Whether it is Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump who takes the oath of office on January 20, 2017, all public opinion polls suggest that the next president will have among the highest unfavorable ratings for anyone beginning their time in the White House.
According to an Associated Press poll taken in early July 2016, 57 percent view Clinton unfavorably and only 37 percent favorably. Sixty-three percent hold an unfavorable view of Trump, and only 31 percent are favorable. Of those planning to vote for either Clinton or Trump, only 26 percent, respectively, said they would be positively “excited” if their candidate wins. Plus, three quarters of prospective voters in the poll declared that they were making their decision based on whom they wanted to vote against.
If there was an option on the ballot that allowed voters to choose “None of the Above,” for president this election year, that option might very well receive a plurality or maybe even a majority. Possibly for this reason, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson will likely receive more votes that any LP presidential candidate in history: not because a large number of voters either understand or agree with libertarianism, but as a protest against the alternatives.
Clinton and Trump are Really Cut from the Same Political Cloth
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump represent variations on the same political theme: the interventionist-welfare state, with each pandering to different coalitions of special interests and ideological groups.
Both are promising their constituents different varieties of something-for-nothing: for instance, free or heavily subsidized college tuition in Clinton’s case and a “beautiful,” “huge” wall on the Mexican border in Trump’s case. Both promise jobs that are well-paying and secure from the realities of an ever-changing global economy. In their own ways, both promise to make America safe and “great” again.
Even where they seem to differ, their basic tools are the same. Trump will use governmental power to keep “scary” people out of the country. Clinton will use governmental power to force people to interact, perhaps against their wills. The common denominator is the use of political coercion to micro-manage patterns of human association.
Both will penalize market choices through fiscal and regulatory powers. Clinton will try to change the tax code so as to bring about her idea of greater economic equality for designated groups. At the same time, she’ll avoid rocking the financial boat of the Wall Street crony capitalists who love to pay her hundreds of thousands of dollars for lunchtime chitchats.
Trump promises to use fiscal and regulatory powers to bludgeon U.S. companies that attempt to do more of their business in other parts of the world, and to force American enterprises with manufacturing activities already in foreign countries to bring those activities “back home.”
Clinton and Trump are Both Global Interventionists
Both are interventionist foreign policy activists. Clinton has worked hard to assure the foreign affairs “establishment” that nothing will change under her watch in the White House. America will remain a “socially conscious” policeman of the world, intervening when called for, with the appropriate mix of political, economic, and military involvement in the affairs of other countries in the world, and in partnership with U.S. allies.
Critics of Trump have attempted to paint him as an “isolationist” over his “America First” rhetoric. But in fact he has made it clear that he will maintain America’s ubiquitous presence around the globe. He just wants better “deals” concerning who pays for American meddling and for its military umbrella.
Both have made it clear that they have no hesitancy about bringing American military force to bear, whenever they deem it necessary to thwart “threats” or to effect regime changes that are in the “national interest.”
Voters Horrified by a Political Paternalist Not of their Liking
What frightens different portions of the American electorate is the direction each promises to point the weapon of state power. A large majority of American voters, however, clearly accept the idea of government intervening in domestic social and economic affairs, and of sticking America’s military and political nose in other countries’ affairs, as long as it serves the “right” interests.
And while many in the American electorate find the personalities of both Clinton and Trump highly unattractive, they find the persona of one far more repulsive than the other. Many say they will pull the lever in the voting booth for the one whose stench is less obnoxious than the other.
The Entitlement Society versus a Free Society
What is lost in this contest of personalities and promised uses of power is the more fundamental issue of whether such political interventionism should be the role of government in a free society in the first place.
Both Clinton and Trump are voices for the “entitlement” society. Selected and designated groups are “entitled” to redistribution of wealth, to jobs of certain types that pay “good wages,” and to particular social statuses and protections against the non-coercive actions of others.
In the original American tradition, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the prime duty of government is to secure and protect the rights of each and every individual to their life, liberty and honestly acquired property. Every individual, as a human being, should be viewed as a self-governing person at liberty to decide what gives meaning, purpose, and happiness to their own lives. They are not to be lowly servants forced to serve the ends of others, whether of a king and his entourage, or of a voting majority.
Each of us has only one life to live and should be free to live it as we decide, even with all the inescapable regrets and disappointments we meet along the way. Who among us really wants to be a perpetual child taken by the hand and told what to do by a political parent, by a pretender to authority over our decisions and destinies, great and small?
But that is what we implicitly tolerate when a Hillary Clinton or a Donald Trump declares what they will do for us, because government cannot do anything for us that does not at the same time involve having power to do things to us.
This is what is really behind the intensity of the hatred and revulsion against Clinton and/or Trump. It is unbearable to think that one such as them might win the powers of the presidency: to face the prospect of living in a society molded by such fiends.
But this choice is confronting the American people because they take it for granted that the role of government is to bestow privileges and favors – “entitlements” – on some, and to finance those entitlements by imposing burdens on others.
Limit Government, and the Profile of Office Holders will Change
Would it matter much if those in high political office were personally obnoxious if their authority went no further than protecting individual rights, rather than abusing and violating rights to serve the interests of themselves and others?
Indeed, if government had no authority to redistribute wealth or regulate social and marketplace relationships, it is highly doubtful that people like Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would ever enter into politics in the first place; it simply wouldn’t offer enough spoils.
A limited government confined within the narrow Constitutional responsibilities originally envisaged by most of the founding fathers would likely attract a far better class of people to run for political office. What a delightful prospect in light of what we are confronted with in this presidential election cycle!
Institutions and incentives greatly influence who steps forward to offer themselves to perform various tasks. The current entitlement system attracts “political entrepreneurs” with a comparative advantage in knowing how to manipulate the coalition-forming process to get elected, with promises of rewards for those who provide them the support to win.
A political system under which the lawful authority of those in political office goes no further than protecting individual rights would draw a different type of person to run for office: people more likely to value human liberty.
In both their policies and personalities, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the natural offspring of the upside-down incentives of the political plunderland that the American system has degenerated into: where governance is perverted into a regime of kleptocratic power-grabbing and the paternalistic social engineering of human relationships.
There will be no escape from these types of political candidates until Americans learn to understand and embrace the philosophy of human freedom.