Should the GOP Back Off Socialism?

Memo to Republicans: don’t rest easy on your laurels, thinking that casting the word “socialism” on Democrats as an aspersion will win the White House in 2020. The House chamber may have erupted in cheers when President Trump declared “America will never be a socialist country” during his State of the Union, but the applause came mainly from the GOP caucus, whose median age is somewhere around Medicare.

Socialism -- the word and its concomitant collective sentiment, not the actual system -- is renascent within the Democratic Party’s youthful wing. American millennials have a generally rosy view of the reddish ideology, as opposed to capitalism, which many view as the sole reason boozy brunches are served exclusively on the weekend.

The Republican consultant class is convinced that pinning the socialism badge on Democratic candidates is going to awaken some slumbering middle-class reaction, which will pay dividends in the voting booth. That thinking may be true for anyone age 50 and up who remembers the Cold War. But, it finds little purchase among those who were too young to experience the Reagan revolution or who were born after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

When soi-disant socialist Bernie Sanders says the “old Soviet Union was... not my thing,” and that he prefers the generous welfare states of Nordic countries, he can get away with it, despite warbling Woody Guthrie’s communist odes in the USSR during his honeymoon.

Sanders isn’t challenged on his flawed portrayal of socialism because few people use the term correctly these days. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a member of Democratic Socialists of America, was right when she asserted that many Americans “don’t understand” socialism. Where she erred, however, was in declaring “the library and the post office is socialism (sic).” Having a few publicly funded entities in a largely capitalist economy doesn’t automatically mean that Lenin still walks among us.

Socialism has one definition: “government ownership of the means of production,” as succinctly put by Ludwig von Mises. Throwing “democratic” in front of it, as Sanders and his progressive company often do, doesn’t make it a compound noun with an entirely different meaning; it’s the same property abolition with a patina of plebiscite.

So, when certain Republican politicians point to the starvation and chaos in Venezuela as proof of socialism’s failure, few Americans with socialist sympathies pay attention. What they see, rather, is the U.S.’s meddlesome grip along with Maduro’s incompetent and brutish governing style. And when a hapless GOP pundit recalls the murderous crimes committed with collective license in the Soviet Union, the reference is easily dismissed. The collapse of the Red Menace was a modern miracle; but, thanks to social media, among other perspective-distorting developments, our sense of time has flattened, leaving historical events without proper reflection. December 26, 1991, might as well have occurred at the same time as the Book of Jeremiah.

A lack of knowledge about Stalinism, the gulags, the Holodomor, and the countless souls lost to socialism’s necessary aggression makes the ideology more appealing, especially among millennials who see our current system as less than perfect. Their shortsightedness makes everything new and surprising. They don’t take what the French call longue durée of history. Mired in myopia, every injustice, every moral blemish, every slight becomes a great tragedy, nonpareil in its wickedness

Many of America’s young adults lack perspective because they’ve blessedly been spared major catastrophe. Yes, the 2008 financial crisis made getting a job out of college difficult for some (your humble author not excluded). But, unlike the Great Depression before it, there was no large-scale indigence, no mass migration across the desiccated prairie, no waiting in bread lines in the bitter cold in a tattered long coat.

The contention, recently made by the privileged daughter of Jonathan Alter in Time, that millennials “have never experienced American prosperity in our adult lives” is a load of mental tommyrot. Waiting out the depressed job market circa 2010 on a MacBook Air and a smartphone was the cushiest suffering anyone could hope for any time pre-20th century.

The Trump campaign’s plan to use socialism as a cudgel with which to beat Democrats with will only go so far. Older generations not already pledged to the GOP will appreciate the message. But, memories of the Cold War are fading. Millennials, and even those within Gen-X, have no shared reference of the West’s resistance to the the Soviets. The Marshall Plan, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Greek Civil War, the Prague Spring, the Korean War, Vietnam, Polish Solidarity -- all are distant notes in a textbook. Their animating force has been lost to, ironically enough, a decades-long sustained peace following the breakup of the USSR (Islamic terrorism notwithstanding).

Socialism is not the bugaboo it once was. In some cases, and in some deep-blue districts, it’s viewed more or less favorably. The President shouldn’t fall into the consultant-contrived trap of thinking its invocation is a pathway to victory in 2020.

Memo to Republicans: don’t rest easy on your laurels, thinking that casting the word “socialism” on Democrats as an aspersion will win the White House in 2020. The House chamber may have erupted in cheers when President Trump declared “America will never be a socialist country” during his State of the Union, but the applause came mainly from the GOP caucus, whose median age is somewhere around Medicare.

Socialism -- the word and its concomitant collective sentiment, not the actual system -- is renascent within the Democratic Party’s youthful wing. American millennials have a generally rosy view of the reddish ideology, as opposed to capitalism, which many view as the sole reason boozy brunches are served exclusively on the weekend.

The Republican consultant class is convinced that pinning the socialism badge on Democratic candidates is going to awaken some slumbering middle-class reaction, which will pay dividends in the voting booth. That thinking may be true for anyone age 50 and up who remembers the Cold War. But, it finds little purchase among those who were too young to experience the Reagan revolution or who were born after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

When soi-disant socialist Bernie Sanders says the “old Soviet Union was... not my thing,” and that he prefers the generous welfare states of Nordic countries, he can get away with it, despite warbling Woody Guthrie’s communist odes in the USSR during his honeymoon.

Sanders isn’t challenged on his flawed portrayal of socialism because few people use the term correctly these days. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a member of Democratic Socialists of America, was right when she asserted that many Americans “don’t understand” socialism. Where she erred, however, was in declaring “the library and the post office is socialism (sic).” Having a few publicly funded entities in a largely capitalist economy doesn’t automatically mean that Lenin still walks among us.

Socialism has one definition: “government ownership of the means of production,” as succinctly put by Ludwig von Mises. Throwing “democratic” in front of it, as Sanders and his progressive company often do, doesn’t make it a compound noun with an entirely different meaning; it’s the same property abolition with a patina of plebiscite.

So, when certain Republican politicians point to the starvation and chaos in Venezuela as proof of socialism’s failure, few Americans with socialist sympathies pay attention. What they see, rather, is the U.S.’s meddlesome grip along with Maduro’s incompetent and brutish governing style. And when a hapless GOP pundit recalls the murderous crimes committed with collective license in the Soviet Union, the reference is easily dismissed. The collapse of the Red Menace was a modern miracle; but, thanks to social media, among other perspective-distorting developments, our sense of time has flattened, leaving historical events without proper reflection. December 26, 1991, might as well have occurred at the same time as the Book of Jeremiah.

A lack of knowledge about Stalinism, the gulags, the Holodomor, and the countless souls lost to socialism’s necessary aggression makes the ideology more appealing, especially among millennials who see our current system as less than perfect. Their shortsightedness makes everything new and surprising. They don’t take what the French call longue durée of history. Mired in myopia, every injustice, every moral blemish, every slight becomes a great tragedy, nonpareil in its wickedness

Many of America’s young adults lack perspective because they’ve blessedly been spared major catastrophe. Yes, the 2008 financial crisis made getting a job out of college difficult for some (your humble author not excluded). But, unlike the Great Depression before it, there was no large-scale indigence, no mass migration across the desiccated prairie, no waiting in bread lines in the bitter cold in a tattered long coat.

The contention, recently made by the privileged daughter of Jonathan Alter in Time, that millennials “have never experienced American prosperity in our adult lives” is a load of mental tommyrot. Waiting out the depressed job market circa 2010 on a MacBook Air and a smartphone was the cushiest suffering anyone could hope for any time pre-20th century.

The Trump campaign’s plan to use socialism as a cudgel with which to beat Democrats with will only go so far. Older generations not already pledged to the GOP will appreciate the message. But, memories of the Cold War are fading. Millennials, and even those within Gen-X, have no shared reference of the West’s resistance to the the Soviets. The Marshall Plan, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Greek Civil War, the Prague Spring, the Korean War, Vietnam, Polish Solidarity -- all are distant notes in a textbook. Their animating force has been lost to, ironically enough, a decades-long sustained peace following the breakup of the USSR (Islamic terrorism notwithstanding).

Socialism is not the bugaboo it once was. In some cases, and in some deep-blue districts, it’s viewed more or less favorably. The President shouldn’t fall into the consultant-contrived trap of thinking its invocation is a pathway to victory in 2020.