Why Trump is Closer to the Illiberal Left than Classical Liberalism
In the past few days, I have been thinking about my increasing discomfort with President Trump’s style of politics. To be fair, I have never been a fan of Trump, but the intensity of the discomfort has been getting much greater recently. From his abandonment of his party’s famous 2016 promise not to appoint a Supreme Court justice in an election year, to his repeated allegations of widespread electoral fraud without evidence, to his decision to schedule five federal executions in the lame duck period, knowing that Americans have elected someone opposed to the death penalty. Not to mention his often hypocritical stance on free speech.
Through deeper thinking, I realized that what I felt most uncomfortable about Trump was his lack of respect for the idea of the social contract, and more specifically, his responsibility to uphold his end of the contract. You know, acting in good faith towards others, respecting the established processes and conventions of democracy, keeping the promises that you or your team made, and so on. The gentlemens’ agreements that keep liberal democracy running. Trump has demonstrated that he has no time for these things. And this has very important implications.
The idea of a universal social contract, one that applies equally to every individual, and that every individual must uphold, is core to the foundation of liberalism. Indeed, it goes back all the way to thinkers like John Locke. Without a healthy and fair social contract, there cannot be the conditions for liberal democracy, and its associated values like free speech and free debate, to exist. It’s why it’s important that, if liberal democracy is to be respected, that every candidate who lost an election must concede defeat gracefully, for example. Trump’s refusal to do this thus sets a dangerous precedent, indeed not only for America, but for the whole of the liberal democratic Western world.
An even more troubling thing is that some Trump supporters actually love this aspect of Trump. They think it’s inspiring that a politician, indeed a President, would regularly trample on established processes and conventions to get what he wants. They think this represents strength, while following the rules represents weakness. This kind of thinking actually has a long history, going back to thinkers like Nietzsche, who despised the equality-based order inherent in the liberal social contract, and the limitations it inevitably placed on acts of grand social projects. Nietzsche’s hostility to egalitarian politics is mirrored in more recent movements in the authoritarian Right, many of which explicitly define themselves against liberalism’s pro-equality assumptions, and sometimes even directly attack foundational liberal thinkers like Locke and Mill. Not surprisingly, people from these movements often strongly support Trump.
Of course, Nietzsche is equally popular in many parts of the far-left, and Nietzscheism is prominently felt on the Left too. Indeed, postmodernism is heavily influenced by Nietzsche. While Left Nietzscheans are not inherently opposed to equality, they focus on the somewhat related belief that truth and morality are relative to social conditions, and their resulting actions are just as disrespectful of the liberal democratic social contract. Examples include activists who use their numbers to de-platform speakers they don’t like, and of course, the very despicable act of getting people fired from their jobs. Cancel culture as a whole is a clear rejection of the liberal social contract. It has just as much of an ‘I can do whatever I want to shape the world how I want, as long as I can get away with it’ mentality behind it. The only difference is that the illiberal Left uses more sophisticated justifications, often drawn from critical theory, to justify their trampling on liberal democratic norms. You know, like justifying the undemocratic destruction of public property as an act of democracy, when it’s clearly the opposite of democracy.
Looking at it this way, the illiberal Left, what people like Dave Rubin call the ‘regressive Left’, actually has a lot in common with Trump. This is why, taking the Dave Rubin approach, supporting Trump as a so-called ‘bulwark’ against the illiberal Left, is ultimately self-defeating. Given that Trump and the illiberal Left are actually similar at their root, they can only serve to reinforce each other, which they certainly did in the past four years. Biden may not be perfect, but at least he is dedicated to upholding the liberal social contract, which means a lot in times like these.
Going forward, I guess liberal minded people need to confront the ideas being spread by the malcontents of the liberal social contract. These people reside on both the far-left and the far-right, and their justification for opposing liberalism is ultimately simply because it is not as exciting and satisfying as the alternative, that is, being part of some grand social project. But what we need to remember is, we support liberalism because liberal values build a truth-orientated and moral society. The reason why Moral Libertarians demand that every individual be given an Equal and Maximum share of moral agency, is because this would prevent the morally wrong from ruling over the morally right, and this would eventually allow the morally right way to be proven correct, by its long-term results. You can’t have that in a society based on grand schemes, where everyone is merely a part of a larger plan or struggle. Thus, liberalism, respect for democratic procedures, and respect for each others’ free speech may be the boring and frustrating way, but it is the straight and narrow path that will lead us gradually closer to the truth, and also to a more moral future. This is why we must insist on it.
Originally published at http://taraellastylia.blogspot.com.
TaraElla is a singer-songwriter, independent journalist and author, who is passionate about free speech, liberty and equality. She is the author of the Moral Libertarian Horizon books, which focus on developing a moral case for freedom-based politics in the 21st century.