Let’s be honest, libertarians and their candidates had terrible year in 2016 around the world and they have no one to blame but themselves. From a failure to champion free speech, to the dismissal of concerns about immigration, and a holier-than-thou attitude to the concerns of the working class, libertarians failed on all fronts.
It started with Rand Paul’s poor showing in the Iowa Republican Caucus in February which lead to the suspension of his presidential campaign after one primary contest. In the US Presidential Election Gary Johnson, despite massive media coverage, unpopular major party nominees and wildly optimistic predictions, only polled 3% of the primary vote. The response of libertarians in the face of this result should be to reflect and learn to tailor their message to masse,s not to throw their hands up in the air and say the people are stupid or we are on the road to fascism.
In Australia our single libertarian party only polled 2.16% of the Senate vote and was lucky to have its Senator re-elected. On the other hand One Nation, the anti-immigration, anti-political correctness, and anti-elitist party managed to score a huge victory for itself with four Senators elected.
One of the worst failures of libertarians this year was their abonnement of free speech. Their defence of free speech can be summarized as “I’m for free speech but we should never say mean things or anything that could be interpreted as offensive or triggering.” According to libertarians in 2016 freedom of speech only means the government can’t censor you, private companies enforcing speech codes are not a concern and can sometimes even be a good thing.
This can be interpreted as saying we are okay with people’s lives being ruined and losing their jobs because they might say the wrong thing, for example they might think that having to use 31 different gender neutral pronouns is quite ridiculous. The sympathy many libertarians had for political correctness which is despised by the masses was a major reason their failures this year.
People value the ability to speak their minds and should be entitled to hold their own opinions. The fact that libertarians did not see this as a problem and that ordinary people felt this was threat to their liberty demonstrates a disconnect from the masses. Whether because they liked what political correctness offered or spent too much time hanging out and listening to elites and progressives they completely failed to see how this issue should have been a libertarian issue consistent with the fight for a free society.
2016 was also the year when the open borders policy, held dear by too many libertarians, was turning into a disaster in Europe and the United States. With migrant crime on the rise in Europe and the almost weekly terrorist attacks that were happening in the West at one point this year showed that allowing unchecked immigration into any country was bad for the freedoms and liberties of people living in those countries.
Libertarians buried their heads in the sand, refusing to recognize problems with immigration. They told us to just put up with attacks, it’s not that many people being killed, don’t be racist. They spewed vague academic talking points about the wonders of open borders, hiding the facts plain to many with sophistry and statistics.
Some libertarians were even upset about Brexit, even though it was the defeat of a centralised bureaucratic superstate, because it ruined their open borders vision. It should be clear now with Brexit, the return of Pauline Hanson, and election of Trump, that the people do not want to open borders and can see it doesn’t work.
Libertarians should stop pushing this failed policy. All it does is make you look part of the globalist elite, the very elite that has angered the masses. Libertarianism should be about tailoring the message to fit the desires of the masses, not to tailor the masses to fit your preferred message and worldview.
The poor showing in 2016 can also be attributed to the growing number of libertarians who displayed distain for the working class. These people, and they were largely white people, were the people who most felt they had been let down by government and saw appeal in Trump’s message. Libertarians saw them as ignorant, poorly educated white trash who were not worthy of attention. Rather than try to explain these working class people that only a smaller government and freer economy will bring back jobs and living standards they were sneered at, told they were stupid and in need of re-education.
In falling into the trap of identity politics, believing that not all groups were oppressed by governments and that white people were privileged, libertarians stopped appealing to a large group of people. The masses were not wrong in what they wanted, libertarians should have shown them the way towards their goals.
The dismissal working class concerns also lead to libertarians blaming democracy itself for the result of the election. Telling people they shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions about how society is run and that they should just submit to a libertarian dictatorship because we are your wise overlords and we know what’s best for you, is a terrible way to convince people of a message of liberty.
Libertarianism holds that nobody should use the government to take away the freedoms of others but the way that this message needs to be communicated is through reasoning with people not to vote to take away others rights. Simply throwing your hands up in the air and saying “democracy sucks” achieves nothing.
Libertarianism was rescued from obscurity in 2008 by Ron Paul’s presidential campaign which converted many people, especially the young, to libertarianism. Ron Paul correctly identified the cause of the global financial crisis, and offered a solution had by nobody else. He was also the only consistently anti-war non-intervention voice after years of American imperialism.
There was a section of libertarians despised Ron Paul deep down because he was personally a social conservative and disagreed with their left view of the world. They kept their mouths shut at the time but once they felt the numbers were strong enough they retook the liberty movement.
Gary Johnson was nominated for the Libertarian Party presidential ticket. The strategy was to appeal to dissuaded Bernie Sanders supporters and other progressives and college educated young people. The unofficial campaign slogan was even copied from the left. Feel the Johnson was just copying Sanders’ Feel the Bern.
These were the very people the masses were railing against, after many years of trying we’ve been unable to convince these people that capitalism is their friend. As soon as you say to them businesses should be able to do what they want the conversation is over.
Building coalitions with left wing groups only works if they’ve got some use for you afterwards, they will throw the rest of your beliefs under the bus to get what they want and they never stick to their word. If your argument for libertarianism is “I’m for the free market but I’m not a mean person” you’ve already conceded a large portion of your argument.
The fact that Gary Johnson still talked about how good open borders were, that religious liberty was not worthy of his attention and other policies such as a carbon tax became evidence of an out of touch campaign which did not address the concerns of ordinary people. The result was a significantly lower vote than what the libertarians who said we should all get behind Johnson were promising. It is clear libertarian appeals to social justice warriors and the politically correct does not win many votes.
Elections all throughout the year were a backlash against the attempts by elites, globalists and progressives to impose their worldview to a supposedly uneducated bunch of deplorables. Libertarians appeared to be just another group of people trying to tell others how to live their lives.
The way that the libertarian message should have been communicated this year, and the way it should be communicated in the future, is to say to ordinary people we understand your concerns, we have the same life goals as you do, and we want what you want. Then we can communicate how libertarian policy can help people to achieve their goals and explain how our policies will create more jobs, allow more people to start a business, allow them to own a home, protect their families and communities from harm.
Libertarians should not be afraid to harness populist messages and appeal to people’s sense of injustice or a grievance they have. The so called sweetie pie libertarianism, being afraid to offend or trigger certain groups, needs to end.
Libertarian commentators like Jeffrey Tucker were themselves triggered by the rise of Trump, claiming the US has elected the next Hitler and fascism is on the rise. In their hysteria they have completely overlooked some of the progress that was made this year. Marijuana was legalized in four more US states demonstrating that the drug war is growing increasingly unpopular.
In their rage they’ve also completely overlooked that Trump was elected on a non-interventionist message. He wants to stop the policy of nation building and funding overseas military bases, he wants to get on with countries such as Russia and find a peaceful resolution in Syria.
It’s not like we were on the verge of Libertopia or that it has all been ruined by Trump’s win. Every recent President before him was just as bad if not worse. So rather than despairing and behaving like every other leftist triggered snowflake and retreating to a safe space, libertarians need to regroup and start reshaping their message for the masses and working class.
If we’re not up to this task then the movement will never make any progress. We know what policies lead to a more free prosperous and peaceful society we have just chosen the wrong way to communicate them and the wrong people to sell them to. Learn from 2016, the people told you what their problems were, the people are not wrong in what they want. They do not need radical re-education they just need to be shown what the right policies are, our policies which will lead to a more of a free, peaceful and prosperous society which they all ultimately desire.