So Trump wants to be like Nixon huh? This is not good.
Guest post by Jeffrey Tucker
If you have followed the Republican trajectory over the last year, perhaps this will not surprise you. And maybe you discerned this last week when “Law and Order” became another official Republican campaign slogan, alongside “Make America Great Again.”
As it turns out, the model that the Donald Trump campaign is using for its public image, messaging, and policies was the one pioneered by Richard Nixon in 1968. Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort confirmed it.
Then the candidate himself agreed.
I think what Nixon understood is that when the world is falling apart, people want a strong leader whose highest priority is protecting America first [said the Trumpanzee]. The ’60s were bad, really bad. And it’s really bad now. Americans feel like it’s chaos again.
Nixon Was the Turning Point
Nixon was a remarkable case. His public credibility was built by his big role in the 1948 congressional hearings that pitted State Department Official Alger Hiss against Whittaker Chambers. Nixon was then a congressman from California and a key player on the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC). He publicly demonstrated Hiss’s Communist Party connections, and thereby became a hero to the anti-communists of that time.
The event became the cornerstone of Nixon’s entire career, establishing him as the leader of the anti-leftist faction of the party. Based on this reputation, he went from the House to the Senate in 1950, to the Vice Presidency in 1950, and finally the Presidency in 1968. Upon his election, hopes were high among the libertarians of the time that he would perhaps work to dismantle the welfarism and warfarism of the Lyndon Johnson era.
[Ayn Rand herself, politically was not primarily anti-communist but pro-freedom. Writing of that 1968 election she called herself an “Anti-Nixonite for Nixon.”
As to the state of the country at large, as we approach the Presidential election of 1968: it is obvious that there is an enormous swing to the right—if by "right" we mean the trend toward freedom and capitalism. But, tragically, it is a blind swing, without conscious knowledge, programme or direction. The people are rightfully, indignantly against the welfare state, against the blatantly cynical injustices of pressure-group warfare, against the deceptions and contradictions of pragmatic "anti-ideology." But they do not know the root nor the solution of these evils. They do not know whether they are for capitalism—they should be, but probably would not be, at present. It is the task of a country's intellectuals to provide the people with political knowledge—with an intelligible political philosophy. The philosophy of a mixed economy, of the Welfare State in all its variants, is bankrupt: it has had its day and has brought us to our present state. There is only one alternative now: the philosophy of capitalism—if a collapse into dictatorship is to be averted.
Without the proper intellectual leadership, the people's blind rebellion will not save this country and will come to nothing, as have all the blind rebellions of the past. But the people's groping need and desperate eagerness for enlightenment are there, waiting for the men of courage and integrity to speak. Let us hope that a Nixon Administration will make it easier for such men to appear and to be heard.
Like many others, she was to be profoundly disappointed.]
Even in those days, the Republican Party was a coalition of disparate groups: foreign policy hawks, law-and-order conservatives, and the libertarian-minded merchant class that was sick of government spending, inflation, taxation, and regulation. The political priorities of the groups were in tension, often in contradiction. Which would prevail?
As it turned out, Nixon would devastate the anti-communist crowd by opening up diplomatic relations with China. But that was nothing compared to his complete betrayal of the libertarian wing who had reluctantly supported him. He began the drug war that was specifically structured to harm blacks and hippies. He ordered IRS audits of his enemies.
Nixon closed the gold window and officially put the monetary system on a paper standard – thus realising the dreams of decades of Keynesians and backers of big government. He pushed the Fed for more inflation. He founded the Environmental Protection Agency, which has harassed private property owners ever since.
Most egregiously and shockingly, on August 15, 1971, Nixon announced to the nation a policy that hadn’t been experienced since World War II. It was like a scene from Atlas Shrugged. “I am today ordering a freeze on all prices and wages throughout the United States,” he said. After the freeze, all price increases—every single one – were to be approved by a pay board and a price commission. [The Moratorium on Brains, Rand called it.]
Galvanising the Libertarians
This was the event that led the libertarians to gain a heightened consciousness of the task before them. What had previously been a loose association of intellectuals and a few other writers became a mass movement of students, donors, organisations, publications, and activists. The Libertarian Party was founded. Reason Magazine, founded as a mimeographed pamphlet in 1968, became a real magazine with an actual publication schedule. Ron Paul, under the intellectual influence of the Foundation for Economic Education, decided to enter public life.
Murray Rothbard captured the spirit of outrage that gave birth to the libertarian movement. He wrote the following in the New York Times on September 4, 1971:
On Aug. 15, 1971, fascism came to America. And everyone cheered, hailing the fact that a “strong President” was once again at the helm. The word fascism is scarcely an exaggeration to describe the New Economic Policy. The trend had been there for years, in the encroachment of Big Government over all aspects of the economy and society, in growing taxes, subsidies, and controls, and in the shift of economic decision-making from the free market to the Federal Government. The most recent ominous development was the bailout of Lockheed, which established the principle that no major corporation, no matter how inefficient, can be allowed to go under.
But the wage-price freeze, imposed in sudden hysteria on Aug. 15, spells the end of the free price system and therefore of the entire system of free enterprise and free markets that have been the heart of the American economy. The main horror of the wage-price freeze is that this is totalitarianism and nobody seems to care…
The worst part of our leap into fascism is that no one and no group, left, right, or center, Democrat or Republican, businessman, journalist or economic, has attacked the principle of the move itself. [Well, Rand did, as we’ve noted above.] The unions and the Democrats are only concerned that the policy wasn’t total enough, that it didn’t cover interest and profits. The ranks of business seem to have completely forgotten all their old rhetoric about free enterprise and the free price system; indeed, The ‘Washington Post’ reported that the mood of business and banks is “almost euphoric.”…
The conservatives, too, seem to have forgotten their free enterprise rhetoric and are willing to join in the patriotic hoopla. The New Left and the practitioners of the New Politics seem to have forgotten all their rhetoric about the evils of central control...
It was this article, and the events he described, that made the libertarians realise that they needed their own movement, something different from the left and right, and outside the Democrats and Republicans, each of whom represent their own kind of tyranny. Never again would they trust the promises of a “strong president.” Never again would they trust a mainstream party.
The experience with Nixon taught those who seek more freedom that there is a huge difference between merely hating the left and actually loving liberty. The lesson was burned into the hearts and minds of a whole generation: to see your enemies crawl before you is not really a victory. The only real victory would be freedom itself. And to love liberty is neither left nor right. Libertarianism is a third way, a worthy successor to the great liberal movement from the 17th-19th centuries, the movement that established free trade, worked for peace, celebrated prosperity through freedom, ended slavery, liberated women, and universalised human rights.
The realisation marked a new era in American political life.
Then there Was Watergate
If you don’t like government as we know it, you need to decide why. When Nixon was finally driven out of office following the Watergate scandal, conservatives wept. But the libertarians, having now developed a sense of their task quite apart from the rightest cultural and political agenda, cheered the end of the cult of the Presidency. By then, Nixon had become their bete noir.
It is Watergate that gives us the greatest single hope for the short-run victory of liberty in America. For Watergate, as politicians have been warning us ever since, destroyed the public’s “faith in government” – and it was high time, too. Watergate engendered a radical shift in the deep-seated attitudes of everyone – regardless of their explicit ideology – toward government itself. For in the first place, Watergate awakened everyone to the invasions of personal liberty and private property by government – to its bugging, drugging, wiretapping, mail covering, agents provocateurs – even assassinations. Watergate at last desanctified our previously sacrosanct FBI and CIA and caused them to be looked at clearly and coolly.
But more important, by bringing about the impeachment of the President, Watergate permanently desanctified an office that had come to be virtually considered as sovereign by the American public. No longer will the President be considered above the law; no longer will the President be able to do no wrong. But most important of all, government itself has been largely desanctified in America. No one trusts politicians or government anymore; all government is viewed with abiding hostility, thus returning us to that state of healthy distrust of government. *
It’s almost a half century later and the Republicans have once again chosen a man who is loved mainly because of the people he hates and those who hate him back. And once again, we are being told that greatness, law, and order should be the goal. Once again, the right is defining itself as anti-left while the left is defining itself as anti-right, even while both favor centralist and nationalist agendas.
It’s a perfect time to remember what that Nixon generation learned: regardless of ideology, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even twenty years later, libertarians were highly skeptical of Ronald Reagan for this reason. It wasn’t until he showed himself to be a very different kind of candidate than Nixon – Reagan was very clear that the real enemy of the American people was government itself – that libertarians went along.
Regardless of the personalities ascendent at the moment, the real struggle we face is between the voluntary associations that constitute the beautiful part of our lives, on the one hand, and, on the other, the legal monopoly of violence and compulsion by the institutions of the state, which lives at the expense of society.
If you don’t like government as we know it, you need to decide why. Is it because you believe in a social order that minimizes coercion and unleashes human creativity to build peace and prosperity? Or is it because you think the wrong people are running it and we need a strong leader to put them in their place? This is the major division in politics today.
Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World. Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook.
His post first appeared at FEE.
* Ayn Rand disagreed. It was the disaster of pragmatic government that Watergate exposed, she argued immediately after the televised Watergate hearings – of short-termist unprincipled government without any serious goals beyond re-election (sounding familiar?):
It is not a matter of personalities, nor of anyone's honesty or dishonesty. The corruption is inherent in the system: it is inherent in any situation in which men have to act without any goals, principles or standards to guide them. "The good of the country" is not a goal (unless one has a clear, objective definition of what is the good). "The public interest" is not a principle. (Observe that all pressure groups claim to represent "the public interest.") Someone's wish or "aspiration" is not a standard.
You have heard every politician in every election proclaim his allegiance to those empty generalities. You have been wise enough not to believe his public utterances. What makes you believe that he has better principles in the privacy of his own mind and that, once elected, he will act on them? He hasn't and he can't.
In a controlled (or mixed) economy, a legislator's job consists in sacrificing some men to others. No matter what choice he makes, no choice of this kind can be morally justified (and never has been). Proceeding from an immoral base, no decision of his can be honest or dishonest, just or unjust—these concepts are inapplicable. He becomes, therefore, an easy target for the promptings of any pressure group, any lobbyist, any influence-peddler, any manipulator—he has no standards by which to judge or to resist them. You do not know what hidden powers drive him or what he is doing. Neither does he.
Now observe the results of such policies and their effect on the country. You have seen that Nixon's wage-price controls, imposed two years ago for the purpose of slowing down inflation, have accelerated it. You have seen that a shortage of soybeans, which you probably do not buy, has led to the shortage of most of the food items which you do buy and need. You have seen a demonstration of the fact that a country's economy is an integrated (and self-integrating) whole—and that the biggest computer would not be able to predict all the consequences of an edict controlling the price of milk, let alone an edict controlling the price, the costs, the sales, the amounts of wheat or beef or steel or oil or electricity. Can you hold in mind the total of a country's economy, including every detail of the interrelationships of every group, every profession, every kind of goods and services? Can you determine which controls are proper or improper, practical or impractical, beneficent or disastrous? If you cannot do it, what makes you assume that a politician can? In fact, there is no such thing as proper, practical or beneficent controls.
Like the Nixon re-election committee, the government of a mixed economy is a setup ruled by undefined goals, undefined principles, undefined standards, undefined responsibility, undefined (and unlimited) power, unearned (and unlimited) wealth. A country that accepts such conditions can achieve nothing but self-destruction, as the men of the re-election committee did. This is the lesson that comes loud and clear through the grimy mess of the Watergate hearings—a pictorial lesson that concretises the senselessness, the pettiness, the futility, the chaos, and the depersonalised evil of a government swollen with a power no government can or should hold. (For a discussion of the proper functions of a government, I refer you to my [essay on ‘The Nature of Government.’)
A "mixed" government is the only institution that grows not through its successes, but through its failures. Its advocates use every disaster to enlarge the power of the government that caused it…. The solution, of course, is to eliminate … the government's power over the economy. No, it cannot be done overnight. But if you want to fight for that ultimate solution, Watergate provides you with intellectual ammunition: its lesson is the diametric opposite of the notions now being palmed off on the country by the statist-liberal establishment.
If you feel, as many people do, that such a battle would take too long and comes too late, there is one piece of advice I should like to give you: if you choose to resign yourself to the reign of an unchallenged evil, do so with your eyes open. Hold an image of the Watergate hearings in your mind and ask yourself what I asked you at the start of this discussion: Do you feel respect for the men on either side of the long committee table? To which of them would you care to surrender your freedom? To Senator Ervin? To Jeb Stuart Magruder? To John D. Ehrlichman? Whose judgment would you regard as superior to yours and competent to do a job which you can neither grasp nor judge nor define nor undertake: the impossible job of controlling this country's economy? The judgment of H.R. Haldeman? Of Frederick C. LaRue? Of Senator Montoya? Which of them would you entrust with the power to dispose of your life, your work, your income, and your children's future? Senator Baker? Senator Weicker? John W. Dean 3d?
If you hold Richard Nixon responsible for Watergate, as the absentee authority in whose name the men of the re-election committee were acting and whose favor they were scrambling to win, then—in relation to all the politicians of this country—you are the absentee authority, it is in your name that they are issuing their edicts, it is your favour that they are scrambling to win (or wheedle or extort or manipulate) at election time. No, you cannot fight them by means of your one vote. But you can make yourself heard. It is your voice that they fear, when and if it is the voice of your mind, because their entire racket rests on the hope that you will not understand.
Do not hide behind the futile hope that the men you saw on television might be bigger in real life, that responsible government positions would raise their stature. In real life, they are smaller; today's government positions shrink them—for a reason stated by a great political thinker of the last century.
His statement was mentioned during the Watergate hearings, but no one paid much attention to it. Yet that statement is the real answer to Senator Baker's question: it indicates what must be eliminated in order to prevent the future occurrence of events such as Watergate (or such as the Watergate hearings).
That thinker was Lord Acton, who said: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."