave a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that both mainstream Republicans and Democrats disagree with. Of course they do. It was an eloquent articulation of America’s founding principles of individual liberty and limited government. Like Jefferson, Paul consistently applied the non-aggression principle of liberty to every aspect of government, concluding that we must end our worldwide military empire, end the welfare state (both corporate and popular), and get rid of the plundering Federal Reserve.

Socially, he advocated tolerance, civil liberties, and the right of every American to express his or her opinion, even if those opinions contradicted Paul’s own most preciously-held beliefs. Despite being likely the most truly Christian person in any branch of the federal government, he never once made any allusion to religion during his entire speech, except for a purely philosophical reference to Thomas Aquinas’ principle of the just war (he alluded to this as part of his anti-war argument). Young Americans for Liberty, an affiliate of Paul’s Campaign for Liberty, invited a gay pride group to the conference, invoking a bigoted outburst from one of the younger conservative speakers just before Paul took the stage. Paul’s followers roundly booed him out of the auditorium.

Ron Paul pitched his ideas as “conservative,” but they are not. During one point in the speech, libertarian radio commentator and publisher of Liberty Pulse, Kurt Wallace, turned to me and exclaimed delightedly, “Ron Paul is a radical!” He is. Like Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and the rest of the most pro-liberty founders of the United States, Ron Paul is a radical liberal (in the true sense of the word “liberal”). He is also an extremist, in the true sense of that word. He refuses to compromise his principles regardless of the political consequences.

Average Americans elect Republicans because they believe that Republicans will give them small government, low taxes, and economic freedom. They are mistaken. What they are yearning for has nothing to do with the Republican Party or the more general ideology called “conservatism.” What they really want is radical change. They demonstrated this in giving Ron Paul a victory in the CPAC straw poll. They also proved once again that they are wiser than the political class in Washington. At this critical juncture in American history, there is only one thing that can bring America back from the brink of social, economic, and political collapse: radical, anti-conservative change from leviathan government to extreme liberty.

[1] Thomas Dilorenzo’s books, Hamilton’s Curse and The Real Lincoln document the true roots and history of American conservatism superbly.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?

The U.S. Constitution: The 18th Century Patriot Act

Continental_Congress_prayerAt some point in the past, the American ethos was centered on suspicion of government –whether liberal, conservative, or otherwise. For most of America’s first two centuries, Americans were taxed less, regulated less, and left more alone by their government than any other people in the world. These conditions resulted in an explosion of innovation, wealth, and culture unsurpassed at any time in human history.

As that trend seems to have reversed, Americans look to their past to try to establish where we have gone wrong and what we can do to solve our problems. Increasingly, some Americans point to the U.S. Constitution and our abandonment of its “limits on government” as the reason for our downfall. It is generally argued by “strict constitutionalists” that the purpose of the U.S. Constitution was to limit the power of the government. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Don’t get me wrong. If our government were limited to the powers granted it in that document, the United States of America would be far freer, far more prosperous, and likely not facing any of the monumental problems that it is facing now. However, that does not change the facts about why the Constitutional Convention was called or why the Constitution itself was created. If you are astounded that any Republican can still claim that George Bush was “pro-freedom” or that any Democrat can claim that Barack Obama is “anti-war,” you should be equally surprised that anyone can claim that the U.S. Constitution limited the powers of the central government.

Remember that there was already a federal government of the United States prior to the U.S. Constitution. It was defined in a document called the Articles of Confederation and had been in existence since 1778. Under the Articles, the young nation had defeated the mightiest military empire in human history to win its independence. Acknowledging the true meaning of the words “federation” and “federal,” the document defined the relationship between the states as “a firm league of friendship with each other.” There was no implication that the United States was one nation and the several states merely subdivisions within it. There was no president to usurp power. There was no Supreme Court to legally sanction tyranny. There was no IRS. While the federal government would pay for any war fought by the federation out of a common treasury, the Articles left the actual act of taxation to the States.

“The taxes for paying that proportion shall be laid and levied by the authority and direction of the legislatures of the several States within the time agreed upon by the United States in Congress assembled.”[1]

Compared to the overtaxed, overregulated society that is America today, the America of the 19th century was one of astounding liberty and prosperity. However, even America after 1787 had much more government than America in its first decade. We are taught that this was a grave problem and that the Constitution was necessary to avoid imminent destruction from any number of horrors, including invasion by a foreign power, civil war, or economic upheaval as a result of protectionism by the states. We accept these assertions as facts because of the reverence we hold for the founders of our country. However, how different was the atmosphere surrounding the Constitutional Convention from that surrounding the Patriot Act, the TARP bailout, or the current efforts to expand government power in the name of environmentalism? Despite the pure heresy of the idea, there was really no difference at all.

By 1787, there were two dominant parties in America. Unlike the two dominant parties today, the Federalists and what would later become the Democratic-Republicans of that time really were diametrically opposed on fundamental issues. Led by Alexander Hamilton, the Federalists sought a much more powerful central government with a central bank, a standing army, and an alliance with big business that would control the economy. In opposition to them were Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and their followers that believed that the central government’s powers should be limited, and that power should be concentrated locally (and mistrusted generally). They opposed a central bank and a standing army and supported a truly free market.

It was not Thomas Jefferson or Patrick Henry that led the effort to call the Constitutional Convention, which neither even attended. It was Hamilton and his Federalists that wanted it. As superbly documented in his book, Hamilton’s Curse, Thomas Dilorenzo reminds us that Hamilton actually wanted even more power for the central government than he eventually got into the Constitution.

“At the convention, Hamilton proposed a permanent president and senate, with all political power in the national government, as far away as possible from the people, and centered in the executive. He also wanted “all laws of the particular states, contrary to the constitution or the laws of the United States [government], to be utterly void,” and he proposed that “the governor…of each state shall be appointed by the general government, and shall have a negative [i.e., a veto] upon the laws about to be passed in the state of which he is governor.”[2]

Read the rest at LewRockwell.com…

 

[1]  Article VIII, Articles of Confederation

[2] Dilorenzo, Thomas Hamilton’s Curse Crown Publishing Group (Random House) New York, NY 2008 Pg. 16

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.