Thursday, 17 September 2020 15:07

OPINION: 'The socialists are coming! The socialists are coming!'

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Mitch McConnell texted me the other day with an urgent message! If Democrats are elected, particularly Joe Biden, then America will be lost to socialism! Ok, so Mitch actually texted every breathing Republican with the same message looking for money — not just me. But it was a stark warning to voters, playing on fears about some huge Democratic plot to undermine our economy and allow the government to control everything. 

I confess Mitch’s warning reminded me of the famous line from the old movie starring Alan Arkin about a Soviet submarine stuck on a sandbar off the coast of a New England island. The locals, upon discovering the submariners’ presence, panic and their warning sweeps the local countryside: “The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!” It’s a really funny story. The GOP’s fear-mongering about a socialist takeover isn’t.

A friend of mine was recently having an engaging “discussion” with a local farmer up in the mountains, who assured my friend she would be headed to eternal damnation if she didn’t vote for Trump. His big fear was that the United States would become a socialist country if Biden is elected. Asked exactly what “socialism” meant to him, his only response was that America would be the next Venezuela.  

One of the recurring themes articulated by the GOP in this election plays on fears that if Democrats are elected, then our government will turn towards socialism. To make sure I knew exactly what they were talking about in raising this specter of socialism, I started checking around. It seems you can find lots of dry books on the subject, but not too much that simplifies the concept.

Finally, I stumbled across an article on the internet that seemed pretty even-handed in its discussion and actually had a definition that I remembered from my ninth-grade Economics and Civics course way back in 1960. For those of you too young to remember, 1960 was the Kennedy–Nixon election and all of us in the class were paying close attention to what that Democrat “liberal” from Massachusetts was proposing.  

The old slogan used by my teacher to describe socialism described it as “from each according to ability, to each according to need.” Pretty simple. What it doesn’t explain is that government makes the determination as to what each person provides and what each person gets. The government owns and controls the means of production. In a socialist economy, public officials control producers, consumers, savers, borrowers and investors by taking over and regulating trade, the flow of capital and other resources.

All of that sounds pretty draconian and scary. However, considering the public’s lack of confidence and faith in government, it’s hard to imagine our country moving toward a truly socialistic economic system. Then I started thinking about these last few years of the Trump administration and its allies in government, and I had to ask whether the GOP is actually complicit in moving us down the path toward socialism?

Isn’t that what the Trump Administration is doing by having an economic policy with the government pumping “borrowed” money into the economy by the billions, if not trillions, of dollars? Isn’t that a socialistic principle of government regulating and controlling the flow of capital and other resources? Don’t huge government-imposed tariffs restrict free trade? Don’t huge “targeted” tax breaks for selected big businesses fall within the socialist rubric?  

It would appear that Trump’s policies favoring big businesses are just a different version of government intervention in the economy. If Democratic proposals for adequate healthcare protecting all Americans, or protecting Social Security, or providing needed unemployment benefits to out-of-work people, constitutes an inexorable march toward a socialistic economic system, then Mitch needs to take an honest look at the policies and practices being advocated for and implemented by the Trump Administration.  

Maybe “the socialists are, in fact, coming.” They’re just coming in a big-business version pushed by the Trump Administration.

Robert F. Orr is a retired N.C. Supreme Court justice and N.C. chair of Republicans For A New President.