Today Donald Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. American voters rejected the devil they know so well — Hillary Clinton — for the devil they don’t. Why they did so, and how Trump prevailed, is the biggest political story of our age. But the rejection of progressive hubris, what Friedrich Hayek called the “fatal conceit” of those who would presume to plan our lives, is at the heart of that story.
The Left views Trump’s election as an absolute calamity, despite his support for unions and protectionist trade policies, despite his identity as a New York elite rather than some despised red state politician, and despite his ambivalence toward the social issues that animate Christian conservatives. One would think Democrats would be relieved not to suffer an ideologue like Santorum or Cruz in the White House. Yet their hysteria and lack of self-awareness prompt them to attack the Electoral College, of all things.
Progressives bear direct responsibility for Trump’s victory. They grossly miscalculated in nominating Mrs. Clinton, an avaricious and humorless technocrat who utterly failed to engage ordinary people. They abandoned populist economic themes and union halls in favor of global trade deals. They stayed silent while the Obama administration spent two full terms at war. They excused Obama’s NSA scandals. They cheered the growth of an imperial presidency and an activist judiciary, both of which they are now shocked to imagine outside their control.
But worst of all, progressives have poisoned America with vicious identity politics and a deeply false narrative of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and privilege. How could a backlash not result? By demonizing history, religion, traditional families, and middle America, they deliberately politicized whole areas of life that should be off limits to government. Politics is war, but it is also sales.
Yet Trump represents no victory for conservatives. The political Right, despite installing an ostensible Republican in the White House and gaining seats in Congress, is in ideological tatters. It has no coherent ideology of individualism, capitalism, and opportunity to counter the progressive narrative of dependency and victimhood. Republican identity lies simply in being less progressive than progressives, in merely wanting to engineer society toward different ends. The GOP long ago forfeited any claim to limited government or constitutionalism, as demonstrated by the disastrous debt-fueled presidency of George W. Bush. Republicans remain deeply committed to interventionism and nation-building, a foreign policy doctrine that originated with leftwing radicals. They refuse to address entitlements, either structurally or in the more important sense of rejecting government’s role in healthcare and retirement. Most importantly, conservatives forfeited the wider culture: progressives now dominate academia, media, literature, performing arts, philanthropy, churches, synagogues, and boardrooms across America.
So what can Trump actually do, in the face of this political and cultural stalemate? That’s the wrong question. What matters is what he can undo, or at least avoid doing. The last thing we need is more laws, New Deals, or Contracts with America. What we do need is less political control of society, meaning less state involvement in the economic, cultural, and social issues of the day. Can Trump possibly choose forbearance over action, at least in a few key areas?
Let us offer three suggestions.
First, Trump should stand by his pledge to pursue an “America first” foreign policy. Both the Left and Right oppose this, which suggests it’s a very good idea. Voters plainly want an end to our intractable conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they don’t want another dollar or drop of blood expended to install western democracy in the sectarian Middle East. Trump must resolve to stay out of Syria, stop the saber rattling toward Iran, and reject the crazed calls for resurrecting a Cold War with Russia. He must refuse to normalize constant war as an acceptable feature of American life. By trusting his deal-making nature and refusing to start — or intensify — another conflict, Trump could shock the world by actually presenting a kinder, gentler America.
Second, Trump should get serious about the Federal Reserve. By purchasing Treasury debt, the Fed is the shabby enabler of a deficit-addicted Congress. Interest rates are too low, savers (especially seniors) are suffering, and business malinvestment is once again creating bubbles throughout the economy. Interviewing John Allison — the former BB&T executive who understands sound money — for vice-chair of the Fed was a good sign that Trump understands this (nominating former Goldman Sachs insider Steven Mnuchin for Treasury Secretary, however, was tone deaf). The Fed is the biggest source of cronyism in the economy, and thus anti-Fed populism is both good policy and good politics. It’s time to dispel the myth that monetary policy can make us richer. For starters, Trump should pressure Congress to pass Senator Rand Paul’s Audit the Fed bill.
Finally, Trump should use his platform to continue attacking the illiberal code of political correctness. PC is not just another social issue, like abortion or marriage. It underlies all other issues, because it attempts to frame how we think and speak. The conscious manipulation of language is inherently authoritarian, and Trump’s reflexive disdain for PC comes from his better angels. Trump’s twitter feed can serve him well here.