President Donald Trump has defied many norms during his presidency. As his tenure in the Oval Office comes to a close, both the Republican and Democratic Parties have been considering the question: Where do we go from here?
But Trump’s leadership also affects the future of the Libertarian Party, says Shikha Dalmia. She’s a writer, a columnist for The Week, and until recently, she worked as a columnist and senior analyst for the Reason Foundation, a libertarian magazine and website.
“Libertarianism, traditionally, has billed itself as neither of the right nor of the left, and in some ways both of the right and of the left. The lazy description of libertarianism is it’s socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” Dalmia explained.
But contemporary libertarianism does tend to lean more toward the Republican viewpoint, she says. And President Trump’s leadership style uniquely appealed to some in the Libertarian Party who’ve become frustrated with what they see as a liberal political culture. But from Dalmia’s perspective, Trump's actual behavior and policies are in deep opposition to the ideals of libertariansim.
Trump as “a nightmare for libertarians”
“You couldn’t come up with a candidate who was more anti-libertarian” than Trump, Dalmia said. There’s a number of reasons why, she says, including the fact that he doesn’t understand the institutions of a liberal democracy.
“Protesting is a time-honored tradition in this country, that’s what this country is all about, and he was inviting his fans to beat up protesters. I mean, open call to violence. That is a complete no-no for libertarians,” she said. “This open glorification of state violence, and violence as such, is what really, really spooked me about Donald Trump. And he was at it right till the end, calling the press the enemy of the people, belittling anybody who stood up to him.”
She says that Trump’s economic and trade record don’t align with libertarian priorities, either. For example, his push for recent trade wars and his involvement with companies like Foxconn, which he promised would bring thousands of jobs to Wisconsin.
“What’s been disappointing is how many libertarians actually didn’t see through Trump's authoritarianism, how much they allowed him to tarnish Biden as a socialist, ignoring how aggressively economically interventionist he himself was,” Dalmia said.
“Owning the liberals became everything”
Dalmia says she thinks some libertarians were willing to overlook Trump’s anti-libertarian tendencies because he spoke out against Democrats and “the liberal establishment.” She adds that when Trump critiqued liberal culture or politics, some libertarians saw him echoing their own frustration with a perceived culture of censorship at liberal institutions.
“They felt he was going to open up the space for them to say what they want to say that had been closing,” she said. “So it was fine with them that he burns down the system, burns down all the values that they have been espousing, so long as he was just sticking it to their political enemies.”
A new libertarian voice?
But not every libertarian leader was fine with Trump’s leadership. U.S. Representative Justin Amash, the outgoing congressman for Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, spoke out against Trump on a number of issues. Amash left the Republican Party in 2019 a few months before voting for Trump's impeachment. He even contemplated a run for president himself in 2020 as a Libertarian, but ultimately decided not to run or to seek reelection in Congress.
Dalmia says it’s not clear Amash could win political office again as a Libertarian candidate, but she’s interested in how he could continue to impact the future of the movement.
“I’m hoping that he’s going to become something of a public intellectual and use his voice to shore up the institutions so that we don’t get another autocrat like Donald Trump, but we’ll see,” she said.
Dalmia announced her departure from the Reason Foundation in a Facebook post on December 1. While Reason’s editor-in-chief Katherine Mangu-Ward told the Daily Beast she wouldn’t discuss the details of Dalmia’s sudden departure from the organization, Dalmia has suggested that it’s related to her criticism of President Trump.
Stateside has reached out to the Reason Foundation for comment on Dalmia’s departure from their publication, but we have not received a reply.
For more, listen to the full conversation above.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Nell Ovitt.