Corie Whalen Stephens’ column should be the must-read piece of the week

We first met Corie in Boston when she was organizing a Tea Party rally in 2009 on the Boston Common.  She had all the enthusiasm and sunshine that the few and lonely band of conservatives in Massachusetts would relish. Thoughtful and energetic Corie brought a libertarian air to the Tea Party, an ideologically porous amalgam of opposition to Wall Street,  state intervention and the wrong-headed responses of the Obama Administration. She went on to help a helpless, luckless awkward candidate in the Sixth District in 2010 tasting electoral failure perhaps for the first time.

Several years ago Corie left for Texas and blossomed into one of the best political thinkers of her generation.  She has argued for many of the right issues drug legalization, curbing the surveillance state and Tom Massie.

Today like most principled conservatives which may or may not include the pragmatists,  she stands in awe — or perhaps disgust at the rise of the Donald.  Nearly eight years of mismanagement, incompetence and lack of fealty to the U.S. Constitution certainly is reason for anger. But the answer to that anger is not Donald Trump, who is clanging a one-note (immigration) to the top of the Republican field. The plurality of conservatives who have abandoned their libertarian streak in favor of demagogue does not speak well for the movement.  Few have any sense of shame.

As Corie notes it is all well and good to be “anti-establishment” and stick the finger in the collective eye of the elites enabled by a feeble mainstream media. It is  another to abandon all rationality in favor a retrograde temper tantrum egged on by Ann Coulter and Howie Carr.

Corie had great hopes in the Ron Paul revolution, a flourishing hope in 2008 if not for electability but for intellectual soundness. Now she thinks what she absorbed is an illusion.  Her allies have abandoned her. To be sure there were always differences within the Tea Party movement. Beyond the shared economic analysis, was the Tea Party libertarian? Was it populist? Was it open to connecting the dots between paleo-conservative, social conservative and free-market thinking?

Nevertheless, I looked past many of these differences at the time, and for many years later, because we shared a common cause: limiting government and furthering liberty. Or so I thought. I’ve noticed in the months since this presidential cycle has unfolded that a surprising amount of people from the liberty and tea party networks I’ve built up are sympathetic towardDonald Trump; a man that Ron Paul has in my opinion correctly labeled a “dangerous authoritarian.”

Statistically speaking, it’s true that Trump is popular among independents and moderates while he doesn’t perform as well among committed conservatives. However, there are factors that often resonate more strongly with people than ideology, and one appears to be, among a certain subset of voters, the perception that a candidate is “anti-establishment” and “against Washington,” his actual policy positions, apparently, be damned.

In my relatively few years of activism amid the broader scheme of time, I’ve been tied to the “anti-establishment” crowd, because it just so happened that on the Right in the past decade, this has generally meant support of free markets and an opposition to big government corporatism. I recognize this has not always been so, and that historically speaking, populism is often ugly and void of anything valuable to those interested in liberty. But in the era of Obama, I was – and still am to a degree, mostly in a generational context – optimistic about the rise of libertarian populism as an answer to the President’s desire for centralization. But there are good reasons to be pessimistic in the near-term.

The tea party movement, which ushered libertarian-leaning politicians like Rand Paul, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, Raul Labrador, and Mick Mulvaney into the halls of Congress, was in my view a resounding success. It was a political force that I was elated to have been a part of since its inception, and it’s still my belief that these particular men represent the best of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

What has come as a less than pleasant revelation however, is the fact that a sizable chunk of the group that helped to empower these honorable individuals is not made up of people who are meaningfully pro-liberty. Thanks to Trump-mania, it’s become clear that a contingent of the coalition responsible for these elections was simply “anti-establishment,” in perhaps the most vapid way imaginable.

As she observes, the “libertarian-minded” Tea Party folks once enthralled by Ron Paul are now holding two opposing views simultaneously — liberty and authority. The deference to authoritarianism and the cult of personality will not end well if Trumpism is sustained by the angry mob.

Her piece from  should be required reading for anyone trying to make sense of our current politics.


About Karl Marx

Left wing libertarian conservative.