Libertarians have faced a rocky road in modern America; widely misunderstood – and often despised – by the Left and fiercely resisted and shunned by the more traditional forces of the Right. President Trump’s new populist agenda appears to turn the tables on both Liberal and Conservative philosophy, so will Libertarians see progress or obstruction in advancing their cause and what can they take away from Trump’s initial flurry of Executive Orders (EOs)?
To date, the President has signed twelve Executive Orders. Much has been said about the January 27 EO which deals with temporarily preventing entry into the United States from certain countries, citing national security concerns.
Five other EOs also have less direct implications for Libertarians; they deal with measures to combat transnational criminal organizations, expediting infrastructure projects, improving border security and removal of criminal illegal aliens, laying out ethics guidelines for executive branch and order of succession within the Department of Justice (DoJ).
What of the remaining four orders, however? Do they advance or set back basic Libertarian values?
The first Executive Order from this new administration instructs executive departments and agencies to use all legal means to alleviate the burden imposed on businesses and individuals by the ironically-titled Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Score one for Libertarians, who see no legitimate role for the federal government in providing either healthcare services or health insurance, much less mandating that private individuals and businesses purchase health insurance products. It should be remembered that the Supreme Court gave ‘Obamacare’ the green light only because the individual mandate was presented as a form of taxation. The Obama administration was never granted the constitutional legitimacy to force private individuals to purchase health insurance unless the mandate was deemed merely a new tax levy.
On January 25, the President signed an EO Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs. This order is significant to the Libertarian vision of free-market capitalism, unfettered by overbearing and costly regulation. Under the provisions of this law, the total cost increase to businesses from new regulations in the 2017 fiscal year will not exceed zero. Going forward, the increase in costs from new regulations shall be offset by the elimination of two regulations for every new one imposed. Certainly, another victory for the Libertarian aspiration of removing federal government interference from private business and enterprise.
Core Principles for Regulating the United States Financial System was signed on February 3. Most notably, this EO is intended to put an end to taxpayer-funded bailouts and “empower Americans to make independent financial decisions and informed choices in the marketplace, save for retirement, and build individual wealth.” This EO is another promising sign that government’s increasingly tight grip on finance and commerce is, at least for the next few years, loosening.
Another Order on crime reduction and public safety, signed by the President on February 9, directs the Attorney General of the United States to establish a task force to share intelligence and formulate methods of more effectively dealing with crime and drug-trafficking. Whilst no reasonable person would ever object, in principle, to reducing crime, this Executive Order may be less palatable to true Libertarians. A new government task force means another layer of bureaucracy; new initiatives in the ‘war on drugs’ means nothing more than furthering a war that can never be won and may well further criminalize activities that, in the minds of most Libertarians, should not necessarily be criminalized at all.
As for the so-called ‘public safety’ aspect of government efforts, the dedicated Libertarian takes his or her cue from two of our nation’s greatest minds: Thomas Jefferson said: “I prefer the tumult of liberty to the quiet of servitude.” Ben Franklin asserted that “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
Although the Franklin quote originally referred to the sovereignty of states, rather than individual liberty, the common theme of these two quotes is not lost on the Libertarian: the Central government will always seek to erode personal freedoms in the name of more effective security.
Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers – also signed on February 9 – calls for a review of funding for state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as going after those who commit violence against law enforcement personnel with harsher penalties. Insofar as this order doesn’t lead to the further militarization of law enforcement and does not create the effect of law enforcement officers being less accountable, this order – while not enhancing the Libertarian cause – does not erode it, either. The majority of Americans clearly understand that law enforcement agents have become targets in many communities across the country and that they deserve as much safety and protection as can be afforded them, given the nature of their profession and their duty to a free society.
Donald J Trump is no Libertarian; that much is clear. He may believe in more efficient government, but, not necessarily in smaller government. He may believe in more economic freedom, but not in the uninfringed freedom to pursue one’s lifestyle choices in all things.
Libertarians can and must keep up the fight. How the Trump presidency will move their cause is not yet entirely clear, but it appears that actions from the executive, so far, mostly help the never-ending struggle to maintain and expand individual freedom.