Editor’s Note: This is part two of a three-part series.
In part one of our interview with Andrew Heaton, a libertarian comedian and author of Laughter is Better Than Communism, we talked about how he transitioned from politics to comedy, his time at the Fox Business Network, and how he does his standup routine. In part two, Heaton discusses the libertarian movement, the two-party political system, free trade, and his disdain for President Donald Trump.
Liberty Nation: How did you get into libertarianism? Was there a particular “Aha!” moment for you?
Andrew Heaton: Oh, God. That’s been a sinuous curve. My father raised me as a Barry Goldwater Republican; as a kid, I would have viewed that as being a conservative Republican. But in retrospect, I think that Goldwater was basically about classical liberalism, plus nukes. He was hawkish, but he had a very libertarian political philosophy.
When I was in college, I got disenchanted with the Bush administration. I became a Democrat, and was a Democrat for a few years, while I worked for Congress. And then, when I was off in Scotland getting my master’s degree, I started reading free market literature. Right when I got back, I moved to D.C. and thought I was going to be working for a think tank or something, but I stumbled into P.J. O’Rourke and Milton Friedman. And that was a light bulb moment for me in going, “Okay, apparently, I am very free market.” And I’ve kind of been on that course since then.
LN: It feels as if the libertarian movement has hit a roadblock. When Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) left office, it seemed like there was something to build on, but then I saw three things emerge: some libertarians sought refuge in the Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) camp, some sought refuge in the President Donald Trump camp, and then the remaining libertarians just did what they always do, and that’s to stick to themselves and constantly write to their own audience. Do you think libertarianism has stagnated? And where do you see libertarianism heading?
AH: Another good question. A lot of libertarian positions have entered the zeitgeist, which I think is a great thing. I’m concerned with promoting freedom and tolerance, and pluralism. I’m not terribly concerned with converting people to a particular tribe.
And in that capacity, I’m quite pleased that the libertarian position on gay rights and gay marriage was a lot more gung-ho than the Democrats or Republicans were; both of them seemed to kind of cow out … if you’re a progressive talking about, say, legalizing marijuana, you’re going to put it in terms of, there’s a particular group that’s being oppressed or victimized, there’s someone in power that’s wielding it. Or, if you’re conservative, you might talk in terms of fiscal prudence, and being able to recoup money that’s currently spent on police resources, blah blah blah.
But the libertarian says, basically, “You own your body. And if you want to smoke pot, it’s your body. Smoke pot, it’s fine.” I feel like that’s the most prevalent position, the idea of ownership, and personal autonomy. And so, in that capacity, I think the libertarian movement has actually gained a lot of ground, over the years, in terms of a lot of positions becoming so mainstream that people don’t even realize that they used to be heretical.
In terms of the movement itself? I don’t know. I would have thought, at the beginning of 2016 or 2015, that having two former governors on the Libertarian Party ticket, versus Donald Trump and the most reviled Democrat of the last ten years, would have been at least an opportunity to crest to 5% of the national vote.
I’m not really sure what the next step is … The thing that I would press for, rather than trying to necessarily grow a party, or try and get a guy or gal on stage … I think that we’re going to have to get some variant of ranked-choice voting, which I know sounds wonky. But the system that we live in right now is rigged. It is rigged. It’s rigged by two parties that enjoy having a duopoly. Because they don’t want to make you think. And they don’t want you to think. They want you to fear.
They want you to fear your neighbors, they want you to fear your political opponents, and they want you to default on what they know to be a palatable position because you are so uncomfortable that you just go with whatever the tribal thing is. So long as we have a rigged, two-party system that is explicitly designed to cut out anybody who might shake things up from the outside, we’re going to keep getting that. So, I would love to see ranked-choice voting. Maine has done that. There are a few different electoral things that I think would make it easier. But as for the LP [Libertarian Party] itself, I don’t know.
LN: Jeff Deist, president of the Mises Institute, said after the last election that the Libertarian Party would be better off focusing all of its efforts on local and state elections, as opposed to having this grandiose idea of making or gaining the White House. Do you think, when you say that “the system is rigged,” that this also applies to the state level?
AH: Could be … If you’re looking at 10 to 15 years down the line. I think having actual state representatives, that to have a bloc of a third party is probably a more likely alternative than, say, Justin Amash winning the election. By the way, I would be thrilled if Justin Amash ran. But, the likelihood that he’s going to win is still pretty slim, right? We have to figure out a way to move towards a country that can have a third party. I’d be fine with it if they were the Whigs or anything else. I’m just sick of this two-party nonsense.
I think state-level would help. This is me shooting from the hip, here. I think what I would do is team up with the Green Party and a bunch of other ones and just go, “Hey, all we’re going to do is spoil elections and states until they pass ranked-choice voting.” Like, “You’re thinking that Kentucky is a done deal? No. We’re going to go in, and we’re going to throw it as hard as we can, with no course of action other than chaos. We’re going to keep doing it until you guys quit gerrymandering nonsense in order to keep people in power, and then stop actual geographic areas from voting as they were. And until you allow a system that’s not based on picking the worst of two … You know, the better of two options.”
But again, that’s me shooting from the hip. It could well be that the better way to do it would be to try and incrementally get people in the state House; I would certainly encourage that. But I think electoral reform is the way to go. I would posit that while it didn’t work out for them, the Liberal Democrats in Britain made that a focal point over the last few years. It didn’t pan out, but it was a good idea.
LN: As a libertarian, what do you think of the Donald Trump presidency, so far? What have you liked and disliked, three years into his presidency?
AH: I think Donald Trump is, at best, a chemotherapy for the United States, and that he is going to burn out some of the worst elements that are in there. That’s my hope. I should clarify, to make no uncertain terms, I do not like Donald Trump. I think he’s a despicable human being. I have not been a fan of his presidency. I am not rooting for him in 2020 … I’ll try and give him credit where it’s due: He’s cut regulations, which is laudable. He’s appointed justices that I’m generally in favor of. I’m an originalist, as opposed to a living constitutionalist. He’s outsourced judicial appointments to the Federalist Society, which I think is a good move.
And then … I hesitate to say that he’s not got us into any new conflicts, because he just declared a national emergency in order to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, which is a theocratic medieval despotism that shares absolutely no values with the United States whatsoever, and continues to prosecute a war, or at least allow American resources to prosecute a war in Yemen. That said, he hasn’t kicked off any new wars. That’s good. It’s not great, but it’s better than having a hawk in there. It’s better than John Bolton. Potentially better than Hillary Clinton, who I think would’ve been more hawkish. Those are the things I’m going to give him credit for.
The other thing that I hope comes about as a result of the Trump presidency is that we drop all this moralizing nonsense that the president is some sort of Arthurian legend character who binds the nation together as the father of the people. I think that’s a horrible way to look at the presidency. The president is the top bureaucrat, and no one should ever say, “I respect the president. I don’t agree with the president, but I respect the office.” You shouldn’t say that. There shouldn’t be a cloak or mantle of respectability, or a veneer of dignitas that shields the president from criticism, particularly if it’s going to kill people.
It is my hope that by the end of this, at least some people will be woken up to that. Because what tends to happen is, people will give the president a lot of credit if they’re in the same party. Or, even if they’re a little bit older and more traditional, there’s a certain line they’re willing to toe for someone of another party. I don’t think that’s healthy at all; I would love to completely split the office of Head of Government and Head of State. I think that we should move in that direction. Personally, I think it would be pretty cool to make Patrick Stewart the King of America and give him power.
LN: Actually, you wrote an article in The Federalist that suggested Kelsey Grammer as the king.
AH: Kelsey Grammer would be good, too. Patrick Stewart, Kelsey Grammer, or Betty White. Those are my top three. If it were up to me, we would just have an election to pick one of them as the monarch. And they would do all the handshaking and everything, be going out with Queen Elizabeth. And if you wanted to hold the reverence with them, you would.
LN: So, back to President Trump…
AH: The other thing I hope happens with Trump is that our Democratic friends will take note of the use of executive power, and remember it. I fear that when the Democrats inevitably take power again, they’re going to go, “Well, Trump did it, we can do it, too.” And I hope that is not the case.
Like right now, there are a couple of bills kicking around the Senate and the House to overturn Trump’s declaration of an emergency to sell arms to Saudi Arabia. There’s a court case, right now, contesting his ability to declare a state of emergency in order to build that stupid Wall that was not authorized by Congress. I would love it if, this next election, the Democrats … took the Senate and, as a result, were able to write legislation that prunes back the executive authority for that.
I don’t know. My fear is, again, that this will just turn into an engorging presidency that the Republicans and Democrats feel entitled to use against each other. My hope is that maybe we will realize it’s a bad idea to put power into somebody’s hands, because he might wind up being a bloviating, washed-up game-show host that nobody likes.
LN: In your book, Laughter is Better than Communism, you had a whole subsection of your first chapter about trade and tariffs. So, what is your take on the trade war unfolding between the U.S. and China, and where do you see things heading?
AH: It’s ridiculous. And I hope that the few remaining Republicans in Congress that still have testicles will be able to stand up and vote for what they claimed to believe for the last 30 years. My fear is that it turns out that free trade, just like, say, balancing a budget, is something Republicans say to get elected and do nothing about. The trade war itself is moronic. The only point of contention that I will give to it in a generous capacity is it’s possible that the Chinese have unfair trade practices, largely involving intellectual property, and that Trump is ramping up fairer and fairer bargaining over these various IP practices with China. If that’s the case.
In the third part of our series, Andrew Heaton talks about his thoughts on the 2020 Democrat contenders, and whether he will run for public office in the future.
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