President Donald Trump in his State of the Union address previewed the messaging the GOP plans to trot out during the 2020 campaign.
As expected from a man whose only known bedtime reading is a book of Hitler’s speeches, Trump will conscript the white nationalists and the Christian Right in his vilification of immigrants who are invading the “homeland.”
“Organized caravans are on the march to the United States,” Trump told the nation, explaining that he had “ordered another 3,750 troops to our southern border to prepare for this tremendous onslaught” against “working-class … innocent Americans.”
Trump, like authoritarians and neofascists in Brazil, Israel, Hungary, Russia and the Philippines, hopes that by stoking nationalist anxieties and delusions, he can propel his political base into a state of permanent hysteria. Trump and Trumpist ideologues like Tucker Carlson on Fox News profess to speak for the working class and denounce “elites,” even as their policies serve the interests of the super-rich. Theirs is an old and evil tradition of xenophobia and nationalism, retooled for the age of social media.
In addition to fomenting hate of “illegal immigrants,” Trump used the State of the Union to proclaim, “We are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. … We renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.” Republican lawmakers jumped to their feet and shouted “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”
More than a few Democrats also stood and clapped. Yet, most congressional Democrats refused to stand. According to Fox News, “refusing to stand” is now a crime akin to “taking a knee.”
The next day, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News Radio: “[Democratic socialism is] creeping throughout the entire party. It will be a theme in 2020.” To wit, on February 21 a Fox News headline blared: “Critics Say Green New Deal Is Cover for Socialist Agenda.”
We’ve heard that before. The history of American red-baiting is as long as the history of American reds. In 1856, the New York Times inveighed against the “many socialist Paineites,” who, with “their affiliation to every species of radicalism in the land, boded evil to the future of our republic.”
We at In These Times are proud to count ourselves among the heirs of Tom Paine, a leading figure of the Radical Enlightenment and the author of “Common Sense,” a 1776 pamphlet that inspired the (as of yet unfinished) American Revolution. In Paine’s tradition, we challenge the status quo by amplifying the voices demanding structural change. We believe we have the power, as Paine put it, “to begin the world over again.” This confidence in our ability to build a just society animates the Movement for Black Lives, the Sunrise Movement, and an uncompromising generation of young congressional leaders and millennials who won’t take “slow” for an answer when it comes to transitioning to a green economy.
We’ll need that conviction to enact the urgent economic and environmental demands of the Green New Deal, spearheaded by democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.).
The GOP is wagering that the Green New Deal and the rebirth of democratic socialism can be crafted into a campaign message that will mitigate the electorate’s growing revulsion toward the GOP brand. We bet that a bold program that empowers working people, repudiates racism and protects what’s left of our fragile planet will win at the polls in 2020.
Here at In These Times we stand with the Paineites. We thank our readers for standing with us. Here’s to you, to democratic socialism, and to the Green New Deal.
Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.