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.

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Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker is Founder and President of the Brownstone Institute. He is also Senior Economics Columnist for Epoch Times, author of 10 books, including Liberty or Lockdown, and thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

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36 comments

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  • Trump vs Sanders may well allow for Gary Johnson to be up on stage for the presidential debates. Sure he will only get 15% of the speaking time, but he will sound like the wise and caring and peace loving guy that he is and will stand out well against the clowns. The possibility of these two winning their respective nominations is disgusting, yet gives us this small chance for politics to be useful to us..

    But it’s getting to be time to buy a boat.

  • “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. ”
    @jeffreytucker Which options do you claim to be inviable?

  • At the beginning of the Republic, everyday people seem to have been much more knowlegeble than today of history, basic economics and a minimum of political science. For almost all the XIX century, the Democratic Party, based on small government, hard-money and non-interventionism, was the default party of “little people”. How come that they were smarter than today hyper-schooled masses?
    I have a few suspicions. The first, of course, is the public schooling itself with its statist curriculum. The second might be that it makes more sense to get informed and involved if the Republic has only a few millons of persons and furthermore it is actually decentralized, versus today centralized juggernaut.
    But maybe the most important reason is that almost all Americans were small enterpreneurs, they were independent farmers, artisans, traders. To make a life, they had to compete, and could rely only on themselves, they could not blame foreigners or the rich. The market was the Great Judge, giving to each one what they actually deserved. But when the large corporations started to appear after the Reconstruction due to changes in technology, more and more became wage employees. At the beginning, this trend was actually resisted, and working for a wage was seen just as a stepping stone to what was considered the natural occupation for a citizen, being an independent small enterpreneur. But with time, people got used to work for a wage, and started to count on the company to take care of their needs. I suspect that this brought complacency and a lack of interest in the Res Publica. They stopped learning and reasoning, and, among other things, let the predatory State grow. It reminds me of the H.G. Wells novel in which people of the far future are raised in an idillic world as cattle to be eaten by other guys living in caves.
    The good news is that the trends are now reversing. Homeschooling, private education and self-learning with the Web are booming, the nation-states are fragmenting in a desperate competition, and even the boundaries of the corporations are going down, forcing people to become again enterpreneurs, even if what they market is their skills, instead of a finished product.
    If I am right, the future is brighter than how it appears watching these two dangerous clowns get voted.

  • I wish every American would read the series of aricles by NYT reporter Nicolas Casey about life in Venezuela 18 years after Hugo Chavez’s democratic-socialist revolution (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/reporters-notebook/moving-to-venezuela)

    Not that it would make a difference. After all, a promise of free beer for as long as it lasts is a great attraction if your at the head of the line when the tavern doors open.

    OPM: sounds like opium, is equally addicting, stands for Other People’s Money–forcibly extorted.

    • Define democracy, cuz I can think of lots of things better than how I define it, viz.,: “mob rule, by force and violence no less.”

      Somethings better: 1. individual liberty. 2. nonviolence. 3. free markets, free from democratic rule. 4. Voluntaryism

      • Of course there are better things. I have no argument with that. Individual liberty, freedom, the free market, etc., etc., but that is not what we have got. For more than a century, we have had people such as Woodrow Wilson trying to make “the world safe for democracy,” when he and his fellow progressives should be thinking “safe for freedom.” But they do not think this. They are not going to think this, and they are going to continue running amok in this world until…until what? Until each of them is dead, of course, but this is true for all of us. Meanwhile, each of them will be replaced by the next progressive, the next egotist, the next know-it-all, the next…well, we will learn the name of the next for the U.S. come November.

          • Against All Odds
            I think I am hope,
            Peculiar to man,
            Even when desperate,
            There is this last strand.

            I think I am the nation state,
            Even if it dies,
            Likely replaced,
            By other lies.

          • Into the cauldron throw Bernie and Donald
            When one emerges
            The game will be over.
            Who will pay taxes to one of these shills?
            Even the Donald can’t pay the Fed’s bills.
            So put on your Goretex and grab your umbrella
            ‘Cause when the sh__ hits the fan it’s gonna get messy.
            Yet out of that slime upon a white horse
            The free market! Oh, save us.
            Yes of course, yes of course.

  • Great article, Jeffrey.
    I haven’t posted anything on Facebook in years but had to post this for all my liberal and conservative friends. I hope they enjoy a taste of the truth you speak.

  • So, Jeffrey equates Trump and Sanders. Wow. A conservative (yes, “new,” and questionable) entrepreneur and an avowed, out-loud, socialist. He says a lot of good things in this article, but that seems to be his main point, and it is plain silly.

    After mulling it over quite a while now, there is only one viewpoint, quite a narrow one, that I can conceive of that would make this view possible. Neither candidate is a libertarian. Sometimes – all too often – libertarians judge all non-libertarians as one and the same. Wrong.

    Ordinary conservatives may get the libertarian thing a little bit right sometimes, and certainly they are far different and less dangerous that leftists, but for the pride of being different – Libertarian! – from the mountaintop here, we won’t admit it. In fact, the closer they get to being us, getting it right, but still rejecting the label and the full set of quirks that come with it, the more adamant and defensive we get.

    So, Trump = Sanders. Of course, since this is silly on its face, we have to modify a few Trump positions, and entirely discount his seeming conversion to anti-establishment conservatism. We don’t like war, that nasty neocon thing, so we append “war” to all of Trump’s positions, rendering them all bad with that simple verbal flourish.

    Perhaps because I am not a “true” libertarian, that doesn’t wash with me. Immigration and Political Correctness are two of the most existential issues of our day, issues on which Trump and Sanders clearly differ greatly, and characterizing Trump’s views as “war on immigration, war on political correctness,” does not make those views either bad or the same as Saunders’, both of which must be true for Jeffrey’s opinions to fly.

    Even though it is not true, Jeffrey’s formulation of Trump = Saunders might have some value if it were helpful. An aid to understanding, say. But it is not. It is similar to the oft-repeated saw that extreme right is just as bad as extreme left. Damaging to correct thought, and another version of the “everybody’s wrong but me, right here in the middle, the sweet spot” thinking that evidently produced Trump = Sanders. Castro and Batista the same? Ask some boat people.

    Having touched on the right – left equation, and in the same breath mentioned Castro and Batista, to be clear: What is extreme right? Not Batista, Not Nazis, Not Napoleon. A separate point for those refusing this one, how many died under Napoleon, Mussolini, and Batista vs. under Castro, Robespierre, and Mao? An ordinary dictatorship is not a creature of the right and neither is it anything like the horror of an ideologically committed you-will-be-made-to-care far leftist government.

  • @matt77
    My suspicion is that the president is the person considered electable by a coalition of ” clients.” The people whom I’ve met that would be considered part of the ruling elite, do not consider themselves aligned with may of their peers. I see them as part of a group of ” tribes”, or in science fiction parlance “Philes”, groups with interests in common, that sometimes compete, sometimes cooperate, and sometimes deal.

    The Democratic party elites did not want Obama, he was thrust on them by constituencies, although the Democratic party elites certainly co opted him quickly.

    • Same with Reagan…and the GOP quickly changed the republican election rules right after his election to try to prevent it from happening again. That’s not to say it cannot happen again.

  • @cadence88
    John
    From my personal point of view, I do believe that the extreme right is as dangerous as the extreme left.
    I get your point about ” libertarians” getting very self important and dismissing any piece of any idea that does not conform to the speakers view of freedom.
    I think some of the caution I personally have with sympathetic sounding republicans has been their inability to incorporate their liberty message into action when elected.
    I say this in the classic case of Reagan, his belief in economic liberty was so well described b y David Stockman in the Triumph of Politics.

  • @rrule
    I have never been able to figure out what is the difference between “left” and “right.” They all just seem like statists to me. There are incidental differences between statists, or course, but I just don’t see any principled way to differentiate between them. They do seem to “know their own” and agglomerate together in two camps but I don’t see any difference more profound than that between two football teams. To me they are just two rival gangs fighting over power.

    If you can tell the difference between “extreme right” and “extreme left” can you explain to me what is that difference?

    • Having an issue here – trying to reply to Craig Spencer, looks like it’s going to come up as a reply to Lee Roesner, to whom I just posted.

      Anyway, Craig, your inability to tell Left from Right seems a common affliction here. Left is like Communism, Socialism, Big Government, Statism. It requires coercion and becomes totalitarian. Right is anti all those. Right is about the individual, Left is about groups and the State.

      The dominant struggle of our time is between Left and Right, and it is some kind of sin for intelligent individuals to fail to see the difference or claim that there is none.

      You say both look like statists to you. That is hard to believe. The Right is for limited government, small government. You really do not know this?

      Perhaps this is another case of both Left and Right being not libertarian and therefore equally wrong and bad. Some libertarians do not seem to realize that libertarianism is of the Right. In fact, one could make the case that Libertarianism is “extreme Right.”You asked. Extreme Right is perhaps anarchy, and Libertarianism has a strong element of to anarchy. It might be described as the idealists’ anarchy, anarchy imagined as working. Unrealistic, of course.

  • @rrule What you describe is a much more acurate representaion of the powers behind the presidency. I’d much rather see this coalition of clients competing with each other instead of getting along. When they cooperate together you can rest assured that the American people are getting screwed.

  • There is no left or right, and so there is no extreme left or extreme right…it’s all mental fodder. It’s a mental game used to keep your eye busy and off the ball.

    They’re not different, but simply colors of the very same thing, say Sanders or Trump, or (fill in any names from history). Thinking in this manner obfuscates thinking and reasoning. It’s like arguing the difference between blue and red…and then a lion and a tiger. It keeps your mind so busy with nonsense and labels with all the “isms” and “mini-isms” that you can’t see through to cause and effect that is at the essence of all of them.

    Look through human history, to see any and all negative human events, even today..say, ISIS. What is there lowest common denominator in every instance?

    It’s the use of force against another’s will. In every case…….even with good intention…and for the good of all. Why is that?

    What is it about force, regardless of what kind or label you put on it, that causes physical decline?

    This is the lesson that has yet to be learned. It’s a lesson in wisdom…with the power to see right through Bernie or The Donald, and every other handsome character that might come along moving forward that promotes the solving of anything, by the use of more force.

    When the very problem itself, is the use of force and coercion against another’s will. That’s the ball to keep your eye on…not what kind of force.

    If you think this through, you will find there is no way human beings can advance physically, to any significant degree, by force. As a matter of physical law, the more force applied, the more physical decline will follow. As smart as we think we are, it’s outside human control…because there is absolute, mathematical reason of it.

    The question to be answered is; who among the candidates this year reduces the use of growing federal government force the most? Who has the potential to not only slow that growth, but reverse that growth, that begins to put the freedom to act by one’s own intention, back into the hands of the individual the most?

    It is an individual with momentum that the establishment progressive GOP does not want, and is trying hard to obfuscate any consensus on by injecting confusion. It’s a one man circus called The Don, in fake opposition to the other circus, while the real opposition is happening anyways. It is another Carter/Reagan moment in human history but one of far greater importance.

    Don’t believe for one moment, that you cannot have effect on this outcome. While there are forces in place that are against what should naturally happen in a democratic election, they are easily overcome by simple numbers and demand. At least for the time being.

    • Lee, as best I can make out, your view is awfully myopic. You reduce everything to the use of force, and posit one solution, no force. Left and Right are the same, both apply force. The answer to greater liberty is no force.

      That seems a grossly inaccurate oversimplification of our political/social world. The first thing that comes to mind is human nature, its imperfectibility. There will always be those among us who use aggressive force, and it will be the responsibility of the rest of us to be ready to use defensive force. Force will be used, and we will have to determine what uses are good (essentially defensive) and what are bad (essentially aggressive). And that’s where left and right come in.

      There most certainly is a difference.

  • @cadence88 Thanks for your rely John. Of course force is required for self defense because there is first force against your will, and/or against your earned possessions. Of course “Enforcement” is required to enforce a mutually agreed contract that was into the future, where both parties agree to the enforcement if it is not upheld by either side.

  • I always run the other direction when I hear a political candidate say that s/he will “make the system work for everybody.” Then I get frustrated because I know what they mean. It will NEVER “work.” We all know that the quality control standards for government bureaucrats ensure that the best and the brightest will never get hired, yet too many expect the exact opposite.

    After some in the previous generation realized that the USPS was not the best guarantor of timely mail delivery, e-mail was developed. Most people do not look fondly upon the Postal Service as a way to get important, time-sensitive deliveries anymore. Yet we still expect our political class to “fix” the post office, so it works more efficiently, when the better solution would be to eliminate the duplication by dumping the less efficient entity.

    And I agree that we are seeing a devolution to where two leading candidates for the highest elected office in America are fighting over who can provide the best fix for the government.

    I would rather see the government dissolve. The sooner, the better.

  • @cadence88 Regarding your comment above to Craig and the left/right relationship. I DO agree they are very different.

    However, what I disagree with, that is profoundly incorrect, and weakens all arguments that are in favor of the right, that is freedom and liberty, is that if you use the left/right metaphor, you are seating your argument in a position as if both left/right arguments are equivalent.

    They are not equivalent.

    There is the natural born “state” of the individual, who is free to think and act and co-operate (or not), and then there is everything else.

    It’s important to note that everything else, is a manmade invention, requiring force against one’s will to differing degrees. Label it anything you want: from socialism to nationalism…it makes no difference in the outcome, which will be physical decline.

    The very same thing can be said of capitalism. It’s the only economic “system” that is not a man made invention as well, yet its argued and given equal weight as if it is.

    This is the problem with the left/right metaphor and thinking. The so called “left” just loves this left/right metaphor because its to their favor. The argument is then not what is true or right or moral, but now just what you want to “believe” because there is no truth to be found, right? There is no judgement of right or wrong, there is only tolerance and feelings….and what “side” you’re on.

    The correct metaphor is a circle, with the center being nature’s natural state of being, that carries with it the freedom and liberty of every individual to think and act. The further from center, the more man made laws take over now requiring force to differing degrees.

    The argument now becomes, how far do you want to move off center, as both left or right head in the same direction only by a different name.

  • @cadence88

    “Right is about the individual, Left is about groups and the State.”

    “The Right is for limited government, small government. You really do not know this?”

    You must be pulling my leg. Good joke. 🙂

  • @ccspencer I think @cadence88 is an ISTJ from how he tries to understand phenomenon. Inferior Extroverted Intuition(Ne) makes him think he sees the forest from the trees, but in reality he’s getting caught up in them. Perhaps he can’t make the intuitive leap because he has to look at all trees from his dominant Introverted Sensing(Si).

    What he thinks is simplification is actually the primary essence of political philosophy — the State vs the individual, force vs peaceful means. Right and left is a superficial distinction like different flavors of toothpaste. Different of course, but not in its core.

  • @rrule Rick- I have to take another run at this stubborn notion that “the extreme right is as dangerous as the extreme left.” In real world experience, actual results, this is obviously untrue. It is also untrue in theory, based on the logical extrapolation to extremes, apart from experience, of the tenets of left and right.

    I would be interested in what your version of “extreme right” would be. And how it did, or even might have, cause(d) the death of over 100 million people in roughly the middle half of the last century. I gave general examples to support my opinion, and you simply stated you opinion. “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”

    This notion of equivalence has to proceed from a habit of mind formed by the poisonous teachings of moral relativism. There is no truth, only your truth and my truth, and none is better than any other. That is what produced political correctness and the notion that all cultures are equal. It paralyzes discrimination (as in, being able to see differences), judgment, and renders morality quaint. I doubt you subscribe to it, but it does seem that you have succumbed to it here.
    Certainly your formulation preceding your statement of equivalence, “From my personal point of view, I do believe that,” indicates as much.

    Is Truth really relative, “personal,” and dependent on “point of view?”

    Is every political philosophy, other than libertarianism, equally bad?

    Perhaps I am making too much of this “personal” bit, and you were just trying to soften our differences. But I believe your stated belief is wrong, dangerous, and your formulation is corrupting.

  • @bitvictor Kevin – I can’t make much sense of your forest/trees bit. But your statement that “ the primary essence of political philosophy” is “the State vs the individual,” followed immediately by “Right and left is a superficial distinction like different flavors of toothpaste. Different of course, but not in its core” simply does not hold together.

    Part of the essence of right and left is small government, maximum individual freedom, vs big government, maximum government control and minimum individual freedom. It’s distinct opposites in “the State vs the individual,” which you say is “the essence of political philosophy.” Nothing superficial about it.

    To deny that the left-right spectrum means anything is not only wrong, it renders you a mere spectator to existential struggle of our time.

    • @cadence88 “To deny that the left-right spectrum means anything is not only wrong, it renders you a mere spectator to existential struggle of our time. ”

      Yeah maybe, that’s a good point. But it seems the long-term view is more objective and clearer than just thinking about a surface level struggle that grips the minds of those not focused on the bigger picture.

  • @cadence88
    It seems strange to have to explain this.

    No political actors at any time anywhere in the world who identified themselves as “right” have ever had any interest, in word or deed, in “small government, maximum individual freedom.” Only in the US, in very recent times, have some of the small group of people who yearn for such values started to support, for some odd reason, politicians who identify themselves with the “right.” Those people, however, were just swindled blind because those politicians have never reciprocated with any action aimed at achieving those goals. And they never will.

    Politicians of both the “left” and the “right” have the identical basic philosophical framework: Kantian based altruism (Christianity) in ethics and Hegelian absolutism in politics. There is not a dimes worth of difference between them.

  • @cadence88
    John
    No offense taken on the “Personal’ point. Liberty .Me should be about intelligent, polite discussion.

    If the events you refer to in the middle of the last century were World War 2, I suspect that the response from the American right, or left would have been strikingly similar, although the constitutional conservatives of that era were charmingly nativist. Globally, both the fascists ( Germany and Italy) and the commies were culpable.
    My own political experiences began with Vietnam, and from my point of view ( summed up well by the great American political philosopher, Muhammad Ali, I ain’t got no quarrels with no Vietcong), the response of the mainstream American right, and left, were similar.
    The response by both sides of the isle post September 11, to restrict individual liberty, and allow Al Queda to alter the American way of life is also indicative of their ( the left and right) positions on issues of importance to me.
    Reagan’s fiscal policy, so well documented in David Stockman’s “book, ” The Triumph of Politics” is evidence of the unwillingness of the right to abandon clientelist politics.
    Further evidence would be George Bush’ ” read my lips” actions on taxation.
    From my own point of view, I am served better by republicans. They steal on behalf of constituencies that I am part of. I’m old and rich. But that does not mean I believe I have the right to expect to prevail, politically.
    I think it is fair to say that I had flirtations with ” rightest” politics. Certainly the Reagan and Goldwater narrative was attractive, in some aspects, but it was only narrative. Their elites did not support the narrative, nor did their base.

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