President Trump has proved himself adroit at creating villains to serve as his political foils. In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, he introduced a new one: socialists.
Right after his calls to support the overthrow of Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, and condemning the “socialist policies” that have reduced the country “into a state of abject poverty and despair,” he made a quick segue to the home front.
“Here in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country,” the president said, adding, “Tonight, we resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
Tuesday night’s speech contained more than a few suggestions of what Mr. Trump’s 2020 campaign could look like.
Good. I’m glad he’s going to talk about this. But it needs to be more than scare talk. I heard earlier this week from a friend in Hungary whose family suffered terribly under communism (e.g., her grandfather was tortured by the secret police in Budapest’s infamous House Of Terror). She said that it worries her that conservatives in the US aren’t more focused on income inequality, because that’s the kind of environment that engenders socialism.
Trump is correct to talk about the spectre of socialism, but not if it’s only used as something to frighten voters. Tucker Carlson was all over this point in his now-famous monologue which, if you haven’t seen or read it, go here now.
As it happens, yesterday I turned in to my literary agent the final proposal for my next book, which will be about the warnings that people who grew up under socialism are sounding now to Americans about where our country is going. As I’ve outlined it, the book is not primarily about economics, but rather about how the overall mentality of our culture, especially in our leading institutions, is preparing the way for socialism. I’ve found that the more you dig down into the literature (fiction and non-fiction) of anti-communist dissidents, the more chilling it is to see what’s happening in this country, and how it is being prepared for what James Poulos calls the “pink police state” — a kinder, gentler version of what my sources endured before defecting or getting out. These people — the emigres from formerly communist countries — see something real that’s happening in America. I’ve been writing about this periodically on this site for the past three or four years, and now I’m going to use all the contacts I’ve made here and in Eastern Europe to write a book about it.
I believe that the stories they will be telling in my book are very, very important for us to hear now, and if I can find a publisher, I intend to have it in stores by the fall of 2020. I’ll keep you updated. My agent should be taking the proposal out soon. The book is basically like Timothy Snyder’s bestselling On Tyranny, except the opposite, in that mine will be written with a specific focus on the prospect of left-wing tyranny.
UPDATE: I see two dangers. The first is that people who are more or less socially conservative, but drawn to socialist economic ideas because of their economic precarity, will fail to see that with the Democratic Party, you can’t get economic socialism (or semi-socialism) without bringing the entire cultural program in with it.
The second danger is that Trump would use legitimate fear of socialism as a means of defending Mitt Romney-style capitalism. Here’s a very good column by Matthew Walther, about layoffs and corporate responsibility. Excerpts:
Unlike virtually every CEO of a major corporation today, [Henry] Ford believed that his company was simply a means to an end — specifically the end of providing honorable work and a means of earning a living, which in turn made possible the raising of families and all the virtues of society that depend upon the securing of life’s basic necessities. “My ambition,” he said, “is to employ still more men, to spread the benefits of this industrial system to the greatest possible number, to help them build up their lives and their homes. To do this we are putting the greatest share of our profits back in the business.” But the Michigan Supreme Court sided with the Dodges, ruling that a corporation’s responsibility was only to its shareholders and that Ford’s humane policies were an illegal wealth transfer.
Today the layoff swindlers who argue that taking the earnings away from thousands and thousands of families is necessary always promise the same thing: After the painful but unavoidable disruption, a new revivified company will emerge, one that is more sustainable, a state of affairs more beneficial to everyone involved, including somehow, the people who will not be employed by it. American workers have been told this for three decades now. It was always a lie. What we have gotten instead is a system in which shareholders and consultants make more money than ever and the lives of workers become increasingly precarious. Life after one layoff means, at best, finding another job where the whole cycle will begin anew.
UPDATE.2: A reader’s comment prompts me to clarify something. The Times lede implies that Trump has fashioned a “villain” out of thin air. I do not believe that at all. I believe that socialism — primarily cultural progressivism, built on identity politics — is very much a real and present danger. Whether or not Trump understands this, or is just engaging in rhetorical games, is another question — but the threat is real.
UPDATE.3: Great comments on this thread. Here’s one by Lesley:
If the GOP dropped Reaganomics and would consent to sane market regulations (such as clamping down on the useless, rampant type of financial speculation that was a leading cause of the 2007-08 crash), a more fair tax structure, and negotiating trade deals with an emphasis on what’s good for American workers and not just what’s good for giant transnationals, they would pretty much have my vote forever.
As is, I want no part of unmitigated laissez-faire uber libertarian capitalism and I also want no part of toxic identity politics based tribalism. They are both wildly dangerous.
But if it really comes down to it, my rights to free speech and such are at least supposedly enshrined in the Constitution making them at least marginally harder to disrupt.
I currently have 0 legal or policy defense against having my job automated or sent overseas, being paid starvation wages, being bankrupted or fired because I get sick or injured, etc.
If I’m forced to pick between these, I’ll go with the identity politics harpies.
And here’s what Matt in VA has to say about it:
Here’s the problem. The “pink police state”, so to speak, will primarily exercise power through *Woke Capitalism.* This is the key. This is the concept everybody is going to need to familiarize themselves with.
Companies that play a *huge* role in our social fabric, especially Silicon Valley companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google, and Twitter, will determine the bounds of acceptable discourse and will deplatform and silence those who they deem intolerable. Online payment processors and credit card companies will blacklist those who challenge the system. Even the companies that handle stuff like domain registration and IP addresses and that sort of thing will start stepping in and ruling certain websites as undeserving of existence.
Basically, the State, itself, won’t need to send secret police out to arrest dissidents, and won’t need to censor samizdat directly. The big corporations (working hand in glove with the political elites, of course) will do it for them. Look at the power Amazon already has over the government and politicians — massive billion dollar subsidies for the world’s richest man (the Amazon deals for the headquarters — why not two new headquarters, right, since each deal means an insane profit taken directly from taxpayers!)
This strategy will be massively effective in no small part because conservative elites are so stupid and short-sighted and dogmatic that they will continue to say “the government has no right to interfere in the Free Market, if Google bans you, well too bad and go start your own search engine!” to its own people until its own people are all wiped from the internet altogether. This will mean economic and social pariah status, and conservative elites will tell their own base that they *deserve* this.
That’s one of the points I’m going to bring out in my book. We are so used to thinking of totalitarianism as imposed top-down from the state. In fact, we’re going to get it chiefly by private institutions — corporations, universities, and the like. Look, for example, at Amelie Wen Zhao. She learned to love Big Brother with exactly zero pressure from the state. She absorbed wokeness entirely on her own. Republicans are so stupid that they can only imagine tyranny coming from the State.