One of the most eventful things to have happened recently was from an unexpected source. The State Department and the intelligence apparatus didn’t initiate any coups somewhere in the Third World, the Kremlin didn’t launch a blitzkrieg and capture Kiev, and a currency from the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) hasn’t entered circulation yet. For the man who was once heralded as a savior for spearheading electric vehicle technology (even with bylines backing Barack Obama) and space exploration, Elon Musk has once again reaffirmed his status as the Beltway’s number one opponent in an extremely bold fashion, far outpacing his purchase of Twitter and the release of the Twitter Files. He denied a Ukrainian request to turn on Starlink and use it to help Kiev launch drone strikes on the Crimean city of Sevastopol.
The reaction was intense. Establishment media outlets screamed bloody treachery over the revelation that Musk singlehandedly thwarted a massive strike that could have been a game changer in Ukraine’s war with Russia, and the media dogpiled on Musk’s handling of X (formerly Twitter) for allowing “Russian propaganda.” Kiev was livid, declaring that Musk had been complicit in the deaths of innocent Ukrainian civilians. However, Musk stood by his decision. Given the importance of Ukraine (and its access to the Black Sea) to Russia as a geographical barrier preventing it from being encircled in continental Europe by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as well as the fact that NATO has already signaled that it will allow Ukraine to join once the war with Russia is over, Moscow has every strategic reason to prevent the recapturing of Crimea.
Aside from the media outrage, however, have been the cheers Musk has been receiving, which would have not been there if this incident had happened twenty years earlier. Many of the people who cheered for Musk aren’t predominantly tech geeks or social liberals; they’re from the American heartland, proud to wave the Stars and Stripes and be a good conservative patriot. Once upon a time, these people were unabashed in their defense of American foreign policy, declaring that it was America’s responsibility to democratize the world with bombs. However, the argument no longer captivates them; the recipients of these regime changes didn’t democratize as hoped. Iraq is under an authoritarian and corrupt state, while Afghanistan fell to the Taliban as ordinary Afghans became fed up with the corruption of American-backed Kabul and have demonstrated a preference for (a rough) peace. These conservative Americans are fed up with seeing their standard of living going away and genuinely well-intentioned relatives dying in failed wars that were for nothing; they want their money spent on issues that are more pressing.
Even better, many of them also want the government to step out altogether on certain matters. Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis are adamant about getting rid of the Department of Education, returning education back to state policy. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has earned much enthusiasm from libertarians for calling for a return to hard money by backing the dollar with bitcoin and gold, effectively constraining much of the Federal Reserve’s power. Donald Trump remains just as relevant as ever, with the ongoing indictments in Georgia making him look like the archenemy of the Beltway. Polarization is growing ever deeper—no longer between Left and Right but instead between the political elite and the dissidents. The talk of the town next year will be between Trump, Ramaswamy, Kennedy Jr., and maybe DeSantis, not Nikki Haley or Mike Pence.
Being completely realistic here, however, the chances of a much-needed downsize of government power—especially on matters well-engrained as the common ground of both the Left and Right of the Beltway—are a virtual impossibility. The political pundits and the Beltway aren’t giving up without a fight, and much of that only signals to voters how nervous the Beltway is. Even if one of these candidates wins the presidential election, the case of Trump’s many attempts to pull out of Afghanistan and how his staff routinely sabotaged him is a grim reminder. One can argue that Trump should have appointed better employees, but under the weight of having your fate decided by people who could remove you from office by voting for impeachment, there’s not much you can do. Would Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell have not voted for impeachment if Trump had immediately followed suit with his promises to pull troops out of Afghanistan and normalize relations with Russia?
We’ve already seen states attempting to remove Trump from the ballot. One Proud Boys member has been sentenced to twenty-two years of imprisonment for the events of January 6th, even though he didn’t attend the riot. Musk is currently being sued by the Department of Justice for not hiring non–United States citizens, even though doing so would have violated international arms trafficking laws. Returning to the complicated relationship between Trump and establishment Senate Republicans, a unilateral change in foreign or domestic policy that goes outside the acceptable boundaries of interventionism, sound money, and the managerial state will not be accepted by the Beltway. They will only accept something that can benefit their ideals; in other words, they will twist and co-opt the opposition into backing the very same ideas that betray liberty.
Indeed, while the conservative movement is experiencing a change of mind, there are proposals that are heartily embraced by the Beltway or can be manipulated into servicing its plans. When Ramaswamy talks about his love for the Constitution, why Americans are dangerously ignorant about the purpose of the Constitution, and how he can rectify this ignorance by imposing a civics test that determines whether the test takers can vote, Ramaswamy should realize that—beyond the reaction from Leftists—the Beltway can determine how the Constitution is to be interpreted by the people, such as what constitutes free speech or sedition. With Republicans now backing “semiconductor independence,” what they mean is to throw more taxpayer money onto wasteful and inefficient economic projects, something Ramaswamy and the other candidates support. Kennedy Jr. wants a return of the fairness doctrine for traditional media to curb polarization, but who will do the enforcing? Like Ramaswamy’s civics test, the fairness doctrine will be enforced by the bureaucrats who have protection from establishment lawmakers.
Ultimately, and unfortunately, while there are major changes in policy orientation, the fundamental point that the government ought to do more remains and is reinforced by the idea that the government is run by incompetent people. Ramaswamy, Kennedy Jr., the rest of the candidates, and much of the general public view the government getting out of the way as part of the government doing something to rectify the problem—contrary to libertarian thinking that the government is the source of the problem.
For Kennedy Jr., restoring the gold standard is part of a broader plan to establish an alternative form of progressivism, where portions of the bureaucracy and government interference in the economy are exponentially expanded. For Ramaswamy, national independence takes greater precedence than individuality and freedom of exchange, which means international trade becomes more of a foreign policy issue than an economic one.
We’re only at the tip of the iceberg. We’re only approaching 2024, with 2028 and so on further in the future. It can’t be stressed enough how much the new populist movement has inherited from the Beltway Left on matters relating to the role of the government and the economy. The ideological positions of the “national conservatives”—or the “progressive right”—is a response to the supposed championing of laissez-faire economics even though these national conservatives have never accounted for the fact that the word “capitalism” has been so heavily distorted into legitimizing big government policies under Republican administrations (need I remind you of who called for a national lockdown and who started inflating the currency during covid?). With economic progressivism favored by the Beltway and much of the public living under the illusion that the US only needs to replace the incompetent people at the helm with competent people, America is still on the road to serfdom.
If anything, what Elon Musk was able to accomplish with Twitter (now X) did much to expose the Beltway’s activities, as well as Musk doing his bit to try and prevent a potential escalation of the war. Libertarians should raise a glass to him for not only fighting against government encroachment but demonstrating that the fight for liberty can be done more efficiently than betting on 2024.