Much has been made of Donald Trump’s character but the big problem is not that he is a bad person who might turn the Oval Office into a locker room. ‘We need good principles rather than good people. We need fixed rules, not fixers’, as FA Hayek pointed out.
And that’s the problem with Trump, as his scary stream of consciousness during last night’s debate – indeed, every debate – with Hillary Clinton has revealed. He says openly that he wants to dismantle the fixed rules, the division of powers and the rule of law which make America great. If he wins, he promises to jail his opponent. If he loses, he will not accept the outcome of the election. It’s Putin without pectoral muscles, Chávez without the beret.
And just like those strongmen used real and imagined threats to grab power, Trump is preying on fear – ‘America is a hell-hole’. If he can make people forget that they are richer and safer than ever, he can convince them that they need a strong man who will protect them, in exchange for a few liberties, of course.
‘The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety)’ as HL Mencken put it.
Johan Norberg’s book, Progress, is published by OneWorld.