Politicians are in “Crisis,” Not the Ordinary American

by | May 27, 2017

Outside the Washington Beltway, Life Goes on Very Normally

Reading or listening to the mass media, it would be easy to assume that America is gripped in a major national crisis due to the words and deeds of Donald Trump in the White House. Democrats stonewall Congressional legislation and dream of impeaching Trump out of the presidency. The Republicans are in panic mode that they will lose their majorities in the House and the Senate in 2018 because Donald Trump is eating away at their credibility and legitimacy to get anything done in terms of ObamaCare, and tax and regulatory reform.

The media, itself, is in its own frenzy, especially in the left-of-center press. Day-in-and-day-out, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The New Yorker, for instance, as well as CNN, assure the citizenry and their other readers and viewers around the world that Trump presidency is in chaotic disarray, trending towards unconstitutional authoritarianism, and threatening the free press in the United States. As well as pushing the country to the verge of international conflicts in various parts of the world – all the while that Trump is a partner or a puppet of Vladimir Putin in Russia.

Outside the Washington Beltway, Life Goes on Very Normally

The people of the United States must be in a serious condition of psychological, social and economic paralysis, all due to the controversies, conflicts and confusions enveloping all that is happening in Washington, D.C.  But step outside and look at what is going on around you. People are getting up every morning and going to work. Production goes on the same as before Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017, with goods coming out of the manufacturing plants and facilities and on to the retail outlets where the consuming public continues to compare, choose and buy.

Soccer Mom’s are still driving their young sportsmen and -women to recreational facilities to play organized team activities. Summer vacations are being planned. Construction sites are still busy building new residential homes, office buildings and new or expanded manufacturing units.

Yes, politics, as always, comes up in various conversations, and political discussions have become more tense, confrontational and argumentative in some circles of people in the Age of Trump. But, for the most part, people compare notes on sports events they’ve seen, what their friends and families are doing and planning, what movies are worth seeing, and all the other affairs of ordinary, daily life.

In other words, for the vast majority of Americans it is as if the events going on in Washington, D.C. concerning the Trump Administration did not exist or matter. And, in fact, they don’t. Yes, government taxes, regulates, intrudes, surveillances, and in general makes life more frustrating, costly and less free than it could be. And for some of us, we wish government would do less or none of these things, leaving people more at liberty to go about their individual peaceful, personal and private business.

But in the reality of things American society has not been sucked into a vortex of political paralysis because of Donald Trump’s personal antics and verbal vituperations on Tweeter.  Nor is the country frozen like a deer in the headlights of an on-coming car due to the rhetoric from and rancor between the Republicans and Democrats in Congress.  In other words, everyday life is bigger than politics, even in our epoch of the pervasive interventionist-welfare state and national security state.

This is not to down play the danger and damage from the enveloping straightjacket of growing political paternalism and regulatory cronyism. It is meant to highlight that outside of a truly totalitarian system, “society” generally remains greater than the “state,” though the balance between the two shifts in the state’s favor with every extension of political control and command over people’s personal and market and social interactive affairs.

Who Would Care About Trump If He was Not the President?

Outside of politics and the presidency, who is Donald Trump? He is a fast talking, deal-making blowhard, who apparently has known how to navigate the real estate markets to make millions through knowing how to “play the game.” He has searched for market opportunities and has used government means to achieve his ends when they have been available to include in his “deal making.”

He is a curiosity and a clown, an entertainment sideshow in the on-going carnival of life. He was an hour of amusement (if that reflected your taste) on television with The Apprentice, and the comical topic for the tabloids at the supermarket checkout counter. Before entering the White House, what relevance or importance did Donald Trump play in anyone of our individual lives, other than for the relatively small number doing business with him in one capacity or another out of the over 325 million people in the United States? The answer: little or none.

Another way of saying this is that the world went on before Donald Trump became president and will after he has left that high political office. And for the most part the world continues to go on with little awareness of his presence, even as president, in our daily personal, family and market interactive affairs.

The supposed “crises” of political leadership and angers and frustrations that that  “man” is in the White House rather than “our” experienced, qualified, and forward-looking candidate who should have been the first woman president of the nation, which has horrified “progressives,” shocked Congressional Democrats, and driven the left media into delegitimizing attack mode, matters for almost nothing in the homes and workplaces of most people in their regular activities.

Politics Only Matters Because of the Coercion that Comes with It

I am not saying that politics and government policies do not matter. They most certainly do. And all of the political battle lines across which the opposing forces are arrayed and in combat against each other to determine who runs various levels of government and what that power is used for, is very real and influential factor on the direction, form, and prospects for society.

But it is easy to forget or not appreciate that “society” is different from the “state,” and that what goes on in each one is based on two distinct principles of human association: voluntary agreement versus compulsory direction.

In the competitive marketplace human beings interact on the basis of peaceful and mutually agreeable association. In the political arena, human relationships are based on command and control, with those in governmental office able to impose on people coercive regulations, restrictions and redistributions they are bound to obey or accept under the threat of the use of force to assure compliance.

In a free society with government limited to a few essential functions, primarily the protection of each citizen’s life, liberty and honesty acquired property, the sphere of political presence and influence on society is limited and non-intrusive in the affairs of the large majority of people. No doubt, with some exaggeration, an historian once said that before the First World War, a British subject could go through life, say, in London, and never come into contact with the state other than in the form of the constable walking his rounds on the city streets and the inconvenience of occasionally being called for jury duty.

Today the state is pervasively present in our daily affairs in numerous visible and invisible ways. We notice government when the cashier rings up the applicable sales taxes at the checkout counter; or when the government dictates the wage a businessman must pay a worker or how he may organize his production activities and market a product; or that we need zoning and building permissions from a local regulatory commission to repair or modify our home or other property; or when we have to apply for a passport to leave the country, and declare if we are returning to the United States with more than $10,000;

Less visible to most of us as we go about our daily affairs is the extent to which the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the forms of transportation we use to get around, the design and content of many of the products we buy or the services we use have all been restricted, commanded or controlled in some way by the vast network of governmental bureaucracies that surround and have power over everything we do.

But nonetheless while the encroaching presence of the state leaves little of society – which means you and me – alone, the fact remains that it is the “private sector,” however hampered and constrained by government, that produces the goods and services available to all of us, and that generates the employment opportunities through which we can earn the income that enables us to buy all the things we wish to purchase from all the other producers in the marketplace.

The Headline Political Crisis Concerns Who Controls Power

The political crises and conflicts that fill the news in print, online and over the airwaves of the mainstream media all concern the attempts of politicians, bureaucrats and special interest groups to interfere with the nature and normal flow of events and peaceful human interaction by introducing regulatory, fiscal and monetary policies redirect society and the market from the course and patterns they would follow if determined by only all of those private individuals going about their daily market business.

Just think of the headlines of the last several months since Trump assumed the presidency of the United States. Put aside a moment the personal dislike and disgust felt about him by Trump opponents. Focus just for a second on the rhetoric and now some of the policy proposals emanating from the Trump White House.

First of all, think of Trump’s stated views on foreign policy, especially during the presidential campaign in 2016. He asserted that he planned to remove the United States from the role of global policeman and restrict American foreign activities to an “America First” agenda.

Now, in fact, he has brought into his cabinet and among his advisors many who represent the traditional foreign interventionist outlook that has guided U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. That is, more of the same political, economic and military interventionism of the last seven decades. And his actual policies since taking office have been just as aggressively foreign interventionist as those practiced by, say, George W. Bush or Barack Obama.

But suddenly the professional diplomats, the network of foreign policy think tank and NGO “experts,” and the bureaucrats in, especially, the State Department saw their role, influence and power threatened based on the statements and promises made by Trump in the run for the White House. In other words, they were threatened with being out of a job and a loss of all the salaries, privileges and perks and sense of being the “movers and shakers” in global affairs.

No wonder there has been all those leaks about Trump’s statements and missteps in the arena of international affairs. What better way to undermine an administration that challenges their belief that they know best how the world should work, while enjoying all the benefits that come with being among the elite attempting to be the social engineers and global planners of humanity. Even if Trump is, actually, a foreign interventionist, himself, just with a different twist that would involve some alternative “insiders” not fully part of the existing global social engineering establishment.

Domestic Policy Means Controlling the Redistributive-Regulatory State

Or take some aspects of domestic government policy. Listening to “the left” one would have the impression that Donald Trump is about to end the redistributive state. For those who are classical liberals or libertarians, most would no doubt say, “If only.” In reality, Trump has no desire or intention of repealing the welfare and redistributive state. He has made it clear that he wishes to preserve and protect Social Security, Medicare, a “reformed” version of “ObamaCare,” and implement a more school choice-friendly agenda with taxpayers’ dollars at the Department of Education, for instance.

But the spiders’ webs of, again, politicians, bureaucrats and special interest groups that live off and control the existing system wish to not only continue it but also to more intrusively have it extended over the society for their own personal and ideological ends and purposes. It’s all a matter who will control the levers of power and the direction the bureaus, agencies and departments take, along with the hundreds of billions of dollars that come with those regulatory, redistributive and spending powers.

So the “national crisis” in Washington, D.C. is really a crisis between the “refined,” “polished,” and “progressive” political establishment versus a crude, rude, “stream of consciousness” crony capitalist who has the audacity to presume to take America in a presumed different direction with a rhetoric and a behavior that shocks the sensibilities of the “enlightened” who know how America should be ruled and guided for the good of humanity.

Take these two warring political factions out of the social nexus and America would do just fine, with neither social engineering globalist nor “America First” interventionists. Do away with the interventionist-welfare state and there would be no power, privilege or plunder for these factions to fight over at the domestic level, either. There would be nothing to regulate, redistribute or manipulate. There would be no levers to pull or dials to turn to make people act and do things in ways different than they would peacefully wish to do if left to their own personal, social, and free market choices.

“America” is not paralyzed or in “crisis.” Americans are just going about their business everyday in their agreed-upon associations and exchanges – though heavily overlaid with that intricate web of government intervention that restricts, restrains and co-ops many of the choices and relationships they otherwise would freely pursue and undertake if government simply got off them and out of their way.  It is the politicians and political plunders who are apoplectic, not the ordinary people.

Dr. Richard M. Ebeling is the recently appointed BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel. He was formerly professor of Economics at Northwood University, president of The Foundation for Economic Education (2003–2008), was the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College (1988–2003) in Hillsdale, Michigan, and served as vice president of academic affairs for The Future of Freedom Foundation (1989–2003).

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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