What If President Trump Is an Illiberal? (A Reply to Michael Thau)

Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian


I enjoyed my Red State colleague Michael Thau’s recent article ‘The Hardest Thing About This Lockdown May Be Admitting to Ourselves That It Accomplished Absolutely Nothing‘. I sent it around to friends, so that they might feel ‘heard’ in the mainstream media’s chorus of lockdown apologies and hectoring.

I agree with most of Mr. Thau’s points–as a quick review of my articles over the last two months will attest. That said, I have a different perspective on President Trump’s actions during the outbreak. Mr. Thau writes:

For some unaccountable reason, [President Trump has] hitched his wagon to Anthony Fauci; a man so swept off his feet by Hillary Clinton’s congressional testimony on Benghazi he was moved to write her a love note.

It’s hard to understand how a streetwise New Yorker with an otherwise impeccable nose for BS wound up so badly taken in by people whom it hardly takes a genius – stable or otherwise – to see are playing for the other team.

But there’s no question that Trump has been taken in or that he’s got to wise up fast.

In brief, I suspect there IS a question about whether President Trump has been taken in. I would like to explore a deeper motive for the president’s seemingly bizarre decisions.


The toxic relationship between the Communist People’s Republic and the United States looms potentially fatal for the West. China views the United States as its geopolitical nemesis, and it has been waging economic and diplomatic warfare on the United States for decades–dumping goods to undermine the US economy; offshoring US jobs; stealing intellectual property; building an anti-US coalition with countries like Iran and North Korea; and co-opting globalist institutions like the WTO and UN.

Decoupling from China seems to have been the proximate cause for the president’s run at office. He seems to believe that, absent drastic measures, China will bury the United States in the near future. Might the president have reasoned thus?

“Turning the whole of this deeply divided country against China–along with putting Democrat governors and mayors on the hook for civil liberties atrocities–is worth an economic shutdown and its knock-on effects.”

If this sounds calculating and illiberal … I happen to believe both of those attributes apply to the president. I do not think he needs to apologize for either.


Mr. Thau is right to point out that the American people’s civil liberties have been heinously abused during the lockdown, all predicated on false data. He writes:

The projections about COVID-19 used to defile America’s founding commitment to individual liberty and drive her people to the brink of economic and spiritual ruin have turned out to be just as much garbage as those worthless reports of Iraqi WMDs from a couple of decades back.

A good parallel, the Second Iraq War. But Americans’ civil liberties were already in the toilet before the recent lockdown–in part because of the War on Terror that Thau cites. Among the liberties abrogated:

  • The Second Amendment has been turned from a fundamental right of self-defense into a narrow, government-granted privilege.
  • Freedom of speech has been eroded beyond recognition by political correctness and activist litigation, and may soon disappear altogether, as it has in Europe.
  • Property rights are mere vestiges: owners in effect rent their property from the government and use it under its close supervision; they do not ‘own’ it in any robust sense now.
  • Americans are surveilled and investigated without probable cause or due process routinely, thanks to an out-of-control intelligence community and administrative state.
  • Any contact with the legal system is simply ruinous for the average person–win or lose–not a restoration of order and justice.
  • The government has pushed religion from schools and public square.
  • A gigantic, unelected, unaccountable bureaucracy controls most of Americans’ day-to-day lives. I could go on and on.

As I read through Joel Kotkin’s book The Coming of Neo-Feudalism–in which Kotkin discusses the tech-authoritarianism of China and the Silicon Valley elites’ similar vision for America’s future–it struck me just how difficult it is becoming to differentiate the Chinese and American governments in many regards.

The compulsory stay-at-home and mask-wearing orders, the forced business and church closures were just one more step in America’s descent into soft and comfortable authoritarianism. By and large, Americans now value convenience, safety, victim dignity, and consensus, not traditional liberties, privacy, transcendent morality, or dialectic. And what a people really value are, in fact, their VALUES.

So one can cry about a slump in civil liberties during the outbreak, but they were mostly spilt milk already. The administrative state, judiciary, and Congress are by and large resolutely progressive in their worldview, so litigating or legislating back to the founding civil liberties and impersonal justice is almost certainly impossible. Even President Trump’s recently confirmed legion of federal justices cannot hope to roll back 100 years of progressive precedent, only slow the onslaught.


Like Captain Ahab, the liberal-progressive left and Never-Trump right are waging a campaign of mutually assured destruction against President Trump and the anti-technocratic, anti-managerial movement he embodies (‘populism’ is a poor and disparaging moniker for this movement, in my opinion). The president’s nemeses will not give up the hunt; they will press on until they both harpoon their prey and wreck the country. Unless the president steps down and dives into the depths far away, a cataclysm is inevitable.

The United States is approaching a once-in-250-years crisis–an inevitable crisis. Both classical liberalism ( or ‘respectable conservatism’) and modern progressive liberalism are tearing each other to shreds and falling to pieces singly. In the process, America has lost all sense of unity and purpose. All brands of liberalism are crumbling, and America is suffering a gradual paralysis.

(To learn more about this theory, I recommend Patrick J. Deneen’s magnum opus Why Liberalism Failed. If you are going to read one book this year, read his.)

The longer the crisis drags on, the longer the US stands vulnerable to external enemies like China and internal problems like toxic class struggles, both political and economic. I suspect President Trump believes that–since a crisis is inevitable–it’s best to provoke the crisis under his terms, and soon, rather than wait for it to arrive on its own after years of further passive-aggressive struggle. The analogy of a marriage might be appropriate: fights are sometimes a good thing.

Provoking a crisis in the country means taking a long view and making decisions that seem crazy under a classical liberal mindset–decisions like allowing progressive technocrats in the vein of Groupendoktor Fauci and Andrew Cuomo to showcase their authoritarian impulses and incompetence without interference.

Permitting the stupidity of the lockdowns and their ensuing economic pain might seem cruel and un-American; but it also might save the country from utter dissolution in the long run. The United States cannot go on as it is. A monumental dialogue about the country’s philosophical direction must unfold. If it doesn’t, America soon will grow into a crude authoritarian state with a democratic patina, indistinguishable from China and Russia–that, or fall into unmitigated public violence.

I can’t say for sure what the president thinks and believes. But I suspect the president has calculated the endgame better that either progressives or conservatives grasp. I suspect he is not taken in; I suspect, like Chuck Norris, he is waiting.