License as Liberty: Trump is the Freest Man Alive

Elizabeth Bruenig writes:

President Trump apparently had an affair with a porn star while his model wife was home with their newborn son. No surprise there. Keeping the affair out of the newspapers before the 2016 election reportedly cost him $130,000, around a measly 0.004 percent of his claimed net worth of $3.1 billion — nothing to him. The fact that you might be unsettled by this news also means nothing to him. Trump is impervious to scandal and immune to social censure. He is insulated from consequence by power, money and fame in a way not imaginable to the ordinary person. He is the freest man alive.

Americans like to think we invented freedom, but we really only extended it to an absurd conclusion in the person of Trump….

Saint Augustine of Hippo and Saint Thomas Aquinas, though separated by centuries, took more or less the same view: People are naturally inclined to desire goodness and truth, and whatever gets in the way of that pursuit makes us less free….

Then the idea of a final good was abandoned altogether. Freedom turned into the ability to do what one wants; what you want or how you get it is scarcely relevant. We can barely imagine a person inhibited by his own appetites or impulses; the inhibition, rather, comes when those appetites can’t be fulfilled.

Trump is at his most furious when the exceptions arise — say, when complicated political maneuvering in Congress subverts his whims, or when the Constitution stops him from exercising autocratic caprice….Those checks on wild, wanton exercises of individual power must seem old-fashioned to Trump indeed, and they do echo ancient fears about the limitless exercise of the human will. James Madison had read his Aristotle, and Aristotle was right in the end about what the unbound will can do to a polity. But what did they know? When you’re a star, you can do anything.