If it weren’t so well known that President Trump abhors reading, I would say that he must be catching up on his Soviet history lessons. Despite his numerous attacks on the alleged concept of socialism, he is doing his best to try and run this country like it’s a communist authoritarian state.
My allegation might sound ludicrous or easily dismissed. After all, the (extremely vague) concept of socialism certainly has no greater or more vocal critic worldwide than Trump’s Republican party. More and more right-wing news cycles are being dominated by right-wing pundits warning that a domestic leftward shift could cause the US to become the next failed socialist state — like Venezuela. Fox News, of course, leads the extremism, their talking heads dragging out the failures of Venezuelan socialism like Roman generals dragging the bodies of conquered foes through the streets of their capital. GOP hatred for anything even tangentially related to the concept of socialism runs that deep.
But this is by no means a new development within American conservatism. Republicans have used cries of “Socialism!” to try and halt progress for nearly a century now. In the 1920s, the GOP labeled Al Smith, the governor of New York and the Democratic candidate for president in 1928 a “socialist” for supporting workmen’s compensation. In the 1930s, President Roosevelt was labeled a socialist by Republican critics of the New Deal. In the 1960s, Ronald Reagan predicted that the US would devolve into a socialist dictatorship if Medicare was implemented. (Nearly 60 years later, do you think he was little off on that one?) It never mattered that none of these men and none of these policies were actually socialist. The goal was simply to make the public believe that socialism was inherently bad; to get the public to associate Democrats and social safety nets with socialism. It has long been a phenomenally effective propaganda tool. To this day, most Democratic politicians remain absolutely terrified of supporting anything that can be labeled with the scary “s” word, regardless of whether or not such a policy would actually be good for the country.
As is often the case, however, the party most willing to lambast the other as guilty of doing something is often the most guilty of doing it. The GOP has become quite confident that it has cornered the market on capitalism. Because of this, President Trump has been able to adopt policies and tactics used by some of the worst socialist figures in history, all without receiving any real criticism for it. We all realize that Trump probably isn’t going to abolish private property or seize means of production any time soon, but his willingness to use the power of the state to influence everything from private industry to rampant cronyism to land use is alarmingly Soviet.
Last week, the Department of Agriculture revealed that, under the instruction of Trump’s White House, it provided over $7 billion in relief aid to heartland farmers during 2018. The funds were meant to offset the losses suffered by farmers due to Trump’s trade war with China, and were a clear political quid pro quo for a demographic whose support in 2020 he desperately needs. Put another way, Trump is subsidizing voters that he perceives to be loyal in order to continue a destructive policy of economic isolationism. The farm relief package was so rife with no-strings-attached payouts and dormant land-use incentives that the Conservative Review compared it to Joseph Stalin’s five-year economic development plan(s). Yet the bill passed through a Congress entirely controlled then by Republicans, and was signed into law by Trump without any major media allegations of socialism.
Farm relief was not the only economic policy adopted by the Trump administration directly from the Soviet handbook. Much like both the USSR and Maduro’s Venezuela, the Trump administration has a habit of propping up industries and firms that are politically aligned with the White House. Take “Big Coal,” where Trump has attempted to go beyond merely underwriting a dying (and environmentally toxic) industry. Responding to the pleas of his coal baron buddies, the Trump administration has looked into using national emergency powers to do everything from artificially inflating coal costs to consumers to removing environmental regulations capping greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants. Given the immediate threat of climate change, these proposals would literally put the general public in mortal danger to keep Trump’s billionaire buddies profitable — something they can no longer do in a free market all on their own.
Speaking of national emergency powers, Trump’s attempt to use executive powers and conjured-up national emergencies to seize private land and military funding to build a useless and costly wall on our southern border is reminiscent of everything the GOP ever warned us about regarding socialism. Siphoning state-funds for exorbitant infrastructure projects that serve no real purpose? That has long been Kremlin pastime, even after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s an old Kremlin hobby to conjure up national emergencies to push an unpopular agenda. What is Trump’s wall but two-for-one special?
It’s not just the worst economic policies of failed communist states to which Trump takes a liking. He’s also fond of their willingness to resort to authoritarianism, to strong-arm tactics to combat opposition. Consider his threats to revoke press credentials from prominent media critics while simultaneously sharing a direct line-of-contact with state media, also known as Fox News. The USSR was quite fond of such power dynamics. How about Trump’s insistence on the existence of a “deep state” that remains loyal to the previous regime, or the idea that a purge must come for the nation’s own good? Take a gander at Stalin’s great purge of alleged dissenters. Take a gander at Trump’s willingness to use military action to intervene in foreign states challenging US authority.
Wait, actually: intervening in foreign nations for our own advantage is as American as apple pie. So while the Soviets and Chinese were also fond of interventionism, Trump’s got me on that one.
Despite Trump and the GOP playing footsie with destructive socialist policies, a natural counterargument exists that they’re nothing close to socialist. Trump has been a remarkably traditional Republican when it comes to destroying social safety nets and cutting taxes and regulations on large multinational corporations. While his conservative social values are clearly political theater, Trump has been a staunch ally of religious movements and traditionalism — both typically suppressed in communist regimes.
Trump’s presidency has been a great example of the GOP’s alleged fear of socialism coming from the Democratic party — but no socialist movement has ever started by advocating for economically backward policies, pointless infrastructure projects, suppression of dissent, or cult-like worship of an executive figurehead. These things result from political movements willing to accept a little cronyism here and a little censorship there in order to pursue what it believes to be a populist agenda that will help regular people in the long run. The farcical tragedy is that after decades of trying to box the Democrats as part of such a movement, no one of importance in the GOP seems capable of noticing that such a movement is rising in their own party. Republicans may never publicly advocate for old socialist goals like redistribution of wealth, but Trump has proven that they don’t need to. As long as they continue to attack socialist regimes abroad, the GOP has the perfect cover for becoming the very monster that they claim socialists to be.