Liberty Conservative News had the pleasure of interviewing Tho Bishop, the Assistant Editor for the Mises Institute. The Mises Institute has been one of the most prominent organizations advancing the ideas of the Austrian school of economics and libertarian ideas such as individual freedom, honest history, and international peace.
In the interview, we discussed the Trump administration and how the libertarian movement can grow during this period.
What’s your current assessment of the Trump presidency?
Trump’s presidency has been a complete mixed bag, but that’s what one would expect from such a populist and non-ideological candidate. I think Trump went into office hoping to be a transactional president with a heavy emphasis on legislative deals – which is how American politics used to be – while modern Washington is more about tribal politics. The result is a system where stopping the other side is more important than reaching a compromise.
As a libertarian, I am perfectly okay with this sort of political climate. I value political dysfunction.
That being said, Trump was able to get some useful legislation through the Ryan Congress, most notably his tax cut which has some good features – even if it wasn’t a working-class focused as some Trump supporters may have preferred.
Trump’s real action, of course, has been with executive action and I think that’s an area where Trump has done a lot of very interesting things. He’s done a great job by reversing Obama era regulations and I think the real-world economic impact from that is even greater than his tax cuts. While I would have liked for the Trump Administration to have gone further – particularly at the FDA where he opted for dull status quo leadership rather than a Peter Thiel-backed disrupter – I think it’s been a net positive.
Foreign policy is a mixed bag. He has been too deferential to Saudi influence, particularly with Yemen and Iraq, and I think that has been his single biggest failure as president. Any gains made in North Korea are a total result of Trump himself, and I think that’s perhaps been the most interesting part of his time as president.
The biggest problem in analyzing the Trump administration is how easy it is to be distracted by rhetoric rather than action – and it goes both ways. I was, for example, extremely excited about some of Trump’s tweets on winding down the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and Syria, but so far we haven’t seen follow through. Similarly, Trump’s rhetoric on an issue like the Fed has been contradicted by his actual Fed nominations.
His biggest impact may end up being in the judiciary, not just with the SCOTUS but also lower-level appointments. Gorsuch was an absolute homerun for the Supreme Court.
Overall, it would have been foolish to expect a Trump Presidency to be some radical libertarian administration – but I do think he has been a net positive above what you could have guessed from a Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio presidency.
Do you see the Trump movement as a spiritual successor to the Ron Paul Revolution?
While I think there is some overlap between Ron Paul supporters and Trump supporters, what made Ron Paul was his staunch commitment to ideology – something Trump does not possess.
Instead, I see Trump more like a spiritual successor to the late Ross Perot whose candidacy was more like a third party run than anything else. Of course, with Trump’s election and continued popularity, that third party run has forever changed the Republican Party itself.
How should libertarians position themselves in the Trump era?
I think a libertarian with any political talent should view the Trump era as one of great opportunity. We should never defend policies that we don’t believe in – I’m not a fan of tariffs, saber rattling with Iran, or trillion-dollar deficits – but we should be able to take advantage of the very libertarian language Trump has given us. “America First” and “Drain the Swamp” are inherently libertarian ideas, as is turning Washington politics into a comedy show.
Trump overthrew established power and made the GOP a more populist party. He has changed the limits of what can be done in politics. This is the time for smart libertarians to learn from Trump’s success and push real solutions to the issues of the day.
What kind of coalitions do you think libertarians can be make with the MAGA movement?
As libertarians, the number one enemy should always be Washington and the Empire – which includes the media, government-controlled education, and the Beltway’s professional parasitic class. These just so happen to be Trump’s enemies as well. We should identify our common foes and use those to build real bridges, some of which can become real policy wins.
We should also use Trump’s more libertarian views as cover while talking to normal Republicans. Trump, for example, has made opposition to “stupid, regime change wars” the default position of the GOP. We should , therefore, use that cover every opportunity we can – even when Trump acts against it. If you can use a Trump quote to defend your point, it’s hard for a Trump backer to hit back at you.
The biggest mistake libertarians make is acting intellectually superior to Trump and his base. He is not the biggest threat to liberty, the Evangelical Left is. We shouldn’t allow a bad Trump tweet on trade distract us from the top target.
Has there been anything different that the Mises Institute has done during the Trump era?
No, and that’s part of what makes the Mises Institute successful. For example, we will continue educating people about the value of free trade, criticizing the stupidity of the Fed, and condemning evil foreign policy – regardless of who is in office.
I think one thing that has changed though is the renewed attacks from the right on “libertarianism,” when they are particularly focusing on a brand of libertarian that is very different from where Murray Rothbard is. For example, Rothbard was always an opponent of government managed trade deals, government-subsidized immigration policy, and critical of Wall Street bankers benefitting from bad monetary policy. I think Tucker Carlson and the “national conservative” moment that is riding the Trumpian wave do a great disservice in not identifying the value of Austrian economics and Rothbardian-style libertarianism. In the long run, economic ignorance is never a value to a movement.
I’ve noticed a pretty consistent theme at Mises that emphasizes decentralization and even bolder alternatives such as secession. How relevant do you think such strategies are these days? Are they the path moving forward?
I think they are as relevant now as ever before given how polarized both sides have become. There is a fundamental mistake in viewing America as a single nation, it’s not. And that’s okay.
The problem, however, is what happens when you deal with trying to govern such a diverse country with a powerful, centralized government. Those with political power get to impose their will on the politically vanquished.
There is no area for compromise when one side believes that a government-funded sex change is a human right, and the other views transgenderism as a mental disorder. There is no area for compromise when one side views the right to bear arms as a foundational right, and the other sees it as immoral to own a weapon of war. There is no area for compromise when one side sees a confederate monument as synonymous with a Nazi flag, while the other sees it as a symbol of their heritage.
America was formed to be a federalist republic – similar to how Switzerland is still today. For well over a century, this has ceased to be the case – and there is no political will to restore those federalist checks on centralized power. In fact, with the calls to reform the Senate, the Electoral College, and statehood to DC and Puerto Rico – the push is in the opposite direction.
So I think given the lack of ability for Washington, DC to fix itself, political decentralization – be it nullification, secession, or something else – is inevitable. The fact that we have moved from Texas secession to rumblings (no matter how small) of CalExit is a sign of how things have changed.
The saying is that secession is the strategy of the losers, and there is some truth to that. It would be interesting to see how the left would respond if they lose again to Trump in 2020.
Who do you think is the most effective libertarian figure, politician, etc, so far in the Trump era?
I think Rand Paul has improved tremendously as a politician under Trump, and I think there is tremendous value in having him in the president’s ear on foreign policy. That’s an important relationship for peace.
The politician that has surprised me the most though has been Matt Gaetz. I knew he was a libertarian-leaning Republican from his time in the Florida State House, but he has been a far better opponent of stupid wars than I ever would have expected. His votes on Yemen and limiting presidential power on military strikes on Iran have earned him a great deal of respect from me. It’s rare to see a second-year Congressman have the sort of access he has with Trump – in no small part to how charismatic he has been on TV, social media, and in hearings – which gives him unique value in Washington.
I think Matt Gaetz is the best Congressman in Washington today.