Politics — especially in the United States — is often portrayed as a battle between those who want big government to solve all problems and those who believe big government is the problem. In this simple equation, the Democrats are the party of big government “solutions” while Republicans fight against growing government — and it’s often accurate. We saw this dynamic in play recently when, after the tragic shooting in Oregon, Democrats’ immediate reaction was to propose more restrictions on gun rights rather than to address the more complex issues surrounding mental health and law enforcement. Fortunately, in this debate, Republicans were on the right side, arguing against further trampling on the rights of law-abiding citizens.
Sadly, however, that’s not always the case. Oftentimes, the debate is not over whether government should be involved in an area, but how it should get involved. When this happens, government intervention is inevitable — the question becomes over the scope and scale, rather than over whether it should occur at all.
Crony capitalism is a perfect example of an area where Republicans have done a poor job standing against big government. Rather than making sure every player in the economy went by the same rules, Republicans, like Democrats, have all too often crafted rules to help whatever businesses they favor. This bipartisan willingness to put bumps in the playing field has led to such misguided policies as tax credits for certain kinds of energy, but not others; direct public financing of private business projects, like sports arenas; taxpayer-funded bailouts of entire industries; and, in the case of Obamacare, passing a law to actually force people to buy a product.
Donald Trump proudly embraced this position when he stood by eminent domain, which allows government to force people to sell their property. In theory, government is supposed to at least buy such property at a fair market value and use it for a public purpose. The classic example of eminent domain use is forcing someone to sell his or her home in order to build a new road, brilliantly parodied by Douglas Adams in “The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” The morality of even this kind of forced sale is questionable, of course, and could certainly be classified as legalized theft.
Even that concept has been corrupted, however, to the point where governments are now forcing the sale of private property for private development. Affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London, the 2005 case gave municipalities and other local government the power to take your property from you simply because they believe another use of the property would generate more tax revenue. In other words, if the government wanted to force you to sell your house to build, say, a McDonald’s, it could.
Years ago, when Walt Disney was planning Walt Disney World in Florida, he created a series of dummy corporations to hide the fact that one person was buying up a massive amount of land in Florida. Were he building the park today, he wouldn’t need to bother: he could just have government seize the land of any troublesome property owners who got in his way. This is the approach that Donald Trump has taken throughout his career as a real estate developer (he’s basically the Vogons of the 2016 presidential race), to ridiculous extremes — even once trying to force an old lady to sell her home to build a parking lot for Trump Tower.
This kind of government intervention, even if it is ultimately good for the economy, epitomizes the kind of big government corruption that conservatives should be fighting, not embracing. Ronald Reagan once famously declared that “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” He may have been wrong, though: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help…Donald Trump” may be even more terrifying.