Donald Trump has been sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, and libertarians already have many reasons to be worried about his agenda. While it is difficult to pick from his various policy proposals that threaten liberty, here are the six biggest concerns for libertarians living under a Trump administration.
1) The rule of law.
The rule of law requires the president to follow the Constitution and the laws passed by Congress and to apply the law in a uniform manner, not to specifically punish or benefit certain people or businesses. President Donald Trump seems determined to erode both of these principles.
He has stated his intention to force Ford Motor Co. to give up its expansion plan in Mexico. He wants to use the FCC to fine his critic, Rich Lowry, and to “open up libel laws” to punish critical news media. He successfully cowed Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos after threatening antitrust action against Amazon.com. By helping the manufacturer Carrier secure special subsidies in Indiana, he has shown a willingness to bestow favors on those he likes. Nominating major donors to positions of power in his administration and using his office to enrich his and his children’s businesses are also causes for concern.
Trump already has his lawyers cooking up inane legal justifications for unilateral executive action on policies that Congress might not authorize. To justify seizing all remittances from undocumented immigrants, for example, his lawyers try to claim that “wire transfers” from Western Union are actually bank “accounts” under the Patriot Act.
This type of phony legal gymnastics can only be stopped by Congress defunding the illegal action or by engaged federal courts. Congress seems unwilling to buck Trump so far, and even if they do — or if the Supreme Court rules against him — will President Trump listen? His past statements that he would force soldiers to carry out illegal orders does not instill much confidence in his respect for checks and balances, separation of powers, or the rule of law.
2) Bigger government, more debt.
Donald Trump wants to spend hundreds of billions more on the military, blow $1 trillion on infrastructure stimulus, and spend billions of dollars on a pointless and symbolic border “wall,” all while providing health insurance for “everyone” and not cutting Medicare or Social Security.
The Republican-controlled Congress, which just passed a budget that will never balance, seems more than willing to oblige these bloated requests. The House Liberty Caucus called it “the worst budget ever seriously considered by Congress,” growing the debt by $9 trillion over ten years, “dwarfing debt increases proposed by even the most far-left budgets.”
But not to worry — Trump has said that “you never have to default because you print the money.”
3) Trade wars.
Donald Trump has declared an all-out war on American consumers and businesses who want to buy products and materials from other countries. Sadly, it is also the one issue on which he was able to convince a large number of formerly free trade-supporting GOP voters.
He has repeatedly vowed to end America’s free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, and to impose massive new tariffs on foreign and U.S. companies selling products assembled overseas to U.S. consumers. He has even said that he “doesn’t mind trade wars,” meaning that he would apparently not back down even if other countries retaliated against American businesses by blocking stuff made in America from being sold abroad. He has nominated Wilbur Ross to be Commerce Secretary, despite (or because) of the fact that he is an Adam Smith-denier with very detailed views on how to ruin international trade.
Donald Trump’s attacks on unauthorized immigrants are well known — including his most recent pledge to deport more people than the Obama administration, in half the time — but the Trump administration is also likely to attack the legal immigration system.
Trump’s own comments on legal immigration aren’t as consistently bad as they are often portrayed, but he has repeatedly vowed to ban immigration and refugees from the Middle East, with each iteration of his “Muslim ban” proposal becoming more expansive and less legal. Trump’s team has offered a very detailed plan about how to reduce legal immigration into the United States, and his close ties to other anti-legal immigration advisors seem to show that his anti-immigration tendencies are winning out.
Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, is also the most vociferously anti-immigrant member of Congress. Sessions believes that too many immigrants receive asylum in the United States, and, as the head of the immigration courts, he could require judges to interpret the asylum law more restrictively.
As attorney general, Sessions will also be tasked with defending existing U.S. immigration laws and regulations in the courts; he could simply choose not to defend any immigrant-friendly regulations he disagrees with, torpedoing other agencies’ rules by proxy. Sessions also wants to investigate law-abiding businesses that hire legal foreign workers for supposed “discrimination” against U.S. citizens.
5) Civil liberties.
Trump said last year he would be “fine” with repealing the USA Freedom Act, which limited bulk data collection on U.S. citizens, and he has advocated “surveillance of certain mosques” and shutting down others entirely — an idea that he followed by proposing to “close up certain areas” of the Internet. “Somebody will say, ‘Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech,’” Trump scoffed, “These are foolish people.”
Both Sen. Jeff Sessions and Trump’s nominee for Director of the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo, are extremely hostile to the Fourth Amendment, and Pompeo has stated that “Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database.”
Sen. Sessions is also a zealous drug warrior who will not commit to maintaining the Obama administration’s approach for drug enforcement in states with legal marijuana. He has also said that he wants police to seize property from suspects who have never been convicted of a crime. He has promised to end the Justice Department’s practice of suing police departments with a pattern of violating civil rights.
Trump appears to back this approach, repeatedly stating that he would give police “more authority” and advocating “stop and frisk” programs: detaining, searching, and interrogating people without probable cause. He said he would use “stop and frisk” as a tool to seize guns, and, lest you think the Second Amendment was safe, he also wants to use the secret no-fly list to deny Americans the right to buy firearms.
Trump also thinks that the Obama administration is fighting a “politically correct war” that is too concerned about civilian casualties overseas. By contrast, Trump advocates “taking out the families” of terrorists, a position he has reiterated on several occasions.
Even setting aside that explicit call for war crimes, criticizing President Obama for being too worried about killing civilians is particularly scary: Obama adopted such broad standards for his secret drone war that the CIA counts any “military-age” male death as a “combatant,” unless they are posthumously proven innocent. Obama also ordered an air strike that killed the 16-year-old child of at least one U.S. citizen. Apparently, this is all too “PC” — imagine the amount of care President Trump will take to protect innocent lives when he is “bombing the s**t” out of Syria.
This list is by no means complete and doesn’t imply that these are the only issues to worry about, but it does suggest that a Trump presidency may pose new and unique threats to liberty in the United States. For defenders of liberty, these are six fronts worth special attention as we go into the next administration.