During the 2016 presidential campaign, some libertarian-leaning voters wanted to give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt. As a candidate, Trump talked about drastic reductions in spending and taxation, along with “draining the swamp” of its career politicians. He said he wanted to reduce spending for defense of other countries and wars of foreign intervention. He even leaned toward allowing states to determine their own marijuana policies. Whatever libertarian impulses Trump the candidate seemed to have, though, his actual performance as president stands in stark contrast. Donald Trump is the opposite of a Libertarian.
During his campaign, Trump said he was “in favor of medical marijuana 100 percent,” and that recreational marijuana policy should be left to the states. On that issue, he sounded moderately libertarian. Once elected, Trump appointed Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Sessions promptly rescinded the Barack Obama–era Cole Memorandum, a directive from former Deputy Attorney General James Cole that had effectively prevented the federal government from initiating marijuana prosecutions in states that had legalized cannabis.
On March 19, Trump first called for the death penalty to be used against some drug dealers. Sessions took the cue and ran with it.
”At the Department of Justice, we have made ending the drug epidemic a priority,” Sessions said. “We will continue to aggressively prosecute drug traffickers and we will use federal law to seek the death penalty wherever appropriate.”
When Trump visited the Philippines last fall, he went out of his way to praise the tyrannical President Rodrigo Duterte, calling him by his first name and saying they ”had a great relationship.” Duterte is responsible for his government’s alleged extralegal killing of thousands of drug users and dealers, and who has bragged, “At the age of 16, I already killed someone. Just over a look.” Duterte’s spokesman later claimed that it had been meant as a joke.
“The danger that Trump and Sessions pose to peaceful adults who choose to self-medicate or recreate with drugs is no joke,” said Libertarian National Committee Executive Director Wes Benedict. “It’s certainly not libertarian, and it’s offensive to the vast majority of Americans.”
As a presidential candidate, Trump complained that the United States spends too much money on the defense of South Korea, Japan, and NATO countries. He threatened to withdraw troops stationed at the demilitarized zone on the border of North Korea and elsewhere in Asia unless Japan and South Korea increased their compensation for keeping troops there. Trump also threatened to refuse aid for NATO countries that didn’t pay their proscribed 2 percent of GDP to fund NATO. Those all sounded like baby steps in a libertarian direction.
Once elected, what did Trump do? For starters, he got involved in an insult-trading competition with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s dictator. He named Rep. Mike Pompeo as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and then as secretary of state — the same Pompeo who refers to the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations as ”good and important work,” and who wants to keep the Guantanamo Bay detention camp open. Pompeo has called for “regime change” in Iran and North Korea, which is political jargon for warfare, and thinks that the Iranian nuclear program can be ended with the use of ”under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity.”
Pompeo also thinks that whistle-blowing hero Edward Snowden ”should be brought back from Russia and given due process, and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence.” He invoked executive privilege for Gina Haspel so that she would not have to testify in the trials of psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell for their alleged role in developing the CIA’s torturous “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Oh yes, Trump also recently named that same Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo as new director of the CIA.
In addition, Trump named former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton as national security advisor. Bolton was a strong supporter of the disastrous war in Iraq during the George W. Bush administration, and continues to support it to this day. Bolton advocated “regime change” warfare in Libya, which has resulted in massive ongoing chaos and insurgent violence. Failing to learn his lesson from that fiasco, Bolton wants to try the same thing in both Syria and Iran.
“Libertarians are the party of peaceful trade with all nations and entangling alliances with none,” Benedict said. “Trump’s reckless military aggressiveness and trade wars are quite the opposite.”
Trump, unfortunately, has kept two of his worst campaign promises. He promised that the federal government would ignore the responsibility to live within its means, and fulfilled that promise by drastically increasing military spending and maintaining entitlement spending while he cut taxes. The United States is now on track to run trillion-dollar deficits — $3,070 for every man, woman, and child — every year into the foreseeable future.
Trump also promised us a trade war, and has lived up to that pledge by hiking tariffs that will impoverish the American people by raising prices, destroying our export markets, and spurring foreign retaliation.
“Unfortunately, trade wars lead to hot wars,” Benedict said. “The tariffs and boycotts between World War I and World War II demonstrate that beyond a doubt. We also should have expected that Trump would easily be capable of running trillion-dollar deficits. After all, he does have vast personal experience with bankruptcy.”