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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)

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.

Miles Kampf-Lassin

 by In These Times

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.

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

© 2021 In These Times

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.

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