My posts don’t normally get into politics. I do point out problems caused by Big Government, and warn people to be on guard against expanding government, but I don’t normally get into the D versus R thing.
However, in this post I will discuss the fact that Democrats keep calling Trump a totalitarian. They claim the Trump administration is like the governments in 1984 and A Handmaid’s Tale. Bernie Sanders warns that we are drifting toward authoritarianism. A play portrays Julius Caesar as Trump. You get the idea.
Those critics are partly right, but quite a bit wrong. I think we need to clarify a few things about totalitarianism. If you have not read my spectrum post, I urge you to do so. It can help clarify these issues.
What is totalitarianism?
The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy defines totalitarianism as follows:
“Domination by a government of all political, social, and economic activities in a nation. Totalitarianism is a phenomenon of the twentieth century: earlier forms of despotism and autocracy lacked the technical capacity to control every aspect of life. The term is applied both to fascist governments and to many forms of communism.”
Totalitarianism requires Big Government
As that definition tells us, and common sense confirms, totalitarianism requires a government that tries to control people and tell them what to do. Which means that totalitarianism requires Big Government.
The opposite is also true. Small government is less capable of controlling people, and that means totalitarianism is less likely when government is small.
All of this is true whether government implements policies you love or policies you hate.
Who prefers Big Government?
For the most part, it is Leftists who prefer Big Government. Consider the following list of Leftist preferences:
- Increase taxes and government spending.
- Redistribute money from the rich to the poor via progressive taxes.
- Increase government regulations.
- Increase government control over people’s lives (which foods to eat, which health insurance to buy, which power source to use, which vehicle to drive, how much water we should use, which school kids must attend, etc., etc.).
- Centralize government power at the federal level, rather than state or local.
- Guarantee a “living wage” or $15 minimum to all workers.
- Provide “free” stuff like college, child care, and health care.
- Control prices and/or profits.
- Regard fairness and political correctness as more important than the rule of law.
- Emphasize group rights over individual rights. Reduce the individual to his or her group identity.
- Admire dictators like Stalin, Mao, Castro, and Chavez.
And this list of Leftist dislikes:
- Businesses, profits, and wealthy people.
- Private property rights.
- Slowness of the democratic political process.
- Certain businesses they deem inappropriate, such as payday lenders.
- Free speech. (College speech codes. Blocking or shouting down conservative speakers. Stifling any speech deemed offensive, even though a right to free speech is obviously not needed to protect the exchange of pleasantries.)
- Private gun ownership.
I did not invent these views. All have been championed by Leftists. They demonstrate a clear preference for more government control and less individual freedom.
Now, it’s true that the Right also dabbles in bigger government at times, but they lag the Left. The Left is much more consistent and one-sided in their push for bigger government.
Who is closer to totalitarianism?
Since totalitarianism requires Big Government, and since the Left prefers Big Government, it must be the Left that is closer to totalitarianism. Even if they don’t realize it.
To be clear, I’m NOT saying the Left plans to institute gulags and purges. In reality, despite the wild accusations, most Leftists and Rightists in America are not truly totalitarian.
Nevertheless, if we must pick which side is closer to totalitarianism, it can only be the Left. Big Government is closer to totalitarianism than Small Government, and it is much easier to descend into totalitarianism from a position of Big Government.
Although most Leftists are not totalitarians, they are closer than they probably realize.
Why the Leftist disconnect?
Many Leftists are probably surprised to hear that they lean toward totalitarianism. I’m sure most prefer not to think of themselves in that light. Leftists prefer to think they are saving, protecting, and doing good deeds.
What explains the disconnect? It seems to me that Leftists tend to focus on only the positive side of government. That is, they see government as only or mostly a benevolent force for good.
However, that view is overly narrow. All government actions also involve a negative side, and coercion. A few examples may illustrate:
- Leftists see rent controls as helping people obtain affordable rent. However, preventing owners from charging market rent also leads to housing shortages and poorly-maintained properties. It also contributes to higher rents in neighboring areas.
- Leftists see anti-poverty programs as helping poor people. However, such programs also force taxpayers to pay for them. They also make some recipients overly dependent on government.
- Leftists see a licensing exam for manicurists as ensuring the quality of manicures. However, licensing also prevents people from working who can’t afford the time or cost to get licensed. It also increases the cost of manicures, and may not even ensure quality.
Government action is not only positive, and it always involves force.
This is not about good intentions, either. Even if we assume that Leftists are 100% motivated by good intentions, their preferences still lean toward totalitarianism.
The inescapable fact is that when government does more ‘good deeds,’ government also requires greater control. The interests of some people must be subjugated for the benefit of others. There is no way around it.
I’m not saying that government should do no ‘good deeds.’ It should do some. But we should also understand that the more government does, the closer we get to totalitarianism.
As for Trump, I am in no way trying to defend everything that he has said and done. He has indeed shown some tendencies toward authoritarianism, and made comments supportive of Big Government. I oppose those.
But let’s not get carried away. Trump is not Mussolini, Hitler, or Stalin. His authoritarianism pales in comparison to the list of Leftist preferences above.
Yes, he has issued executive orders, but many are just reversals of Obama executive orders. His executive branch has not issued many new rules, and in fact will allegedly reduce the number of rules.
So far, Trump has been a mixture of freedom and authoritarianism. We’ll see where it goes from here.
Where was this Leftist concern for authoritarianism when Obama was president? Obama ruled by executive fiat at least as much as Trump, and probably more. He issued lots of executive orders. His executive agencies and departments (EPA, Justice, Labor, etc.) issued lots of power-grabbing rules. He enforced laws as he saw fit rather than how they were written. Ruling by executive fiat is authoritarian.
But, wait, Leftists say. It’s different now, because… Trump’s ideas are wrong!
That attitude implies that Leftists believe authoritarianism is acceptable when government pursues policies they like, but dastardly when it pursues policies they don’t like. That is an “end justifies the means” mindset. With a dash of arrogance and hypocrisy.
I have a better suggestion: Let’s make government small, and never have totalitarianism from any political party.
I encourage you to enter comments or questions below. Two rules: 1) be reasonably polite, 2) address the issue and avoid personal attacks.