The GOP killed Ayn Rand. Democrats will miss her.

Historian Jen­nifer Burns says Trump’s win fin­ished ob­jec­tivism

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Out­look@wash­

Ayn Rand is dead. It’s been 35 years since hun­dreds of mourn­ers filed by her cof­fin (fit­tingly ac­com­pa­nied by a dol­lar-sign-shaped flower ar­range­ment), but it has been only four months since she truly died as a force in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Yes, there was a flurry of ar­ti­cles iden­ti­fy­ing Rand lovers in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing Rex Tiller­son and Mike Pom­peo; yes, Ivanka Trump tweeted an in­ac­cu­rate Rand quote in midFe­bru­ary. But the ef­fort to fix a rec­og­niz­able right-wing ide­ol­ogy on Pres­i­dent Trump only ob­scures the more sig­nif­i­cant long-term trends that the elec­tion of 2016 laid bare. How­ever much Trump seems like the Rand hero par ex­cel­lence — a wealthy man with a fiery be­lief in, well, him­self — his vic­tory sig­nals the ex­haus­tion of the Repub­li­can Party’s ro­mance with Rand.

In elect­ing Trump, the Repub­li­can base re­jected laissez-faire eco­nom­ics in fa­vor of eco­nomic na­tion­al­ism. Full-fledged ob­jec­tivism, the phi­los­o­phy Rand in­vented, is an athe­is­tic creed that calls for pure cap­i­tal­ism and a bare-bones gov­ern­ment with no so­cial spend­ing on en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams such as So­cial Se­cu­rity or Medi­care. It’s never ap­peared on the na­tional po­lit­i­cal scene with­out sig­nif­i­cant di­lu­tion. But there was plenty of di­luted Rand on of­fer through­out the pri­mary sea­son: Marco Ru­bio, Rand Paul, Carly Fio­r­ina and Ted Cruz all es­poused tra­di­tional

Repub­li­can nos­trums about re­duc­ing the role of gov­ern­ment to un­leash Amer­i­can pros­per­ity.

Yet none of this could match Trump’s fullthroated roar to build a wall or his pro­tec­tion­ist plans for Amer­i­can trade. In the gen­eral elec­tion, Trump sought out new vot­ers and in­de­pen­dents us­ing ar­gu­ments tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with Democrats: de­ploy­ing the power of the state to pro­tect work­ers and guar­an­tee their liveli­hoods, even at the cost of trade agree­ments and long-stand­ing in­ter­na­tional al­liances. Trump’s eco­nomic prom­ises elec­tri­fied ru­ral work­ing-class vot­ers the same way Bernie San­ders ex­cited ur­ban so­cial­ists. Where Rand’s in­flu­ence has stood for years on the right for a hands-off ap­proach to the econ­omy, Trump’s “Amer­ica first” plat­form con­tra­dicts this premise by as­sum­ing that gov­ern­ment poli­cies can and should de­lib­er­ately shape eco­nomic growth, up to and in­clud­ing pun­ish­ing spe­cific cor­po­ra­tions. Like­wise, his prom­ise to craft trade pol­icy in sup­port of the Amer­i­can worker is the ex­act op­po­site of Rand’s procla­ma­tion that “the essence of cap­i­tal­ism’s for­eign pol­icy is free trade.”

And there’s lit­tle hope that Trump’s clos­est con­fi­dants will re­verse his de­cid­edly anti-Ran­dian course. The con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans who came to power with Trump in an al­most ac­ci­den­tal process may find they have to ex­change cer­tain ideals to stay close to him. True, Paul Ryan and Mike Pence have been able to breathe new life into Repub­li­can eco­nomic and so­cial or­tho­dox­ies. For in­stance, in a nod to Pence’s re­li­gious con­ser­vatism, Trump shows signs of re­vers­ing his ear­lier friend­li­ness to gay rights. And his op­po­si­tion to Oba­macare dove­tails with Ryan’s long-held am­bi­tions to shrink fed­eral spend­ing. Even so, there is lit­tle ev­i­dence that either Pence or Ryan would have sur­vived a Repub­li­can pri­mary bat­tle against Trump or fared well in a na­tional elec­tion; their for­tunes are de­pen­dent on Trump’s. And the pres­i­dent won by show­ing that the Repub­li­can base and swing vot­ers have moved on from the tra­di­tional con­ser­vatism of Rea­gan and Rand.

What is ris­ing on the right is not Ran­dian fear of gov­ern­ment but some­thing far darker. It used to be that bright young things like Stephen Miller, Trump’s con­tro­ver­sial White House aide, came up on Rand. In the 1960s, she in­spired a rump move­ment of young con­ser­va­tives de­ter­mined to sub­vert the GOP es­tab­lish­ment, draw­ing in fu­ture big­wigs such as Alan Greenspan. Her ad­mir­ers were pow­er­fully at­tracted to the in­sur­gent pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Barry Gold­wa­ter, whom Rand pub­licly sup­ported. They swooned when she talked about the ethics of cap­i­tal­ism, dele­git­imiz­ing pro­grams like Medi­care and Med­i­caid as im­moral. They thrilled to her at­tack on the draft and other con­ser­va­tive pieties. At na­tional con­fer­ences, they asked each other, “Who is John Galt?” (a ref­er­ence to her novel “At­las Shrugged”) and waved the black flag of an­ar­chism, mod­i­fied with a gold dol­lar sign.

Over time, most con­ser­va­tives who stayed in pol­i­tics out­grew th­ese ju­ve­nile provo­ca­tions or dis­avowed them. For ex­am­ple, Ryan moved swiftly to re­place Rand with Thomas Aquinas when he was nom­i­nated in 2012 for vice pres­i­dent, claim­ing that the Catholic thinker was his pri­mary in­spi­ra­tion (although it was copies of “At­las Shrugged,” not “Summa The­olo­giae,” that he handed out to staffers). But former Ran­dites re­tained her fiery ha­tred of gov­ern­ment and planted it within the main­stream GOP. And it was Rand who had kin­dled their pas­sions in the first place, mak­ing her the start­ing point for a gen­er­a­tion of con­ser­va­tives.

Now Rand is on the shelf, gath­er­ing dust with F.A. Hayek, Ed­mund Burke and other on­ce­promi­nent con­ser­va­tive lu­mi­nar­ies. It’s no longer pos­si­ble to pro­voke the el­ders by go­ing on about John Galt. In­deed, many of the el­ders have by now used Ran­dian ref­er­ences to name their yachts, in­vest­ment com­pa­nies and foun­da­tions.

In­stead, young in­sur­gent con­ser­va­tives talk about “race re­al­ism,” ar­gue that ma­nip­u­lated crime sta­tis­tics mask grow­ing so­cial dis­or­der and cast fem­i­nism as a plot against men. In­stead of read­ing Rand, they take the “red pill,” in­dulging in an emer­gent In­ter­net coun­ter­cul­ture that re­gards the prin­ci­ples of lib­er­al­ism — rights, equal­ity, tol­er­ance — as dan­ger­ous myths. Be­yond Bre­it­, ide­o­log­i­cal en­ergy on the right now cour­ses through tiny blogs and web­sites of the Dark En­light­en­ment, the lat­ter-day equiv­a­lent of Rand’s Ob­jec­tivist News­let­ter and the many lib­er­tar­ian ’zines she in­spired.

Once upon a time, pro­fes­sors tut-tut­ted when Rand spoke to over­flow crowds on col­lege cam­puses, where she lam­basted left and right alike and claimed, im­prob­a­bly, that big busi­ness was Amer­ica’s per­se­cuted mi­nor­ity. She de­lighted in skew­er­ing lib­eral au­di­ence mem­bers and oc­ca­sion­ally turned her scorn on ques­tion­ers. But this was soft stuff com­pared with the in­sults handed out by Milo Yiannopou­los and the up­roar that has greeted his ap­pear­ances. Rand may have ac­cused lib­er­als of hav­ing a “lust for power,” but she never would have called Holo­caust hu­mor a harm­less search for “lulz,” as Yiannopou­los glee­fully does.

In­deed, the new ideas on the right have moved away from clas­si­cal lib­er­al­ism al­to­gether. Amer­i­can con­ser­va­tives have al­ways had a mixed re­ac­tion to the Western philo­soph­i­cal tra­di­tion that em­pha­sizes the sanc­tity of the in­di­vid­ual. Re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives, in par­tic­u­lar, of­ten strug­gle with Rand be­cause her ex­treme em­brace of in­di­vid­u­al­ism leaves lit­tle room for God, coun­try, duty or faith. But Trump rep­re­sents a vic­tory for a form of con­ser­vatism that is openly il­lib­eral and will­ing to junk en­tirely the tra­di­tional rhetoric of in­di­vid­u­al­ism and free mar­kets for na­tion­al­ism in­flected with racism, misog­yny and xeno­pho­bia.

Mixed in with Rand’s vi­tu­per­a­tive at­tacks on gov­ern­ment was a de­fense of the in­di­vid­ual’s rights in the face of a pow­er­ful state. This sin­gle-minded fo­cus could yield sur­pris­ing align­ments, such as Rand’s op­po­si­tion to drug laws and her sup­port of le­gal abor­tion. And although lib­er­als have al­ways loved to hate her, over the next four years, they may come to miss her de­fense of in­di­vid­ual au­ton­omy and lib­erty. Ayn Rand is dead. Long live Ayn Rand! Jen­nifer Burns is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of his­tory at Stan­ford Univer­sity and a re­search fel­low at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion.

Ayn Rand held sway over an older gen­er­a­tion of con­ser­va­tives, but her in­flu­ence is on the wane.

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