How Hayek Predicted Trump With His 'Why the Worst Get on Top'

Now that Donald Trump really is the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems appropriate to revisit that brilliant, monitory chapter “Why the Worst Get on Top” from Hayek’s masterpiece The Road to Serfdom.

The most amazing thing about the Trump phenomenon is not that he is a presumptive nominee, but that he is the presumptive Republican nominee. The GOP has always been, at least in theory, the party that favored limited government, low taxes, individual liberty, free trade, and respect for the traditional morality.

Donald Trump is a corrupt crony capitalist who throughout his career has supported the whole menu of “progressive” causes. Ideologically, he is much closer to the Democratic side of the aisle than to the Republican side. Indeed, as an editorial in The Spectator notes, his views on foreign policy and the economy represent a fundamental repudiation of Reagan conservatism. Take free trade. “The notion of international competition frightens him,” The Speccie writes:

To Trump, free trade is a system where "companies just think that they can move, go to another country, make their products, sell it back to us and we get only one thing: unemployment." Jeremy Corbyn would have said the same thing, if he had the courage. Trump, like so many on the left, wants to build a wall around America not just to keep immigrants out but keep its companies in.

All this is true. But how did it happen? How did it happen that a man of Trump’s views collared the Republican nomination? His huge media free ride is certainly part of the story, as is the smoldering discontent among the electorate. As I’ve had occasion to observe in this space before, the great irony is that Donald Trump represents not an alternative to that establishment but rather an ostentatious extension of it. His relation with his golf partner and "texting buddy" John Boehner is just one sign of that.

For many of us, what is most troubling about Donald Trump is not his particular views or policies -- much though we might disagree with them -- but rather the aroma of populist demagoguery and menace that surrounds him. Take a look at the clips of his rallies: What do we want? he shouts. “A Wall,” screams the crowd. Who’s going to pay for it? “Mexico.” Time warp: Is this the 1930s? It’s a sensation that is heightened when Trump suggests that his fans “beat the crap out of” protestors -- and don’t worry, he’ll pay for their legal expenses.