Published on
by

The RNC’s Puzzling Obsession with Socialism

With a pandemic ravaging the country, a historically unpopular president and no platform to run on, the Republican Party has set its sights on attacking socialism. It doesn’t seem to be working.

Kimberly Guilfoyle delivers her address to the Republican National Convention at the Mellon Auditorium on August 24, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

If you’d tuned in to the first night of the 2020 Repub­li­can Nation­al Con­ven­tion (RNC) with­out any broad­er polit­i­cal con­text, no one could blame you for believ­ing that the Unit­ed States is fac­ing the scourge of a ter­ror­iz­ing for­eign threat, and that this threat is called ​“social­ism.” Of course, you’d be mis­tak­en, along­side a host of RNC speak­ers.

But that false nar­ra­tive under­girds the GOP’s play­book this elec­tion, as the par­ty has cho­sen to for­go writ­ing an actu­al plat­form and instead sim­ply run Don­ald Trump — a his­tor­i­cal­ly unpop­u­lar pres­i­dent — against a made-up men­ace, with Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee Joe Biden serv­ing, sim­ply, as its fig­ure­head.

Yet, by using ​“social­ism” as a stand-in for any­thing they deem anti-Amer­i­can, Repub­li­cans are obscur­ing the fact that many of the poli­cies asso­ci­at­ed with con­tem­po­rary social­ism are actu­al­ly very pop­u­lar among the vot­ing pub­lic. And Biden, a life­long mod­er­ate, has con­sis­tent­ly made clear that he — unlike his for­mer rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I‑Vt.) — is about as far as you can get from an avowed social­ist with­in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic coali­tion.

Still, even with Sanders out of the race, the GOP has appar­ent­ly decid­ed to go full steam ahead with its red-bait­ing line of attack.

Nik­ki Haley, for­mer U.S. ambas­sador to the UN and two-term gov­er­nor of South Car­oli­na, said dur­ing the con­ven­tion of Biden and his run­ning mate Sen. Kamala Har­ris (D‑Calif.): ​“Their vision for Amer­i­ca is social­ism. And we know that social­ism has failed every­where,” adding that, ​“Joe Biden and the social­ist Left would be a dis­as­ter for our econ­o­my.”

Kim­ber­ly Guil­foyle, nation­al chair of the Trump Vic­to­ry Finance Com­mit­tee, said that ​“Biden, Har­ris and their social­ist com­rades will fun­da­men­tal­ly change this nation. … This elec­tion is a bat­tle for the soul of Amer­i­ca. Your choice is clear.”

The president’s son, Don­ald Trump Jr., mean­while alleged that, ​“Joe Biden and the rad­i­cal Left are also now com­ing for our free­dom of speech and want to bul­ly us into sub­mis­sion.”

And Sen. Tim Scott (R‑S.C.), per­haps in a slight lin­guis­tic slip, claimed of the Democ­rats: ​“If we let them, they will turn our coun­try into a social­ist utopia.”

Utopi­anism aside, these warn­ings had the clear inten­tion of scar­ing vot­ers into sup­port­ing the GOP tick­et as a means of pro­tect­ing the moral fab­ric of Amer­i­ca, using ​“social­ism” as a sig­ni­fi­er of the puta­tive per­il fac­ing the nation if Repub­li­cans lose in Novem­ber.

In the vision put for­ward by the U.S. Right, this per­il wouldn’t just be eco­nom­ic, or polit­i­cal — but exis­ten­tial. In late June, the wealthy cou­ple Patri­cia and Mark McCloskey bran­dished guns out­side their St. Louis home at demon­stra­tors who were protest­ing police killings of Black Amer­i­cans, claim­ing that the peace­ful pro­test­ers put them ​“in fear for our lives.” Cho­sen by the ring­lead­ers of the RNC to speak to the nation, Patri­cia assert­ed on Mon­day that Democ­rats ​“want to abol­ish the sub­urbs alto­geth­er” — echo­ing a sim­i­lar charge made in July by Pres­i­dent Trump.

Nev­er mind the fact that the McCloskeys don’t actu­al­ly live in the sub­urbs, but rather in a ​“Renais­sance palaz­zo” — a mas­sive man­sion set on a pri­vate street with­in the city of St. Louis. Their mes­sage was clear: Democ­rats are com­ing to upend the Amer­i­can Way of Life.

SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT

At Stake?

An existential threat to our democracy. A global pandemic. An unprecedented economic crisis. Our journalism has never been more needed.

Can you pitch in today and help us make our Fall Campaign goal of $80,000 by November 2nd?

Please select a donation method:



The prob­lem is that the Amer­i­can Way of Life has already been upend­ed, begin­ning in earnest this March when the Trump admin­is­tra­tion allowed a dead­ly pan­dem­ic to sprawl across the coun­try at full clip, caus­ing busi­ness­es to close, com­mu­ni­ties to shel­ter-in-place, and inau­gu­rat­ing the ​“new nor­mal” that we’re cur­rent­ly liv­ing in, which shows no end in sight.

The results have been cat­a­stroph­ic. There are cur­rent­ly near­ly 6 mil­lion con­firmed cas­es of Covid-19 in the Unit­ed States and more than 170,000 Amer­i­cans have died — by far the high­est num­bers in the world. The econ­o­my has entered a reces­sion. Near­ly 30 mil­lion peo­ple are out of work, lift­ing unem­ploy­ment into the dou­ble dig­its. More than one mil­lion small busi­ness­es have already closed due to the pan­dem­ic, and many more could soon fol­low. Hunger and sui­cides, espe­cial­ly among young peo­ple, are both on the rise. And as the shoot­ing of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis­con­sin shows, racist police bru­tal­i­ty con­tin­ues to tor­ment com­mu­ni­ties of col­or.

Even for those not liv­ing on the brink, life has been unques­tion­ably changed. School dis­tricts across the coun­try are not reopen­ing in per­son this fall due to the threat of the virus, caus­ing par­ents to con­tin­ue over­see­ing their chil­dren at home while they attempt to learn remote­ly. Work­ing from home is lead­ing to longer work­days and more stress. Pre­vi­ous sites of refuge from the pres­sures of dai­ly life — con­cert halls, the­aters, bars and many restau­rants — remain shut­tered. Plus, any type of social behav­ior with peo­ple liv­ing out­side of your house­hold has been dis­cour­aged, lead­ing to more iso­la­tion and atom­iza­tion.

In short, life for most Amer­i­cans has got­ten worse over the past 6 months, and it’s in large part due to the inept response of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion which nev­er took the virus seri­ous­ly, and instead has attempt­ed to force an ill-fat­ed ​“reopen­ing” of the econ­o­my, which, in turn, has caused more need­less death and eco­nom­ic dev­as­ta­tion. Just look around to the many oth­er coun­tries that dealt with an out­break of the virus but are now — unlike the Unit­ed States — return­ing to nor­mal life.

Yet there were hard­ly any men­tions of this stark real­i­ty dur­ing the first night of the RNC. Instead, fears of a social­ist takeover abound­ed.

This shouldn’t come as a sur­prise. Trump has made social­ism his elec­toral bête noire for years, pre­view­ing this line of attack against Democ­rats in his 2019 State of the Union speech, and in a bizarre 2018 report from his White House Coun­cil of Eco­nom­ic Advis­ers that used high prof­its for the super-rich as bench­marks of ​“eco­nom­ic free­dom.”

As Huff­Post reporter Zach Carter points out, this type of anti-social­ist blitz has been employed by the Right through­out U.S. his­to­ry, from the late 19th cen­tu­ry through the Red Scare fol­low­ing WWI, the Cold War and up to present day.

Yet through­out these incar­na­tions of red-bait­ing, the mean­ing of ​“social­ism” has blurred. Many of today’s social­ists believe in plac­ing the econ­o­my under demo­c­ra­t­ic con­trol, expand­ing per­son­al free­dom and enshrin­ing eco­nom­ic rights as human rights. And many of the poli­cies they’re push­ing to achieve these goals are broad­ly pop­u­lar, from Medicare for All to bold cli­mate action and hik­ing tax­es on the rich.

While the Right has attempt­ed to tie such poli­cies to Stalin’s Sovi­et Union, Mao’s Chi­na, or Maduro’s Venezuela, that hasn’t changed the fact that, by and large, Amer­i­cans like them. And besides, home­grown Amer­i­can social­ism has a sto­ried his­to­ry.

The cham­pi­ons of these types of poli­cies include left-wing lead­ers such as Reps. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.) and Rashi­da Tlaib (D‑Mich.) — both mem­bers of the 70,000-member Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca — who also recent­ly won land&shy

Miles Kampf-Lassin

Miles Kampf-Lassin, a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School in Deliberative Democracy and Globalization, is the Community Editor at In These Times. He is a Chicago based writer.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:



Share This Article