Donald Trump: Product of Progressivism

55627344_mlIn the bitter aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, Progressives are lamenting Donald Trump’s victory over self-described Progressive Hillary Clinton.  Trump’s victory places him in a position of being able to use the power of the presidency to impose his anti-Progressive agenda, displacing the more enlightened Progressive agenda that Clinton would have pursued.

The irony is that the power of the presidency that Trump will assume is the result of more than a century of Progressive reforms that have given the government increasing control over people’s lives.  Progressivism began in the late 1800s with the explicit idea that a proper role of government is to favor some at the expense of others.

The earliest Progressive policies included the regulation of the railroads and other businesses along with antitrust laws that were explicitly designed to impose costs on some—who were often labeled “Robber Barons”—to benefit others.  Redistribution programs have the same obvious orientation.  Some people pay for benefits received by others.  The implementation of these Progressive ideas required a government with greater scope and power.

As a result of the Progressive agenda, government now has greater power over our lives through its taxing and regulatory authority.  This is what Progressives want, as long as those who benefit from government policies and those upon whom costs are imposed are chosen by the Progressives.

The increased scope and power of government was the explicit desire of Progressives.  Now, the powerful government that Progressives created has fallen under the control of a democratically elected leader the Progressives despise.

Whether President Trump turns out to be as evil as Progressives make him out to be is a minor issue.  The bigger issue is that when people willingly give up so much of the control of their own lives to the discretion of those who wield the power of government, there is always the risk that someone will gain control of that power who does not meet with the approval of many who are subject to it.

Indeed, given the unpopularity of both Trump and Clinton, that had to happen in the 2016 election.  No matter who won, a large segment of the population would have objected to the winner’s use of the power of government.  The irony is that with Trump’s victory, the people who are objecting the most are those who support the Progressive ideology that will now enable Trump to exercise so much power over their lives.

President Trump will have much more power than President McKinley did when he was elected in 1896.  The reason, in a word, is Progressivism.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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