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Trump vs. Clinton Marks the End of American Self-Reliance

By: Eric Clifford Graf - Apr 29, 2016, 5:54 pm
Trump vs. Clinton Every nation gets the government it deserves? (Patriot Media)
The 2016 US presidential race has everyone wondering if every nation gets the government it deserves. (Patriot Media)

EspañolIt’s easy to get depressed about politics, apocalyptic even. In the United States, for example, post-constitutional, cult-of-personality trends echo the decadence of imperial Rome.

While the bloody escapades of Caligula, Nero, and Caracalla seem unlikely, the laborious decline into “bread and circuses” will get much worse.

But such is the natural and even the moral course of collective life.

Like all things in nature, civilizations decay. Paradoxically, the triumph of American capitalism also means that many citizens now have so much free time on their hands that if they aren’t whining about getting their feelings hurt, then they are proclaiming, or else fretting over, what they or others wish to do with their respective genitalia.

And when these same people cannot comprehend that minimum wage laws cause unemployment or that a tariff hurts them by raising the prices of goods that they themselves purchase, then success has bred failure.

The End of Self-Reliance

Ultimately, however, a deeper moral lesson is in order. When the government’s role is to mandate charity and redistribute wealth, as under Bush II and Obama, then people recoil from generating either.

When everyone is out to impoverish their neighbor, or even to help their neighbors by impoverishing still other neighbors, then the virtue of self-reliance has dissolved and life will, and should, get worse.

This is classical tragedy, for the full effects of the growing blind spot in the eyeball of the body politic must now be thoroughly experienced in order for it to be understood and corrected. The process will likely take generations.

“Every nation gets the government it deserves,” said Joseph de Maistre. Augustine viewed tyranny as punishment for a people’s sins.

Is ignorance sin? Maybe not; but some form of collective depravity describes the disinterest and hubris that brought about the conditions for this ignorance.

All sides are to blame. Conservatives have blithely and cowardly retreated from education since the 1970s. Meanwhile, leftists have driven the politics of resentment to the orgiastic extremes of policing language and behavior.

The backlash against leftist nonsense explains Trump’s popularity. The conservative vacuum explains the inability of that backlash to anchor itself in constitutional principles.

So we have incurred the wrath of the Gods or perhaps the revenge of Nature; only nowadays our reckoning comes at us gradually, in the form of obesity scooters in casinos and grocery stores and weird public figures like Honey Boo Boo and Kanye West.

Recently, Dennis Hastert, a man who was once second in line to the presidency, was convicted of child molestation. Few so much as batted an eyelash.

From the Progressive Era to the Nanny State

Public apathy and dependence on government begins with the progressive era of the early twentieth century.

Amity Shlaes and Robert Higgs have written detailed accounts of the FDR Administration’s love affair with Mussolini-type planning, which resulted in an explosion of acronyms for governmental departments and agencies designed to make sure we all follow rules set by experts entrusted with our sustenance, guidance, and well-being.

Bush II and Obama also advanced the nanny state.

Bush never vetoed a spending bill; he told Americans the best way to wage war was to buy stuff; he tried to stimulate the economy by returning $600 to each taxpayer; he used public money to rescue banks and auto companies facing bankruptcy.

Obama started his reign with an $830 billion package of handouts; he nationalized one-sixth of the economy by mandating healthcare; he arrogated untold powers to the presidency by using regulators to extort companies and by targeting his enemies with bogus tax violations.

In sum, any philosophy of limited government in the U.S., which might have been briefly resuscitated under Reagan, is now dead and buried for the foreseeable future.

So let’s not feign surprise when it appears that on November 8, 2016, Americans will choose between Trump and Clinton, an impertinent clown and a redistributionist crook.

The differences between them are minor. Trump favors immigration control, a stronger military, tariffs, and a range of big-government programs that would fund everything from health care to housing to education.

Clinton favors open borders, racial and gender preferences, the continued growth of the regulatory state, and a range of government programs that would fund everything from health care to housing to education.

A Bleak Choice

For classical liberals and libertarians, the prospects are particularly bleak. Neither candidate talks about the free market, neither talks about the Constitution, neither talks about the legalization of drugs, neither talks about lower taxes or smaller government.

Clinton perhaps mildly edges out Trump in terms of her propensity for lying and corruption. More importantly, she envisions government as the be-all and end-all of human existence. She thinks government should expand women’s rights and replace the family as caregiver and provider.

While running for president back in 2008, Clinton actually starred in a TV advertisement in which she pondered what to give the American people for Christmas.

Clinton is both the queen of the identity politics of resentment and the ultimate purveyor of government as Santa Clause. In both senses, she represents a continuation of Obama.

For his part, Trump represents himself as a national savior. Like Obama, he is a fraud. In 2008, Obama sold himself as a moderate healer instead of a Marxist student of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. Likewise, Trump sells himself as a conservative when he has only ever been a big-government Democrat.

Trump also loves the scandal of insulting his rivals in public, and he is inclined to not give a damn, which endears him to those of us who are tired of the politically correct culture of complaint and entitlement.

On the other hand, during a nationally televised debate, Trump actually referred approvingly to the size of his penis. And he changes his mind on major issues from day to day, so even his minor pluses are potential negatives.

Churchill once said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else.” We still have quite a lot of trial and error ahead of us.

Eric Clifford Graf Eric Clifford Graf

Eric Graf is a professor of literature at the Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala. View his research on Academia.edu.