In the last week, Donald Trump gave advocates of limited and individual rights-respecting government two reasons not to support him.
First, his position on eminent domain.
“I think eminent domain is wonderful if you’re building a highway and you need to build as an example, a highway, and you’re going to be blocked by a hold-out or in some cases, it’s a hold-out, just so you understand, nobody knows this better than I do, I built a lot of buildings in Manhattan and you’ll have 12 sites and you’ll get 11 and you’ll have the one hold-out and you end up building around them and everything else.”
“I think eminent domain for massive projects, for instance you’re going to create thousands of jobs and you have somebody that’s in the way. Eminent domain, they get a lot of money,” Trump said. “And you need a house in a certain location because you’re going to build this massive development that’s going to employ thousands of people or you’re going to build a factory that without this little house, you can’t build the factory. I think eminent domain is fine.” [Source: Fox News 10/6/15 and realclearpolitics.com 10/6/15]
Eminent domain is defined as, “The power to take private property for public use by a state, municipality, or private person or corporation authorized to exercise functions of public character, following the payment of just compensation to the owner of that property.”
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires the government to provide just compensation to the owner of the private property to be taken. A variety of property rights are subject to eminent domain, such as air, water, and land rights. The government takes private property through condemnation proceedings. Throughout these proceedings, the property owner has the right of due process. [Source: legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com]
At the time the U.S. Constitution was drafted and passed, the concept of “the public good” was held within the context and confines of a limited government. The sole purpose of the federal government, according to the Constitution, was to protect individual lives and property from the initiation of force. In the protection of individual (including property) rights, the federal government existed to override infringements on individual liberty perpetrated by state or local governments.
Today, the federal government is routinely utilized to do all kinds of things never envisioned or permitted by the original Constitution. Utilizing the Constitution to argue in favor of takings for “the public good” in the context of all the federal government involves itself in today makes no sense at all.
The only way to curb eminent domain would be to curb both the federal government, as well as local governments, as we know them. If government (national and local) systematically removed itself from health care, welfare/charity, education, mortgage lending, banking, and all the rest, there would be very little for the government to even claim it might take.
Donald Trump had an opportunity to make this point, or something like it. He did not use the opportunity to do so, because he almost certainly does not agree with it. If he were a consistent advocate of individual rights and limited government, he would have done so. If he were even a Reagan-like conservative, he would have done so. But he did not.
Trump appears to justify the potentially unlimited use of government takings on two grounds. One, “Because I personally like it.” This is the sort of arrogant attitude that turns many people off, with good reason, whenever Donald Trump speaks. While there’s nothing wrong with brash and bold confidence, there’s everything wrong with a potential president who will engage in the use (or abuse) of federal power merely because he likes it. That would mean a government of men, not of laws. We already have that now with Obama. Trump is supposed to represent an improvement over Obama.
The second reason Trump rationalizes the potentially unlimited use of eminent domain is perhaps even more disturbing. He implies that so long as the seizure of private property creates jobs, then it’s worthwhile. But any dictator may rationalize anything he does by the creation of jobs, or any other economic benefit.
America desperately needs a return to individual rights, or at least a reversal of decades-long trends in favor of statism. Property rights are at the core of individual rights. Of what benefit is Donald Trump to property rights when he justifies the current policy of almost unrestricted eminent domain, particularly for the reasons he gives?
The other reason Donald Trump cannot be considered a Constitutional conservative, or anything very close to it, came in his reasons for supporting Congressman Paul Ryan for Speaker of the House last week:
“I think he’s strong,” Trump said, but he added that he disagrees with Ryan’s proposed entitlement reforms.
“I think that when Mitt Romney chose him [as a running mate] last time, it was a tough choice because he’s been so anti-Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, in a sense. You know, he would say he hasn’t been, but they certainly played that up hard. And that was a disastrous campaign for a lot of reasons,” Trump explained. “But Paul Ryan’s a good man. I know him very little, but I think he’s a very good person.” [cbsnews.com 10/9/15]
Trump is referring to Ryan’s attempts to set Medicare and Social Security on a course to partial privatization several years ago. This, if anything, is a reason for liking Ryan. Yet it’s the one thing Donald Trump chose to single out as a reason for not liking Paul Ryan.
Ryan’s aborted attempt to partially set these bankrupt, unsustainable and morally unjust programs on the road to privatization was one of the more noteworthy acts of courage and integrity in a climate not known for either. However, Paul Ryan suffers from an impossible contradiction, just like other religious conservatives. On the one hand, he has been an outspoken admirer of Ayn Rand and her philosophy of rational self-interest, individual rights and unhampered capitalism brought out in her famous novel Atlas Shrugged. On the other hand, he’s a practicing and believing Catholic, and subscribes to the ethics of self-sacrifice and the idea that the central purpose of life is service, as both Jesus Christ and the current Pope espouse.
When Ryan was attacked (from all sides) for even coming out with a half-hearted attempt at developing a budget based on the fiscal reality that Medicare and Social Security cannot sustain themselves, he ultimately backed down and never brought the subject up again. Given what we know of him, it’s unlikely he will be any different from the outgoing Speaker of the House when it comes to trying to strike a logically impossible balance between the individual rights required by capitalism versus the socialistic service imperatives required by his own Catholic philosophy.
In a nutshell, people are looking to Donald Trump to be either a Tea Party-like Constitutional conservative who favors limited government, or at least a Reagan conservative who will favor a movement in the direction of partial capitalism, free markets and property rights.
In these two instances, Trump has shown himself to be neither.
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