Donald Trump, Javier Milei, Nayib Bukele, and Liz Truss all participated in the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland last Saturday, posing as political brothers (see “Trump Says He Is a ‘Dissident’ Under Siege from Thugs in Bleak Speech” and “Argentina’s Milei Meets Trump After Hosting Biden Officials,” Financial Times, February 24, 2024). The newspaper reports:

In a video of the two leaders meeting backstage, posted on X by a Trump adviser, an exuberant Milei thanks the former president [Trump] “for all [his] work” and says: “I hope to see you again and the next time I hope you will be president.”

To be fair to the Financial Times, it also admits:

Milei has previously said in interviews that he mainly shares with Trump the goal of opposing socialism—a message he returned to at the end of his CPAC speech on Saturday.

The day before, the same newspaper reviewed a book where Tim Aberta, a Christian, bemoans the Trump idolatry that has seized the evangelical movement (“Why Are So Many Evangelical Christians in Thrall to Trump?” February 23, 2024). The story features an extraordinary photograph of evangelicals praying with and for Trump, while a preacher directs the trance; you have to see it! Derek Brower, the journalist, writes:

But Alberta shows that much bigger ideas [than abortion] are now also at work. Many evangelicals consider Trump to be ordained by God, and see the US as uniquely blessed; a Christian nationalism has become rampant in the movement. Hence their fervour for men such as David Barton, an author famous for pseudo-history books that argue America’s true origins are as a theocracy. …

Lauren Boebert, the gun-toting Republican congresswoman from Colorado, said: “I’m tired of this ‘separation of church and state’ junk . . . The church is supposed to direct the government.”

Underlying all this, there seems to be a dangerous philosophical confusion between classical liberals and libertarians on one side and, on the other side, the current intersection of the Trumpian, evangelical, and old-conservative movements. This Trumpian connection, as we may call it, shows little interface with the values and philosophy of classical liberalism. The main and perhaps only interface is that both sides are opposed to collectivism of the left, but the Trumpian connection welcomes the collectivist right. In a recent EconLog post, I explained the “unbearable lightness of collectivism”: both shades of collectivism favor the supremacy of collective choices; they just want to force different collective choices on others. The danger is not socialism, but collectivism of the left or the right.

Can we imagine, say, Friedrich Hayek or James Buchanan wanting to be associated with the Trumpian connection? A paradigmatic case is trade, whether internal or external does not matter. Anybody who does not agree that trade should be a private matter cannot be part of the broad liberal-libertarian tradition.

From Anthony Downs’s 1957 book An Economic Theory of Democracy, we know that “parties formulate policies in order to win elections, rather than win elections in order to formulate policies.” This result follows from the assumption that politicians are no less self-interested than ordinary individuals: their first goal is to be elected in order to benefit from the perks and glory of power. We should therefore not be surprised that philosophical coherence is typically not a priority of politicians. But instead of providing a justification for general cynicism, this observation should give a reason to limit government power and reject confused rabble-rousing.

In my view, there are two related reasons why classical liberals and libertarians should dissent, and be seen as dissenters, from the Trumpian connection. First, as I emphasized, the (classical) liberal philosophy is individualist and stands at the polar opposite of the collectivism and authoritarianism of those, on the right or on the left, who want to impose their ideas and whims by force. Second, we, in the liberal galaxy, should try hard not to be seen as what we are not philosophically. The contrary would be a self-defeating strategy in the longer run. To say it more crudely, and at the risk of hurting some intelligent and well-meaning friends, if everybody thinks we are idiots, our task will be even more difficult.


Featured image generated by ChatGPT: OpenAI. (2024). ChatGPT (4) [Large language model]., February 26, 2024.