In a Principled Opposition, the Basis for a Grand Coalition

Writing at The Week, Jeff Spross nicely summarizes Why Trump’s Cabinet poses a unique threat to the working class.  Spross both explains Trump perceptively & succinctly, and in the same post implicitly holds out the prospect of a grand coalition (principled liberals, conservatives, and libertarians) to oppose him. (For an explicit call for broad opposition, from a conservative, see Evan McMullin’s Ten Points for Principled Opposition to Authoritarianism.)

Libertarians can easily agree with both Spross & McMullin.

First, Spross’s spot-on description of Trump, someone far from the traditional American political spectrum:

Trump is an authoritarian. And like all authoritarians, he wants the adulation of the masses. So he’s happy to ditch GOP ideological orthodoxy to throw voters the occasional scrap of economic populism. But being an authoritarian, he also wants zero democratic accountability. And unions are one of the most powerful and effective institutions Western society has yet devised for making both the economic and political powers-that-be answerable to working people. Trump wants nothing to do with that. His combination of reactionary populist rhetoric with a Cabinet and agenda that looks set to smash the American labor movement to smithereens is not some mistake or oversight. It’s a perfectly logical outgrowth of Trump’s specific worldview.

It wasn’t long ago, truly, that almost all libertarians saw that freedom of association was in the very fiber of a free society, and that anyone (including public employees) should be able to form associations to bargain against an employer, whether government or business.  There are many of us who yet feel this way, and will never yield our wider view to a narrower one.

Spross does more, however, than describe Trump accurately.  He implicitly recognizes the possibility of a grand coalition of left, right, and libertarian against Trump:

Trump’s goal is neither a coherent set of pro-worker social values and policies, nor a coherent set of free-market social values and policies. Rather, his goal is the obedience of both realms to a central strongman — namely, himself.

We can – and should – form alliances from diverse parts of American politics.  There is not a single political difference between the principled left, right, or libertarian that matters more than the assurance of a free society and the defeat of its authoritarian enemies.

We’ve much good work to do.

Republicanism Without Principle

Writing at Commentary, Noah Rothman has a short, but powerfully insightful, post entitled Republicanism without Principle.  The essay is, immediately, about Trump and the Republican party, but it applies as nicely to republicanism as a form of government under the pressure of radical populism.  (It’s worth noting that Commentary is a conservative publication; one finds some of the strongest critiques of Trump from steadfast, free-market conservatives.)

Rothman observes the absence of ideology in Trump:

The fatal conceit of any populist movement is that it is non-ideological. It is entirely practical, its advocates insist. It has no use for theoreticians and philosophers. After all, what have they ever produced? The urgency of the present crisis demands of us the resolve to use every tool in the toolbox. What crisis, you ask? And what tools? The questions alone betray a suspicious lack of revolutionary consciousness. They mark the incredulous inquisitor as unfit to share the fruits of the new enlightenment….

Rothman rightly sees the danger – to liberty, to safety, to well-being – in such movements:

A nihilistic detachment from ideology is also the abandonment of principle, and that is a dangerous condition in leaders vested with the kind of awesome power that American presidents enjoy. The ideology that informs principle serves as a check on that power. Pragmatism is its own philosophy, one which justifies every manner of behavior with little regard for its morality or long-term consequences….

If principle grounded in an intellectual framework comes to be seen as an impediment to progress, any manner of remedy to that condition is soon justified in the populist mind. And pragmatism necessitates the kind of ugly remedies that principle often proscribes….

Here we now are, in America.  There’s more to Rothman’s essay that I’d easily recommend, about the views of the clique surrounding Trump.  (They are, to be sure, men who would set aside concern for any particular meal or view for the sake of a place at the table and a window seat.)

Rothman’s success, here, however, is more universal: a concise description of government without ideologically principled limitations.

Berlusconi’s Political Career as a Partial Analog for Trump’s

One reads much these days about how similar Trump and Silvio Berlusconi supposedly are. There’s something tempting about comparing Trump’s political situation to Silvio Berlusconi’s: both are businessmen, held no earlier office before winning a national election, are admirers of Putin, crude, anti-intellectual, and lecherous.

There’s reason to look at parallels between the two; one needn’t look at those parallels exclusively, or with high confidence.

In The Dangers of Anti-Trumpism, Cinzia Arruzza argues that “Silvio Berlusconi’s tenure as Italian prime minister shows how not to resist an authoritarian demagogue.”  She’s careful, however, about the strength and weakness of comparing the two:

Trump’s very resistible rise to power is, to a certain extent, more astonishing than Berlusconi’s more predictable first electoral victory. While Trump hijacked the Republican Party, running up against opposition from a large part of the Republican establishment and from the media, Berlusconi used his media empire to both control information and create a new political party, accordingly reshaping the political spectrum….

Moreover, Berlusconi did not agitate for isolationism and protectionism, did not challenge international market agreements, and did not question Italy’s participation in the creation of the European Union and the eurozone — at least not until 2011. Finally, Italy does not play any hegemonic geopolitical role comparable to that of the United States.

These differences are significant enough to caution against facile predictions about the course of Trump’s presidency based on Italian vicissitudes. They do not, however, mean that nothing can be learned from the Italian experience….

That seems right: that there is something to learn, but that something offers a limited, partial understanding.

(In any event, I’ve no confidence whatever that a move toward Arruzza’s suggestion of a “radical and credible alternative” [emphasis added] would be a sound alternative to Trump.  Arruzza contends that “it was thanks to the neoliberal and austerity policies carried out by the center-left in the subsequent six years [after Berlusconi was first ousted] that Berlusconi’s power was consolidated [in his return to office].

I’ll not question her sense of the Italian scene, and how a traditional approach only allowed Berlusconi to return to office.  It’s enough to observe that Trump is, simply put, a radical populist, and Americans will find nothing but hardship in replacing one radicalism with another.  Running away from constitutional and political norms in a different direction won’t make us stronger.)

So for us, of Berlusconi’s example, one can say that there are lessons, but only partial ones.