“‘Socialism’ is a scare word they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years.”—Harry Truman, 10 October 1952
Two weeks before what might very well be the last fair election in this country, GOP discourse has gone full Halloween. Republicans are trying to frighten us. And they are doing it in the time-honored Republican way: by repeating scare words over and over and over. This is particularly ironic in 2022, as it’s Kevin McCarthy’s plan to hijack the debt ceiling vote to eliminate Social Security and Medicare that is truly terrifying.
Truman debunked this scare tactic 70 years ago, but it’s worth quoting the speech he gave in Syracuse, while campaigning for Adlai Stevenson:
Socialism is what they called public power.
Socialism is what they called social security.
Socialism is what they called farm price supports.
Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance.
Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations.
Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.
When the Republican candidate inscribes the slogan “Down With Socialism” on the banner of his “great crusade,” that is really not what he means at all.
What he really means is, “Down with Progress—down with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal,” and “down with Harry Truman’s Fair Deal.” That is what he means.
While researching last week’s piece about Ginni Thomas, I came across a memo by a radicalized conspiracy theorist who briefly worked for Trump’s National Security Council before getting fired.For seven single-spaced pages, he goes on and on about “cultural Marxism.” That was a new term for me, but it’s of a piece with other insults far-right wingnuts have hurled at Democrats since FDR: Leftist, Communist, Socialist, Anarchist, and so on.
And I had an epiphany. The reason the Steve Bannons and Lauren Boeberts and Jim Jordans and Marjories Taylor-Greene use those terms in such an angry, pejorative manner is not just to use fear to gain votes. It’s because they want to equate what Truman called “anything that helps all the people” with pure evil. In short, Republicans want to demonize sharing. Too often, they do this while simultaneously invoking their Christian faith. Jesus said not a word about abortion, gay marriage, gun rights, or the Johnson Amendment, but he was outspoken on the duty of his followers to, you know, help each other.
Broadly speaking, Democrats are in favor of more federal government, Republicans less; the former wants Washington to help more, the latter less. This has been the case at least since Hoover, whose unwillingness to use the power of the presidency exacerbated the economic hardship that began on his watch. His successor, Franklin Roosevelt, dramatically expanded the scope of the federal government, ending the Great Depression, winning the Second World War, and putting the United States on the path to half a century of global economic dominance. This irritated the old guard conservatives—the codgers Truman was talking about in ‘52—who sought to destroy the New Deal and bring the United States back to the good ol’ days, before the government did intrusive things like insure bank deposits, regulate labor malpractice, and ensure food and drug safety. The hardliners who gathered at the Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden in 1939 wanted to scrap all of that pinko crap and Make America Great Again.
Happily, the Nazis lost, in Europe and here. Instead, Dwight Eisenhower, nominally a Republican but more of a RINO, presided over two terms of record financial growth. The middle class exploded. The top marginal tax rate was north of 90 percent—in other words, the very wealthy paid their fair share, and then some. The interstate highway system was built—anathema to the “small government” crew. The country was still racist and sexist and homophobic, but it was on the right path.
Then Ronald Reagan came along. In his inaugural address, he uttered the stupidest and most destructive words of any president during my lifetime: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Because he was folksy and a charismatic actor, Americans swallowed his horseshit. (Even George H.W. Bush called out trickle-down as “voodoo economics,” but voters found vassalage to billionaires preferable to malaise.) And the pendulum began to swing the other way. Regulations were cut, taxes were lowered dramatically, government oversight took a nap. Reagan’s disastrous domestic policies lay the groundwork for most of the problems with today’s United States. Income inequality, the obesity problem, biased media and press, the explosion of white collar crime, the climate crisis, extreme partisanship and lack of compromise, even the shoddy pandemic response: all of that began with Reagan. And Reagan began with his Big Lie about government-as-problem.
FDR’s policies are considered socialist—it’s Social Security Kevin McCarthy & Friends want to take away, not Fascist Security—while Reagan’s are more libertarian. The thing is, in a vacuum, Americans love quote-unquote socialist programs: Medicare, Social Security, Obamacare, and so on. That’s why the GOP tries to attach buzzwords to them that Republican pollsters know from their focus groups scare the bejesus out of benighted voters. In the post-Trump Republican Party, name-calling has replaced actual policy. As a recent New York Times study found,
in the current Congress, representatives who fought certifying the election used polarizing language on Twitter about 55 percent more often than other Republicans, and nearly triple the rate of Democrats. Objectors referred to their opponents as “socialist” in more than 1,800 tweets, more than twice as often as other Republicans. Democrats called the other side “fascist” about 80 times.
The difference is that calling, say, Josh Hawley a fascist is both accurate assessment of his politics and appropriate warning of the danger he represents, whereas painting lifelong centrist Joe Biden as a socialist is neither correct nor identifying a clear and present danger to the American experiment. If fascists take over the country, we will lose our democracy. If socialists take over the country, we will gain universal healthcare. Which are the real boogeymen?
As Truman pointed out 20 years before I was born, a lot of Americans grok that socialism isn’t inherently bad (unless you prefer a world where we toss old people on the street to die), so the GOP now trots out more extreme terms to tar Democrats with: Chinese-style Communist, radical Leftist, Maoist, or, as the late nutter Rich Higgins wrote in the aforementioned “POTUS & Political Warfare” memo, cultural Marxist.
This is all confusing. And so, because it’s almost Halloween, I thought it might be helpful to channel Ambrose Bierce and compile a glossary of MAGA scare words. When Republicans use these terms, this is what they really mean:
Antifa, n. A truncation of “antifascist,” an insurgent army of radicalized, centralized, and organized enemies of Trump, who turn to violence against FPOTUS and his supporters. Like unicorns and moderate Republicans, the variant described by MAGA does not actually exist.
Billionaire, n. Hoarder of vast wealth amassed by exploiting others.
BLM, adj. Anti-racist. Abbreviation of “Black Lives Matter.”
Cancel Culture, n. The process of publicly calling out hateful people for being openly hateful.
Canceled, n. Out of favor owing to bad behavior, usually involving extreme racism, misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism, sexual harassment or sexual assault, calls for violence, or vociferous support of the failed attempt to overthrow democracy. These exiles invariably wind up as guests on podcasts hosted by Joe Rogan, Ben Shapiro, or Steve Bannon.
Christian Nationalist, n. Nazi.
Communism, n. Cooperation.
Communist, adj. Cooperative.
Cultural Marxism, n. Diversity, especially pertaining to pop culture.
Cultural Marxist, adj. Inclusive, especially pertaining to representation in pop culture.
Defund the Police, v. Hold law enforcement accountable when its members summarily execute citizens, especially Black citizens, for no good reason.
Entitlements, n. Those popular New Deal programs, e.g. Social Security and Medicare, that Republicans have promised to eliminate.
Left, The, n. Centrists.
Leftist, adj. Antifascist.
Libertarianism, n. Selfishness.
Libertarian, n. Selfish asshole. One who believes the federal government should never provide services for its citizens.
MAGA, adj. Nazi.
Open border, n. An immigration policy in which refugees are given due process by the federal government without their children being taken away from them.
Republican, n. Fascist.
Satanic, adj. Fun.
Satanism, n. Fun.
Socialism, n. The sharing of resources in a manner that is fair and kind.
Socialist, n. One who believes the federal government should provide services for its citizens.
Socialist, adj. Shared.
Ultra-MAGA, n. Soulless ghoul. Worshipper of power.
Woke, adj. Considerate.
Woke mob, n. A group of compassionate people who are considerate of the feelings of others, sometimes to a fault.
Photo credit: From The Devil in Britain and America, 1896.
Thanks, Gal & Jim!
Damn, those devil words again. 😳
Common Sense ... Uncommon Sense.