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The All-Purpose Mashup Smear: Socialist, Communist,… [Part 1]

July 21, 2019
mccarthy and cohn

“Mr. Trump then asked, ‘Where’s my Roy Cohn?'” (New York Times, 1/4/2018

It’s pure socialism, worse than socialism. There’s a word called communism too. This is beyond socialism.” Trump, at Social Media Summit, 7/11/2019

We all know that [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and this crowd are a bunch of communists, they hate Israel, they hate our own country, they’re calling the guards along our border—the Border Patrol agents—concentration camp guards. They accuse people who support Israel as doing it for the benjamins, they are anti-Semitic, they are anti-America.Lindsey Graham on Fox and Friends, 7/15/2019

Perhaps I’m not the only one caught by surprise when Donald Trump and Lindsey Graham recently began flinging the epithet “communist” at The Squad (Democratic Congresswomen Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib) and Democrats in general. Apparently, calling them “socialist” isn’t scary enough anymore. Where did this red-baiting revival come from and why the escalation?

There were actually two linked odious rhetorical tropes that slithered out of the Republican attacks on the four congresswomen, in addition to the straight-up racism. One was the aforementioned indiscriminate and quasi-interchangeble use of “socialist” and “communist” as political scare labels. The other was the assertion that unconditional support for Israel is necessary to be a patriotic American. Let’s look at each of these separately.

I’m old enough to remember the heyday of the John Birch Society and even to have hazy childhood memories of seeing the McCarthy hearings on the TV news. Being labeled as a communist sympathizer (or “comsymp”) during the height of the Cold War was a political and professional kiss of death. Being labeled “socialist” was almost as bad in America, though not in Western Europe where democratic socialism became the default political system. Our NATO alliance with those European social democratic countries–the UK, France, West Germany, Italy, etc.–became the bulwark that contained and eventually brought down Soviet communism.

But in America, people in public life would go to almost any length to avoid the “socialist” label, and God help you if you got branded as “communist.” Most Americans then and now couldn’t  explain the difference between the two if their lives depended on it, so the two terms became effectively conflated. The implication was that if you were a socialist, then you were “un-American”, and if you were a communist, then you were a traitor. Even social safety net programs which most Americans now cherish and depend on, such as Social Security and Medicare, were bitterly fought by conservatives as “socialist” or “communist” threats to American freedom. And the stigma attached to the words has never quite gone away.

It’s also worth reiterating that African-American civil rights leaders were routinely accused of being “communists” by white segregationists from Strom Thurman to George Wallace to J. Edgar Hoover. That’s basically what’s going on here.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, capitalism seemed triumphant. The two great communist powers, Russia and China, each developed its own system of authoritarian capitalism. It was “The End of History” as Reaganite author Francis Fukuyama famously proclaimed. Communism was essentially dead, barely surviving in isolated backwaters like Cuba and North Korea, and no longer considered a threat. The very word “communist” lost its political potency because it seemed like an archaic joke. 

Or so we thought, which is why it was so shocking to hear Trump use the “communist” smear against the Democrats at his “Social Media Summit” last week. Then Lindsey Graham doubled down with it on “Fox and Friends” while defending Trump for his racist attack on The Squad (this, after looking straight into the camera and proclaiming that Trump was the best golfer ever–twice). Trump then re-tweeted Graham’s attack, adding “They are Anti-Semitic. They are Anti-America…They talk about Israel like they’re a bunch of thugs, not victims of the entire region…” Later that day, Trump upped the ante yet again, ranting on Twitter “We will never be a Socialist or Communist Country. IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY HERE, YOU CAN LEAVE!…Certain people HATE our Country. They are anti-Israel, pro Al-Qaeda…” Then later Trump told reporters, “[Graham] said they’re communists. I’m saying they’re socialists, definitely. As to whether or not they’re communists, I think they might be…”  You get the drift.

So where was the “communist” meme lurking for the last 3 decades while it seemingly had disappeared from US political discourse? Well, it turns out that the red-bating culture had been carefully preserved and propagated in the bubbling petri dishes of alt-right websites, a number of which were represented at the White House Social Media Summit last week. So that was a perfect venue for reintroducing the virus into a receptive population.

Just google something like “democrats called communist meme”, and you will be led to a surprising number of metaphorical rocks which you can flip over, if you dare, to see what’s wriggling underneath. Pick any at random. Here’s one from The Epoch Times from September 2018 headlined “How 57,000 Socialists and Communists are Planning to Take Over the Democratic Party.” The author, a New Zealander named Trevor Loudon, wrote a book which he self-published in 2013 titled The Enemies Within: Communists, Socialists, and Progressives in the US Congress. His book was reviewed in under the headline “Communists in Congress? Just Count ‘Em” by Jerome Corsi, of Swift Boat fame, who you may also recall figured fairly prominently in the Mueller Report. The book was made into a documentary movie of the same title in 2016, directed by Judd Saul who is described as a longtime Christian conservative activist from Iowa. You can read a review here, and it’s available on Amazon.

Then there’s this from June 2018 on Real Clear Politics in which Washington Times reporter Charles Hurt tells Tucker Carlson from Fox News about the new crop of Democratic congressional candidates like AOC: “These people are communists.”

So it never really went away; it just went into remission. What exactly prompted this outbreak is anyone’s guess. But it’s no accident that these scurrilous labels are being revived by the most racist president in a century.


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