Peter Wehner, who works at a conservative organization called the Ethics and Public Policy Center and who worked in the last three Republican administrations, recently had an op-ed entitled “The Indelible Stain of Donald Trump” in the New York Times, a piece that would cause any libertarian to bust a gut in laughter. That’s not to say that Wehner meant his piece to be funny. It just turned out that way given the longtime inability of Wehner and other conservatives and Republicans to recognize their own faults and foibles.
The point of Wehner’s op-ed was to skewer Donald Trump by suggesting that he isn’t a genuine conservative or Republican but instead an aberration — an outlier — “a malicious, malignant figure on the American political landscape.”
What makes Wehner’s piece so humorous is his inability to recognize that Trump is the absolutely perfect embodiment of conservativism and the modern Republican Party. Like other conservatives and Republicans, Wehner is living the life of the lie and the life that denies reality. He’s got this sweet, pure concept of conservatism and the Republican Party in his head that doesn’t comport with reality in the least.
Consider what he writes: “Modern conservatism has three elements: a commitment to limited government and economic liberty that enables prosperity; moral traditionalism that conserves our capacity for liberty by producing responsible citizens; and a belief that America, confidently and carefully engaged in international affairs, can be a force for good in the world.”
He then goes on to point out that “Trump rejects all three. He has shown no real desire to limit the size, cost, or reach of the federal government. He has no interest in economic liberty as it has been understood since Adam Smith. He wants an economy in which trade and immigration are tightly restricted and the government makes mercantilist deals on behalf of domestic producers.”
Consider the welfare state. Don’t most conservatives and Republicans express an unwavering allegiance to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, education grants, farm subsidies, and most other welfare-state programs? Don’t they embrace these socialist programs as fervently as people on the left? I will guarantee you: You’ll never see Wehner or any other conservative or Republican calling for the immediate repeal of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies, education grants, and certainly not the income tax that funds them all.
Yet, how can the welfare state be reconciled with principles of “limited government and economic liberty that enables prosperity”? It can’t be.
Indeed, how can the federal income tax and the IRS be reconciled with Wehner’s mantra? The IRS has unlimited powers to seize people’s property without first having to go to court. Our American ancestors, who genuinely believed in free enterprise and limited government, lived without a federal income tax and an IRS for more than 100 years. But you certainly won’t calling for that way of life. They are too wedded to the progressive income tax, which, by the way, was a plank in the Communist Manifesto.
What about the national-security state, commonly known as the warfare state, or what President Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex? That old Cold War-era totalitarian apparatus that was grafted onto our federal governmental system after WWII is what passes for “limited government” in Wehner’s quaint conservative mind.
Thanks largely to conservatives and Republicans, the national-security state now wields the omnipotent power to round up Americans and put them into concentration camps indefinitely, torture them, and even assassinate them.
That’s what passes for “limited government” in Wehner’s mind.
And what about that other phrase that Wehner employs: “confidently and carefully engaged in international affairs … a force for good in the world.”
Is he kidding? Oh for sure, the “confidently” fits the U.S. national-security state’s foreign policy. Some might even call it arrogant. But “carefully”? Come on! Were the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan done “carefully.” How about the invasion of Vietnam? The intervention in Korea? Is waging war without the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war considered “careful” in Wehman’s conservative, Republican mind? How about the assassination attempts on Castro and other foreign leaders? The regime change operations against Chile, Guatemala, Iran, Cuba, Indonesia, and other countries? Were all those imperial military bases around the world selected and constructed “carefully.”
And a “force for good”? Don’t make me laugh. The national-security state has killed, tortured, and maimed countless people in its foreign incursions and foreign wars. Iraq and Afghanistan are only the most recent examples. It’s those interventions and the death and destruction that have come with them that have given rise to civil wars raging across the Middle East and Afghanistan, the massive refugee crisis across Europe, the creation of ISIS, and the constant threat of terrorist blowback against Americans. All that has then been used as the excuse for suspending our rights and freedoms here at home, including the Patriot Act, felony privacy violations by the telecom industry, and the NSA’s massive, secret, totalitarian-like surveillance schemes.
What’s good about any of that?
Of course, I’m sure that Wehner would, like any good progressive, say, “Jacob, please judge us conservatives and Republicans by our good intentions, not by the actual consequences of the statist programs that we endorse and embrace.” But good intentions mean nothing. All that matters is the death, destruction, and loss of liberty and privacy that have accompanied conservative and Republican programs.
Oh, and let’s not forget the drug war, a federal program that goes to the heart of the conservative/Republican “free enterprise” paradigm. I’d love to see how Wehner reconciles that evil, immoral, and destructive government program with his understanding of economic liberty and limited government.
If the conservative-Republican paradigm produces responsible citizens, then how come so many Americans must still be jailed for ingesting the wrong substances? How come Americans must be forced to be good and caring through Social Security and other welfare-state programs?
While he’s at it, maybe Wehner could explain how the conservative and Republican support of the decades-long war on immigrants, and the police state that immigration controls have brought to the American Southwest, can possibly be reconciled with the principles of economic liberty and limited government.
Or about the decades-old system of economic embargoes and sanctions that are imposed on foreign regimes, which entail the criminal prosecution of Americans for doing what they want with their own money? How is that reconciled with Wehner’s understanding of economic liberty?
The fact is that conservatives threw in the towel of freedom and free markets decades ago, when becoming “respectable” and “credible” became important to them than devotion to principle. Since then, they have embraced the welfare-warfare state way of life as arduously as the most committed progressive. All that they have left is their mantras, to which they continue to hue religiously, as Wehner demonstrates.
Donald Trump takes ad hoc positions on the various issues of the day, has no sense of principle, mouths empty mantras, and tacks left, middle, and right depending on how the political winds are blowing. Humorously, what Wehner can’t bring himself to see is that that is precisely what makes Trump a model conservative and a model Republican.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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