“What’s up with the Republican Party?”
The air on the morning of November 9, 2016, felt thickened by the silence, the shock of what had transpired the following night: the election of now President Donald J. Trump. And although several months have passed since that day, what many felt in the cool hours of the morning – perhaps a sense of instability – remains for a considerable amount of the country. Much of that feeling stems from a variety of reasons, but the fact that America has never had a president with neither military nor political experience before assuming office is likely one of the leading reasons. In this sense, he is America’s first true businessman-president, a uniquely American-Capitalistic experiment; one that Ayn Rand, a pro-capitalist philosopher who founded ‘Objectivism,’ would likely have warned against, were she alive today.
In this series, I will address a Randian perspective on the current policies adopted by both the Trump administration as well as the Republican party at large. This first article will address their foreign and economic policies, while the second will address their science and individual choice policies and concludes with a look at the possible Randian recommendations for the Trump administration.
Rand was always a revolutionary-minded dreamer, who believed that the world – in short – was slowly slipping back into a primitive mindset – an anti-capitalistic, anti-property-rights, anti-science, anti-choice, and of course an adoption of a pro-Communist/ “mystical” world. In this theory, there was only one country with any hope of leading humanity to the next industrial revolution: the United States. Equally so, there would be only one way of inciting such a revolution: by fostering a culture of egotistical individualism (by this Rand means a self-sustaining & non-self-sacrificing life) based on an anti-Communist rhetoric that is pro-capitalism, pro-property-rights, pro-science, and pro-choice, society would reshape itself back on the Objectivist path.
You may argue: “But President Trump is not a Communist nor is any of his administration’s staff.” Likewise, the rest of the Republican leadership is definitely not adopting Communistic policies.” And you would be correct; yet in its current iteration, Rand would likely still have called the Republican policies and rhetoric: “Anti-Life,” a phrase which here means – a belief that individuals should not be able to choose their best-suited life based on Objectivist tenets. This is naturally in comparison with a “Pro-Life” (not to be confused with anti-abortion activism) beliefs, which allow individuals those life choices.
Considering this, these policies, which will undoubtedly stay as the foundational premises of the Trump era, are then worth evaluating from a Randian perspective; especially since Paul Ryan, Trump, and multiple members of his cabinet support and are self-proclaimed “fans” of Rand’s work. They might be, however, surprised at her likely reactions to their policies.
Immigration/ Foreign Policy
Rand and her fellow Objectivists like Yaron Brook, the current executive Chairman of the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), support open immigration. This is linked by both their immigrant backgrounds (Rand was a Russian immigrant while Brook is an Israeli immigrant) and that it logically fits with Objectivism.In their view, open immigration essentially allows people to serve their own best interest, a main component of Objectivism; and, notably, if you argue that open immigration hurts the said country’s current citizens (“which isn’t true”, according to Rand), you have no philosophical right to prevent another’s self-interest. You, as an individual, are responsible for your own well-being; in other words, “… I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”
For this very reason, Rand would have had taken both personal and philosophical issue with Trump’s immigration policies. In fact, according to Trump’s own position on immigration, Rand would have likely had to go back to Stalin-controlled Russia, since she lied to get a temporary visa to come to America. Given a deportation sentence, Rand likely would’ve been meet with death due to her outspokenness about the USSR. Of course, Rand realistically would have been declared a refugee of the oppressive socialist state, but the example remains useful.
Equally, a wall with no proof that it would increase state security would not be supported by Rand. Rand argues that a state at its basic Objectivist form is solely there to protect individuals against violations of person-to-person contracts and use of force against other individuals. A wall shows no possible sign of protecting individuals from either of these issues. Thus, she would and did, actually, tell people not to pay taxes if they felt government policies were against their morality. However, Ayn Rand would not have questioned you philosophically if you did pay your taxes since they – as she notes – “…are taken from me [and you] at gunpoint.”
When we go beyond immigration policy, Rand’s positions become a bit hazy. She was not an isolationist (typically libertarians of the period were not because its impact on global capitalistic structures), and so she would have argued against Trump’s isolationist tendencies, including the deep budget cuts to the State Department. However, Trump’s recent bombing of Syria and Afghanistan have run counter to these proclaimed policies, so perhaps he is evolving beyond basic isolationism.
But what she would have been presumably more sickened by is Trump’s praise of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Keep in mind that she was a harsh critic of Ronald Reagan’s position on the then USSR because it was not stringent enough. So although Russia is no longer the USSR, I doubt her distrust of her homeland would have changed much under Putin’s totalitarian leadership. Furthermore, according to the FBI Director James Comey, the possibility that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to get him elected would not have helped with Rand’s distrust.
Rand would have completely detested Trump’s economic policies; with that said, Rand did not truly admire any President’s economic policies. Not a single one, as she would point out, was fully laissez-faire capitalism; all had some government interference.
To Rand, laissez-faire capitalism was the only true form of capitalism; any other form limited the ability of the “Atlases” of the world, an idea that she most famously promoted in Atlas Shrugged (“Francisco’s Speech on Money” and “John Galt’s Speech” are prime examples). So she would not be happy with Trump’s adoption of some socialist policies: expansion of a “forced compliance” welfare-state such as Medicaid and Social Security, approval of the stimulus packages during the crash of 2008, rebuilding America’s infrastructure with government funds, and a redistribution of wealth. The very fact that he is a businessman would make his approval especially heinous.
It is extremely important to note here that a common misconception of Rand’s work is that she automatically approved of all businesspeople; she certainly did not. One of her most famous and petty villains, James Taggart, is a businessman born into wealth along with his sister, one of Rand’s most famous heroes and the central character of Atlas Shrugged, Dagny Taggart. The difference between them is simple: Dagny is actually a leader in her business and lives for her work, but James leeches off the company before driving it into the ground once Dagny goes off to “Galt’s Gulch” with the other “Atlases.” Their absence, of course, is what drives the world in chaos, before they return in time to save it from oblivion.
Noting that it is logical to assume that a businessman who promotes programs which facilitate wealth redistribution would not be seen in Rand’s eyes as a “Dagny” or “Galt” type man; she many, in fact, see him a James Taggert-type figure. (His twitter rants would definitely not have helped in this characterization).
Regardless of how Rand would have seen Trump, her apprehension towards any expansion of a “forced compliance” welfare state (or just its complete existence) explains itself. It is wealth redistribution at its finest. Remember that Rand argued that taxes are theft (especially, income taxes). The same principle applies here. Wealth redistribution, in Rand’s view, is simply theft that favors the “unproductive.” Thus, a government that makes people comply with such programs by force (note the qualifier) is a government that ultimately seeks the downfall of the “Atlases” in society.
There is an exception towards the existence of a welfare state, however. Take note that a “forced” welfare state is against her values; but if a group of individuals wanted individually, through their own volition, to participate in the program, there would be no objectivist issues with this premise. Nonetheless, Trump and the Republican leadership are not likely to move towards a volunteer welfare system anytime soon; therefore, we should only be focused on the issues of a “forced compliance” system.
This forced system also logically extends to businesses. Under a laissez-faire system, the stimulus packages and using government funds for rebuilding America’s infrastructure is a form of welfare. To understand this, remember Rand’s belief that the government is to be only involved in societal security; the economy (powered on individual thought) should and will resolve the rest of the issues. In regards to infrastructure, a company should be in charge of building these roads. And in regards to stimulus packages, if a company made bad decisions, it should fail; there is no concept of “too big to fail” in her mind. Simply put: The market knows all in Objectivism.
As you likely figured, any redistribution is essentially a socialist conspiracy to hurt capitalism in its pure form; Rand even commented once that it is a way to control the masses (see “An Untitled Letter” in Philosophy Who Needs It). Which begs the question: does she think American politicians are trying to control the masses with money? Would she think Trump, the Republican party, and the Democratic party for that matter, are trying to control the masses through money?
The answer: probably.
Nevertheless, she would be horrified at Trump’s proposed economic policies, but, as a level-headed intellectual, she would likely save full judgment until after his tenure as president.
— Ashton Jones-Doherty is a junior studying international affairs. He is Outreach Director at Georgia Political Review as well as a first-time contributor to The Arch Conservative.