One Small Step for Dictatorship, by Onkar Ghate; posted at the Ayn Rand Institute site.
There are many points on which I agree with the author. Instead of writing these again, I will offer that my agreement can be found in this post, beginning with the section entitled “The Next Four Years” and continuing through the end of the post. To summarize: I don’t really know what Trump will do on many topics; I do know he will do many things that both libertarians and objectivists will agree are harmful to liberty; I agree that the danger is in what follows Trump more than the danger of Trump himself.
At the same time, there is much that I take exception to in this opinion piece. In the interest of (reasonable) brevity, I will expand only on two points.
On November 8, 2016, the United States took its first step toward dictatorship.
Ghate offers that it is not that Trump will act the dictator; it is the reasons people voted for Trump that lead him to this statement. I suggest: whatever one believes to be the reasons people voted for Trump, it doesn’t square that his election represented the “first step toward dictatorship.”
Let’s unpack this a bit:
Dictatorship is a form of government where a group of countries (or Country) is ruled by one person or political entity, and exercised through various mechanisms to ensure that the entity's power remains strong. (Emphasis added)
A dictatorship need not be led by one individual. A single political entity is also a form of dictatorship.
The most general term is despotism, a form of government in which a single entity rules with absolute power. That entity may be an individual, as in an autocracy, or it may be a group, as in an oligarchy. (Emphasis added)
Oligarchy, is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people might be distinguished by nobility, wealth, family ties, education or corporate, religious or military control.
The United States is ruled by an oligarchy. Don’t believe me? Want to try two professors, one from Princeton and the other from Northwestern? Argue with them.
The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination….
An elite oligarchy – just another form of dictatorship.
Trump may or may not represent a step in this journey toward dictatorship. But it cannot be denied that the first step was taken long ago. It would be easy to make the case that the establishment of the Federal Reserve was the first step; one is free to argue that it was Lincoln’s war to prevent southern secession or even the replacement of the Articles of Confederation by the Constitution.
I will stick with the Fed. It is a slam-dunk case to state that this was a step taken toward dictatorship. Read the definition of oligarchy and understand the role of the Fed. What conclusion would you draw?
Not enough to convince you that the road to dictatorship was started long ago? Further: a one-party state is a form of dictatorship:
A one-party state, single-party state, 1-party state, one-party system, single-party system, or 1-party system is a type of state in which one political party has the right to form the government, usually based on the existing constitution. All other parties are either outlawed or allowed to take only a limited and controlled participation in elections.
A one-party state: to make this claim regarding the United States, one need demonstrate two things: first, there is little if any meaningful difference between the Democratic and Republican parties; second, that it is difficult, bordering on impossible, for a third party to gain any traction in an election.
To the first: wars, spending, deficits, regulations, control. All have increased regardless of the party label applied to the president or members of congress. It is a challenge to identify meaningful difference of type or even degree.
To the second, a few barriers to entry for third parties: winner-take-all vs. proportional representation; ballot access laws; debate rules. All stacked against third parties in the United States.
Per Ghate, religion holds an especially grievous place in this election, with fundamentalist Christians blindly supporting Trump:
Trump’s call for blind, unquestioning followers, his trafficking in conspiracy theories and disregard for facts and science, his claim that we are close to the end of days and that he, unerring and alone, can save us, his promise of miracles like building a wall and making Mexico pay for it—all of this and more should be seen as attractive to a religious mindset, especially of a fundamentalist variety.
I have no idea how big a role fundamentalist Christianity played in Trump’s election; it is not unreasonable to conclude that there was some pushback by Christians regarding the entire cultural-Marxist agenda – a vote against Clinton more than a vote for Trump.
I have written my share on the wrongheadedness of many who call themselves Christian – primarily in the area of supporting war (Laurence Vance is the expert on this). But this is not the drawback of religion referenced by Ghate or Rand.
The contempt that Rand held for religion is well-known – certainly central to her objectivism. Here is Rand on religion:
PLAYBOY: Has no religion, in your estimation, ever offered anything of constructive value to human life?
RAND: Qua religion, no—in the sense of blind belief, belief unsupported by, or contrary to, the facts of reality and the conclusions of reason.
I offer two thoughts. First, something will bind people together into community. It has never been demonstrated that Rand’s laissez-faire capitalism alone can do this. Religion has often played this role. It is why tyrants will often eliminate the church in order to eliminate the competition.
Second, for all of recorded history, religion has been a reality. It doesn’t get more objective than that. Any philosophy that ignores or derides this human reality is a useless philosophy for human life on earth.
It is interesting to me, this intersection of Rand and libertarian thinking. She abhorred the label “libertarian” and those who wore it, yet many libertarians will tell you “it all started with Ayn Rand.”
This piece written by Ghate offers a further example of why this connection and gulf both exist. Libertarians and objectivists can share many concerns about Trump’s election – even a minarchist libertarian has reason to be concerned about many of Trump’s statements.
At the same time, libertarians (at least the more thoughtful and consistent ones) acknowledge two realities that are dismissed in Ghate’s piece: first, the road to dictatorship in the United States began long ago, and second, it takes something more than an idea or a market to hold a people together.
The more thoughtful libertarians also acknowledge a reality ignored in Ghate’s piece – ignored, perhaps, because Randians believe the state can be rehabilitated: the phenomenon that is Trump represents a major loss of credibility for authoritarian control. This is an absolute good.