It has been a disorienting year for classical liberals. The presidential candidate of the more classically liberal of the two major parties took some positions wildly at odds with classical liberalism, like opposition to freer trade, enthusiasm for government intervention in corporate decision making, and hostility to some civil liberties. He won the Presidency in part because of some of those positions.
But then the same candidate announced the nomination of a substantially better cabinet from the classical liberal perspective than those Hillary Clinton would have appointed. It is through these generally decent appointees that he must largely govern, not by twitter.
He also shows every sign of following through on his commitment to appointing a justice sympathetic to enforcing the constitution as written and thus better implementing a charter broadly reflecting the classical liberalism born in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, although not of modern libertarianism. Once again the relative success of classical liberalism is made even clearer if potential nominees are not evaluated against a standard of utopian perfection, but compared to the result-oriented justices(s) that Hillary Clinton promised to appoint.
Here then are a few classical liberal resolutions for this strange era.The first is that classical liberals should work hard for the success of the Trump administration. His cabinet officials give ample opportunity to steer many areas in classical liberal direction, perhaps more so than in the administration of George W. Bush, whose compassionate conservatism turned out to be in many respects a cover for growing the size of government.
Working hard for success means being willing to serve if asked in the many policy areas that offer prospect of advancing classical liberal principles. It also means diffusely supporting the administration until it finds its sea legs. Of course, criticism may at times be warranted and this blogger is sure to deliver some. But the first reaction to any trouble should not be to focus on creating tactical alliances with left-liberals. There is little hope that such alliances will much advance classical liberalism in the long run. Left-liberalism is today devoted to empowering the state and its new banner of income inequality cloaks an agenda for a more thoroughgoing economic control over the commanding heights of the economy and of society than anything Donald Trump has so far suggested. Moreover, the likeliest successor to a failed Trump administration is left-wing populism of the Bernie Sanders type.
To be sure, any classical liberal must remain very worried about some of the President-elect’s political impulses about liberties. But those impulses are sometimes responses to festering social problems that classically liberal policy makers have largely ignored. In a subsequent post, I will consider how classical liberalism ideas revised for modern conditions can fuse with some of the concerns of the President-elect.
Update: I slightly revised this post from its initial posting.