Is Trump or Sanders Worse for Liberty?

Is Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump a greater long term threat to the principles of classical liberalism? Trump’s program is antithetical to classical liberalism. He wants to follow protectionist trade policies. He has disclaimed any interest in reforming the burgeoning entitlements that are the principal engines for growing the state. He seems to quite content to praise authoritarian leaders abroad, like Vladimir Putin. He wants to make it easier for public figures to sue private citizens for their criticism. And he is so vulgar and gratuitously offensive that he undermines the culture of self-restraint necessary to the classical liberal order.

Of course, Sanders is worse on many of these axes. He not only wants to preserve all entitlements but add to social security and to create an entirely new entitlement to higher education. He also is a protectionist. He would destroy the private provision of health care. And he would raise tax rates sky high. As for authoritarianism, he seems to have trouble condemning any regime, such as Cuba, so long as he can entertain the false belief that the regime has been good for the social welfare of its citizens.  His program is ominous for civil liberties as well. As the state grows larger, it inevitably hijacks citizens into its programs at the expense of their core beliefs. Just ask the Little Sisters of the Poor. While I do not have much confidence that Trump would nominate excellent jurists, Sanders’ would be far worse.

Thus, for all the justified condemnation of Trump’s illiberalism, Sanders’ program poses more dangers to liberty. On the other hand, Sanders is running to be the nominee of the more statist party. Trump is running to be the nominee of the party of limited government. Certainly if he wins the Presidency and perhaps even if he does not, he will remake the party in his own image. Thus, his candidacy could also have a disastrous dynamic on the future of the nation, making us more like continental Europe, where the parties of the right entertain few ideals of classical liberalism.

Another way to compare the two candidates, however, is to ask which candidate’s success this electoral season signals a worse future for liberty in the United States.  And here the answer is clearer: Sanders. Trump’s campaign is supply-driven. Trump is a sui generis candidate—a celebrity with a great talent for manipulating free media. It is not obvious that he can be easily replicated in the future.

In contrast, Sanders’s campaign is demand-driven. He himself is not charismatic, but his hard-Left policies have nevertheless struck a responsive chord. And his most enthusiastic supporters are very young, whereas Trump’s are older. Democratic candidates are surely now planning to use Sanders’ platform for their own future presidential runs.

But whether as candidates or harbingers of our future, Trump and Sanders bode ill for the future of classical liberalism in the United States.

Reader Discussion

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on March 24, 2016 at 07:34:31 am

....."On the other hand, Sanders is running to be the nominee of the more statist party. Trump is running to be the nominee of the party of limited government."
Perhaps you hadn't noticed: Trump is running to be the nominee of the Republican Party. It hasn't been 'the party of limited government' for years. It is the party of "statist-lite" or, if you prefer, "slower statism." It's why after the first Tuesday in November, win or lose, there will be no more Republican Party. Perhaps--if we Americans are lucky--a new party, a genuine party of limited government, will emerge or arise. But I have neither lung capacity for holding breath nor a mind with willingness to suspend disbelief great enough to actually predict such a new party.

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Derek Simmons
on March 24, 2016 at 10:22:11 am

Damn, McGinnis, ain't you a barrel of laughs? I figure a lot of us will join Team Hillary before the year is out -- with more or less resignation -- but I hadn't expected your conversion/capitulation so soon.

In my day, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons characters had alignments on a 2-diminentional grid: one axis for good/neutral/evil, the other axis for lawful/neutral/chaotic. This would prompt the discussion, would you rather face a foe who was lawful or chaotic? Presumably lawful foes would enjoy the advantages of coordination with other foes -- but could be reasoned with; you could do deals. Chaotic foes were simply chaotic, for better and worse.

We might disagree about whether Sanders or Trump was evil, but we might concur that Trump is chaotic, whereas Sanders is lawful, or at least neutral. In short, Sanders has a philosophy that in many respects systematically conflicts with McGinnis's. Trump has no philosophy that I can discern. In that sense, I might expect Trump's views to coincide with McGinnis's (or with anyone else's) at random more often than Sanders's. But while having Sanders's hand on the wheel might drive us in direction we would not prefer, having Trump's hand on the wheel might drive us over a cliff.

So it's really an assessment of risk: How likely is it that Trump would do something catastrophic?

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on March 24, 2016 at 11:20:49 am

" having Trump’s hand on the wheel might drive us over a cliff."

So what's wrong with that? didn't they make a movie with just such and ending a number of years back.
I understand it received good reviews from "all the right people"

I guess Hollywood does exert some influence on politics after all. I never would have "knowed dat" had it not been for your above reference.

Now what was that movie called?

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Image of gabe
on March 24, 2016 at 12:12:50 pm


Here is an interesting take on The Trumpster from Newt (now really a little fish) Gingrich from American Spectator:


What the heck, maybe it is time to drive off the cliff. It can conceivably be an exhilirating ride!

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Image of gabe
on April 04, 2016 at 17:49:34 pm

Statism is the worlds problem. It stems from the Catholic Church and carried out by the Jesuits. They are actually whats behind the joke word "illuminati". History proves this over and over from Constantinople to Rome to present day. Statists are religious to the core and have been completely indoctrinated by the Jesuits of Rome. They have literally no ability to critically think or question whats happening. They merely wrap themselves up in a corporations flag and yell racism until they get what they want. Malignant narcissistic sociopaths control the world, but are you really surprised in a sin fallen world with the greatest deceiver as their leader?

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Religious Statism
on May 06, 2018 at 06:12:40 am

I agree with the article wholeheartedly, and it is very refreshing to see someone still supporting the ideals of classical liberalism without taking sides. It is a rarity these days, as the vast majority of politically active people seem more interested in promoting one of the sides on the dual political landscape in the United States, than to defend the values essential for liberal democracy such as freedom and liberty.

That authoritarian populists such as Trump and Sanders are now viable and even seemingly dominant political forces, as opposed to the marginal roles they used to play in politics merely a couple of decades ago, is a very worrying development. Populist shifts are rarely reversible, especially when the growing generation takes their freedoms for granted and is willing to exchange them for what they see as a more effective and fair system (on the left) or as a more stable and safe system (on the right). When today's teenagers cheering for charismatic speakers promising simple solutions to complex problems grow up and become politicians, journalists, lawyers, economists, diplomats - can we rely on them to preserve and protect the mechanisms that have guaranteed this country a special place in the world, that have made it the favorite destination among immigrants looking, just as 300 years ago, to escape the tight grip of authorities and to start a new, free and independent life? I do not think the answer is positive.

When people exchange complexity for simplicity, harsh truth for sweet lies, freedom for security, impartiality for tribalism, liberty for control - there is no turning back. That said, I do not think the American model is doomed. The processes that are only starting to encroach on the American political landscape have been going in most other democracies, particularly in Europe, for many decades now. When those countries evolve (devolve?) far enough for the unsustainability of the state expansion in a democracy to become evident and for the easily observable economical and social effects to emerge, the countries not yet surrendered to authoritarianism (among which hopefully will be the United States) will turn back to liberalism.

Or maybe the current trend is just a temporary setback, and in a few years we will look back at this time and smile, as things will be back to how they were before the last few presidential terms. One can only hope.

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on May 06, 2018 at 06:22:11 am

Arguably, Lawful Evil is much more damaging for a complex system than Chaotic Evil. A Chaotic Evil individual can shake the system in random directions without changing the system as a whole dramatically. A Lawful Evil individual, on the other hand, can introduce systematic changes in how the system functions that are hard to reverse once triggered.

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