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Trump’s Income Tax Repeal Promises an American Revolution

Even Thomas Massie is a fan.

Credit: Evan El-Amin

Striding through his moment as the general public—including young voters and minorities—begins to reassess him as a “trans-partisan” outlaw pop icon due to  his increasing legal defeats, the former President Donald Trump returned to Capitol Hill to rally and mend fences with Republicans in Congress. 

One of the proposals he reportedly floated in his meetings with them generated quite a bit of excitement online—repeal the income tax and replace it with tariffs. The potential crossover appeal with populists and libertarian-minded swing voters was illustrated by the enthusiasm of the stalwart libertarian Rep. Thomas Massie’s (R-KY), who called the proposal “most intriguing.” That Massie, a primary supporter of Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis and vocal opponent of Trump's pandemic spending, and Trump’s more protectionist supporters could find energetic common ground around such an idea demonstrates the galvanizing potential such a bold tax policy revolution could provide.


The news caused me to revisit a documentary interview I conducted  in the summer of 2020 with the late Curtis Ellis, a brilliant economic adviser to Trump. In the discussion, Ellis and I charted ways to fuse the libertarian and protectionist wings of the American right to benefit the worker. Ellis talked about returning to the Founders’ system of robust tariffs to protect the American wages and standard of living. 

“Make what we buy and buy what we make,” he said. I proposed repealing the income tax and replacing it with tariffs and deep spending cuts on our regulatory state, which severely retards innovation and wealth creation. Ellis called the idea “a revolutionary concept.” 

He went on to conclude, “You probably couldn’t have enough tariffs to fund the regulatory state we have now. So the best way to do it is exactly what you said, get rid of the income tax. We’re going to replace the revenues with tariffs and then start chopping away everything we can’t afford anymore.” 

Sounds like what Trump has now trial-ballooned to Republicans in D.C. and perhaps an idea whose time has come.

One of the most under-appreciated components of Trump’s non-ideological political doctrine is the assertion that Americans are in dire need of a psychological boost. Americans lack confidence and hope in the future of their nation; at the same time, they are increasingly detached from any kind of transcendent narrative connecting them to their nation’s past. Through demoralizing critical theory policies, entertainment, and educational initiatives, the ruling establishment has declared an all out cultural revolution denigrating the morality and ideas of the Founding Fathers. On the intellectual right, ascendant fascinations with elite theory, Machiavellian politics, and dreams of FDR-like Caesars, has made it passé to invoke the Founding Fathers’ intentions in suggesting new policies.


Repealing the income tax—including taxes on tips as Trump has recently promoted—could provide the kind of boon Americans need. One of the most demoralizing rituals Americans have internalized—especially self-employed business owners who set the metabolic health of our economy—is the stressful navigation of the tax code the government imposes on its people. As former Republican congressman Ron Paul, the most famous contemporary advocate of the abolition of the income tax, has suggested, the whole process of self-reporting violates Americans’ right to not self-incriminate. Withholding W2 employees’ income conditions Americans to feel that the fruit of their labor and time is the property of the government that then shares a portion of it with the producer. The government uses Tax Day’s promise of a possible tax refund check to Pavlovian condition Americans to feel a warped pleasure stimulus associated with what amounts to an onerous drain on their life. For many employees, April 15 means one gets a bonus check with which to splurge, rather than the annual ritual humiliation of the American spirit self-employed entrepreneurs are more likely to experience.

The taxes on the economic drivers of the country then go to feed the corrupt, perpetually-expanding regulatory state that is captured by the very same corporate interests that ensure Congress keeps rigged trade deals, barriers to market entry, and subsidies in place for their benefit.

The appeal to working-class voters, particularly in the Rust Belt, that Trump’s tariffs provide does not necessarily have to contradict the fiscal libertarian appeal of the income tax repeal. Contrary to some online right wing discourse, working-class labor, young voters in the service economy, and suburban middle class business owners—all constitutive of a winning coalition of voters—do not have an allergy to the notion of not having to pay income tax. It is just that no recent Republican presidential nominee has proposed it. “Normies” uninterested in nerdy political debates do not find the Founding Fathers out of fashion in favor of a cadre of Italian political philosophers; they’re still Americans—they want to be free from taxes and regulations but are also rightly suspicious of multinational corporate power.

Libertarian impulses and populist protections against globalism never had to be pitted against each other in a false dialectic. The American people want both. Because of their busy schedules, they lack the energy and motivation to pay attention to the reality that most of the regulations put in place to ostensibly protect them from malfeasance are actually written by the crony interests themselves. They put up with the oppression of the income tax because no politician within reach of executive power has dared to state it should not exist. 

Trump is a brilliant businessman who knows how to make a great deal. As demonstrated by his recent unprecedented overtures to the Libertarian Party and independent voters tempted by Kennedy’s candidacy, he is aggressively looking to expand his coalition beyond what he started in 2016 and 2020 to ensure a decisive victory. He’s running like a man whose life depends on winning. There is nothing like the motivation of facing the possibility of losing one’s freedom and wealth to government overreach in the form of possible imprisonment and asset forfeiture to wake a man up.

Ordinary Americans feel the vice grip of the rigged state and viscerally empathize with Trump’s situation. A man in such historic circumstances may be just the person to catalyze a paradigm shift to an America that rejects the regulatory state and puts the burden of funding itself on to foreign corporations rather than its own people.