The morning after Donald Trump’s presidential victory, I attended the weekly Wednesday Meeting hosted by Americans for Tax Reform, as I have for nearly two decades. Two decades ago, when then-First Lady Hillary Clinton was asked what constituted the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” she could only name this off-the-record gathering. It’s a kind of big tent bulletin board where center-right groups announce their projects and priorities, share information, sometimes disagree with one another, but often make common cause and build coalitions. Hardly a conspiracy!
Trump had not been the first choice for President of some of the Wednesday Meeting denizens who disagreed with some his policies or had concerns about his personal shortcomings. But the folks in the room for the post-election meeting generally were smiling, and moods ranged from “Wow, unbelievable!” to “Think of the possibilities!” The latter, in particular, is what ATR president and meeting chair Grover Norquist was thinking when he explained to me that he’s quite optimistic, that the GOP House and Senate could pass limited government that would be signed by a Republican president. Indeed, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who had been critical of Trump, is now excited about the prospect of working with the new President to do just this.
But to understand the extent to which Trump’s election might open new doors to freedom, we need to consider the wider context of that victory.
Voters’ economic distress
Trump voters, in economic distress, were frustrated by Obamacare, which hiked insurance premiums and limited healthcare options. They were frustrated by labor,environmental and other regulations, which harmed businesses and limited job options. They were frustrated by over a decade of stagnant purchasing power. Trump and many of his supporters blamed this on free trade. But some of his supporters did not agree with him on this issue. So why did they support Trump?
One survey asked, “Which best summarizes why you voted for Donald Trump?” Only 20% responded that he “Shares my views on issues” while an even smaller 14% said he “shares my (moral) beliefs and values.” But 60% answered that he “Will bring real change to Washington.”
So what will Trump do? He does say of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, “It relates to business (and) beauty (and) life and inner emotions. That book relates to … everything.” Not a bad source of inspiration for a president! But we still need to ask, what would constitute “real change?”
Real change: uprooting the crony system
Not only Trump voters but many others, including supporters of Bernie Sanders, rightly view America’s current political/economic system as somehow unfair, stacked in favor of special interests and elite politicians. Wikileaks revealed, as if there were much doubt, that Hillary Clinton is the poster child for the country’s corrupt, crony system. Who gets what is determined more and more by political power and the sleazy dealings between electedofficials and appointees, and certain businesses, labor unions, ideological interest groups and the like. In Atlas Shrugged, Rand contrasted “the aristocracy of money,” meaning wealth created through honest productive work and trade, with the “aristocracy of pull” of the crony system.
The erosion of Constitutional limits on government and of the Constitution’s checks and balances facilitates this corruption. Thus, if Trump and his team want to spearhead real change, they should make uprooting this corrupt system—draining the swamp, as they say—the central theme of the administration, not just one in a laundry list of goals. Indeed, they should tout other policies as both good in themselves—eliminating taxpayer subsidies to certain companies—and steps toward this greater goal—eliminating lobbyists seeking such subsidies. Trump and company should make clear to all Americans that if this isn’t done, then the country will continue a cycle of Democrat and Republican crony cliques simply trading places in power as the facilitators of corruption from one election to another.
Allowing individuals to make their own lives great
A war on the crony system would go a long way to restoring in all Americans confidence that the system is fair and not being manipulated by the politicians who bribe or beg them for votes. Instead of cronyism, in a transition plan back to liberty, eliminating government regulations and cutting taxes could also eliminate economic distortions that harm industries in the Rust Belt that helped put him in office. And such policies will help newer and future industries that can offer high-paying, high value-added jobs in information technology, biotech, nanotech, robotics and AI.
Can the diverse center-right groups at the Wednesday Meetings, the frustrated Sanders voters, the left-behinds who supported Trump and even many of the tech entrepreneurs and others who opposed him make common cause and form coalitions to allow this future to emerge? Can Trump be a transformational president and make real change? Only if he eliminates the crony system and allows individuals liberty and opportunities to make their own lives great, which will make America great again!