Politics & Media
Aug 16, 2023, 05:57AM

Cry for Us, Argentina

They arrested Trump. But they’ll arrest everyone eventually.

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With libertarian Javier Milei getting the most votes in the Argentine presidential primary, you get a glimpse of what some people in the U.S. are likely aiming for when they hope for another Trump presidential term: not a mere lawbreaker or bully but someone who really understands free-market economics—and vows to abolish Argentina’s central government bank because of it, insulting fellow politicians of both the right and left along the way, calling them the people responsible for decades of economic and political instability in sometimes-prosperous Argentina.

The closer Milei comes to winning the presidency, the more often you’ll likely see the press use the harsher-sounding “far right” and “populist” labels for him instead of the comparatively positive (to some ears, even wussy) “libertarian.” Indeed, he’s a libertarian rock singer who talks about wanting to crush the central bank and “dollarize” the Argentine economy.

Argentina’s one of the only places on Earth where the term “anarcho-capitalist” is in frequent enough use that they might also switch to that label as a compromise, which would at least boost awareness of my own philosophy. Can’t hurt. The “anarcho-capitalist” label has tended to get used as an insult implying “economy-wrecker” by people who are themselves the real wreckers, temporary market jitters following Milei’s win (or pretty much anything confusing) notwithstanding.

It’s nice, in any case, to hear people talking about a political figure as a potential dose of freedom (however awful he might turn out to be in practice, being a politician) instead of just as the latest in a series of competing authoritarians.

Surely at least part of the appeal of Trump, for instance, is his sometimes-authoritarian tone—his resentment more of rules that hem him in than rules that hem in the populace in general—but it’s worth keeping in mind that even if Trump is arrested, convicted, and sent away for a long time, the U.S. will have no right to heave a sigh of relief and think it has banished authoritarianism or made itself a free country. Most of the people eager to jail Trump are even more authoritarian than he is, and they’ll plague us even after he’s gone. Without him to kick around, the authorities may just find more time to kick you.

Remember just how many different ways government and associated institutions harry us and boss around, with or without Trump. Recent popular excuses for further herding and corralling the population include, but are by no means limited to, the perceived need to control political foes, immigration, general social disorder, Covid-style health emergencies, crime, and even the mere failure of society to hew to a single organizing theme. You’d think coercion, not liberty, were the air a society needs in order to breathe.

Recall just a few of the impositions of authority from recent days to which we’ve become inured.

A 98-year-old woman in Kansas died of the stress caused when her small newspaper was raided by police just as the paper was investigating sex scandals involving the “Gestapo”-like local police chief.

And let us hope they’ve gone about as far as they can go in the direction of fascism in similarly-named Kansas City, where, much like in New York City, government takes a dim view of unauthorized efforts to feed the homeless. The behavior of both cities is uncharitable and counter-productive—likely driven in part by government’s eternal jealousy over efforts to get along without it—but Kansas City went the extra mile by raiding food giveaways and pouring bleach on the food to prevent its distribution. And still there are somehow liberals who think we’d be worse off if government were abolished.

Speaking of New York City, its former-cop mayor, Eric Adams, says of immigration, in words that might surprise some of the liberals who voted for him: “Our cup has basically runneth over. We have no more room in the city.” Plans are afoot to put further migrant newcomers on a small island safely separate from Manhattan. This isn’t the peaceful and ready assimilation of freedom-loving newcomers some envisioned when they (rightly) denounced many anti-immigration activists as fascistic, surely.

It’s reassuring, I suppose, that even some of the authoritarian politicians themselves admit how easily government can squash people. Bucking the get-Trump trend, in March, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo said with some sympathy for Trump after the former president was indicted by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg that Bragg could “indict a ham sandwich,” so much leeway does the law have in making people sound at least provisionally maybe-guilty.

Again, none of these complaints about authoritarian tendencies among the self-proclaimed liberals are meant to let the Trumpers off the hook. Some of them, especially the young (likely a bad sign for the future), openly admire ancient warlords and the dictatorial side of Augusto Pinochet.

And however he may plead in court, Trump can’t plead innocent of encouraging some brutish tendencies in his followers and sadism in his governmental underlings.

An article from the libertarian Cato Institute from October last year notes with horror that under the Trump administration, the U.S. Maritime Administration recommended in a position paper that to bolster port security—in part by rigidly opposing port privatization and nation-of-origin-neutral shipping rules—all current or former staffers of Cato and Mercatus should be charged with treason, and even the pro-Trump conservative Heritage Foundation (misnamed “Heritage Institute” in the position paper) should be put on notice that they too will be disavowed by President Trump if they continue their advocacy on behalf of repealing the Jones Act, which mandates preference for U.S. shipping in the use of the nation’s ports.

If Trump goes to prison, it’ll likely be authoritarians who put him there, but do not expect libertarians to weep.

—Todd Seavey is the author of Libertarianism for Beginners and is on X at @ToddSeavey


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