Libertarians naturally don’t have much of a power structure, but you could be forgiven for thinking of David Boaz as the recognized dean of the libertarian school. He’s the executive vice president of the Cato Institute, so his name carries great weight in the parallel universe of think tanks, publications, organizations, and financiers which inflicts the glib political theories of ivory tower intellectuals on everyday American life.
But much to Boaz’s surprise, when his heavy name appeared last week in a National Review editorial denouncing Donald Trump, it sank like a stone into the tar pit of social media reaction.
Specifically, the op-ed called Trump “a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones,” a clear reference to the worrisome proto-fascist character of the billionaire reality show star’s campaign.
After defending his views on Twitter, Boaz expressed shock at the level of bigotry and vitriol he encountered: “I must say, I was surprised by how many of the responses, especially on Twitter, were openly racist and anti-Semitic.”
Isn’t that precious? Boaz has spent a lifetime building a movement dedicated to destroying government’s power to regulate anyone or anything, but has only lately noticed the horde of barbarians raging behind him as his machinery breaks down the walls.
Boaz wonders: who are these half-baked ‘sovereign citizens’ and Alex Jones groupies? He doesn’t know what a cuckservative is, or why so many people who agree with him that government should be diminished also think so because they are actually just hateful racists or lunatics with guns. He helped build this monster, but like Dr. Frankenstein, Boaz has rejected his creation — and been rejected by it.
When libertarians diss the Civil Rights Act for supposedly infringing on the ‘right’ of private business owners to discriminate, Boaz imagines that they are making a principled appeal to people who love liberty. He doesn’t even see the neoconfederate bigots who appreciate all he does to diminish the federal agencies which prevent them from dragging America back to the Jim Crow era, but they also feel his revolution does not go far enough to restore the former paradigms of white supremacy.
But Trumpism is about more than just racial or religious bigotry. It’s also a populist reaction to the libertarian economic project, which has always sold out the American worker for a buck. As Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote last week,
What so frightens the conservative movement about Trump’s success is that he reveals just how thin the support for their ideas really is. His campaign is a rebuke to their institutions. It says the Republican Party doesn’t need all these think tanks, all this supposed policy expertise. It says look at these people calling themselves libertarians and conservatives, the ones in tassel-loafers and bow ties. Have they made you more free? Have their endless policy papers and studies and books conserved anything for you? These people are worthless. They are defunct. You don’t need them, and you’re better off without them.
Call it ‘the revenge of class.’ Libertarianism rejects all understandings of class identity and solidarity in favor of an atomized individualism; this is most clearly seen in the libertarian rejection of progressive taxation, labor union organizing, etc. as forms of ‘class warfare.’ But to Boaz’s surprise, decades of indoctrination has failed to entirely erase class consciousness from the minds of American conservatives. Trump has risen to the top of the Republican presidential field because he understands, or at least channels, the very forces on the right that Boaz has always been unwilling to recognize.
At this point, nothing will stop Trump from being nominated — not even Buckley’s magazine, which has seen its role as gatekeeper greatly diminished by talk radio, Fox News, and the right wing blogosphere. Whereas National Review was once powerful enough to throw the John Birchers into the outer darkness, today’s Tea Party Republican has been steeped in a revised version of the conspiracy theories which once characterized the Goldwater fringe. The modern conservative does not take his or her cues from William F. Buckley or his intellectual heirs, but from Glenn Beck, who consistently touts the goofball prose of Cleon Skousen and pseudo-historian David Barton as a new right wing gospel. David Boaz and his editorial co-signers were left behind long ago — and don’t even know it. That’s how out of touch they are.