I have to admit to being alternately puzzled and depressed that I seemed to be the only libertarian with a major public platform to take a nuanced view of Donald Trump. After all, many of his foreign policy positions echo the libertarian critique of our interventionist foreign policy – and his enemies are, in large part, our enemies. However, with the publication of David Stockman’s Trumped!: A Nation on the Brink of Ruin, and How to Bring It Back, I see that I am not alone.
Stockman’s thesis is that Trump is essentially right about the decline of American greatness, that the system is rigged, and that a ruthlessly self-centered elite has prospered at the expense of the rest of us. The American economy, and indeed our society, has been hideously deformed by the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve and our spendthrift political class:
“This epic deformation has delivered historically unprecedented setbacks to the bottom 90% of American households. They have seen their real wealth and living standards steadily deteriorate for several decades now, even as vast financial windfalls have accrued to the elite at the very top.”
“In fact, during the last 30 years, the real net worth of the bottom 90% has not increased at all. At the same time, the top 1% has experienced a 300% gain while the real wealth of the Forbes 400 has risen by 1000%. Trumped! A Nation on t... Best Price: $2.05 Buy New $9.50 (as of 06:30 EST - Details)
“That’s not old-fashioned capitalism at work; it’s the fruit of a perverted regime of printing press money and debt-fueled faux prosperity that has been foisted on the nation by the bipartisan ruling elites.”
Trump, says Stockman, is right about the symptoms, but he’s wrong about the disease. It’s not the monetary machinations of China, or “free trade” that’s the root of the problem, it’s “thirty years of madcap money-printing at the Fed” and “the $50 trillion of new public and private debt generated by that monetary eruption.” Trade deals and immigration are just surface phenomena: the underlying cause is “bad money and towering debts.”
And yet Trump’s jeremiads aimed at the elites are right on target:
“That much, at least, Donald Trump has right. Throwing out the careerists, pettifoggers, hypocrites, ideologues, racketeers, power seekers and snobs who have brought about the current ruin is at least a start in the right direction.”
And on the foreign front, too, in Stockman’s view Trump, for all his demagoguery, is preferable to “the arrogant and insular group-think of the Imperial City.” Yes, Trump is “often far too bellicose. But he has pinned the tail where it belongs. That is, on the imperial notion that America is the indispensable savior-nation and policeman of the world.”
While the colorful real estate magnate comes in for some fairly harsh criticism, Stockman opens his book with this evaluation of the man and the movement he spawned:
“So if the ideals of world peace, capitalist prosperity, and constitutional liberty are to survive at all, it’s up to The Donald.
“Admittedly, that seems like cold comfort. There is much that is dark, disturbing, and authoritarian about Trump’s personality and candidacy.
“But a nation that has been Trumped is a people coming back to life. Americans don’t want to take it anymore. Instead, they want heir existing rulers to take a permanent hike.
“That’s a damn good start, and it is the outlaw campaign of Donald J. Trump that ha finally lit the flame of rebellion.”
In a world where we demand clean-cut scenarios, Good vs. Evil, especially in our politics, the truth is that a “rank demagogue” – as Stockman describes him – may just be the key to our liberation. Sure, he’s full of “baloney, bombast, brimstone, and bile,” but he’s succeeded in not only diagnosing the problem but also pointing to the perpetrators, albeit in general terms. Stockman, for his part, gets specific.
Trump keeps repeating that “We aren’t winning anymore,” and this is really the key to his rise, which Stockman rightly says “is striking a deep nerve on Main Street.” And as the author shows at great length in this book, the real incomes of average Americans – as opposed to, say, Warren Buffett – are shrinking. The losers, in short, are you and me: the winners are “Washington, Wall Street, and the bi-coastal elites” who “prosper from a toxic brew of finance, debt, and politics.”
While I don’t usually touch on economic issues in this column, one of the main features of this book – and what I found most educational – is that it answers the oft-asked question: How did Trump manage to defy all predictions, beat the elites, and get to where he is today? Stockman shows how the system is indeed very much rigged in favor of the rich, and his analysis of how this came to be is a real eye-opener. And he does it in a way that draws a very clear line of demarcation between the Good Guys – ordinary Americans – and the Bad Guys, i.e. “the military/industrial/surveillance complex, the health and education cartels … the tax loophole lobbies, the black and green energy subsidy mills and endless like and similar K-Street racketeers.”
Of particular interest is his account of how economic metrics have been perverted and outright faked in order to give us the illusion that all is well. Because all isn’t well: far from it. As Stockman puts it:
“Most of America’s vast flyover zone has been left behind. When adjusted to an honest measure of inflation we call the ‘Flyover CPI’ [Consumer Price Index], real hourly wages are lower than they were in 1985, and real median household income is down 21% from year 2000 levels.”
Those are some pretty astonishing statistics, but it gets worse: when juxtaposed next to the obscene fortunes being made by crony capitalists and the beneficiaries of the Fed-fueled stock market and High Finance, the portrait Stockman draws of 21st century America resembles nothing so much as the France of the Sun King and Marie Antoinette – right before the storming of the Bastille.