Fear of a Socialist Planet: From Davos to D.C. to the Democratic Party, a New “Red Scare” Emerges

by on February 11, 2019 · 2 comments

in Under the Perfect Sun

Last week in the State of the Union, Trump unveiled one of the pillars of his re-election campaign in the midst of his speech:

“America will never be a socialist country.”

While this line of attack is clearly a predictable jab at the rising popularity of policy ideas promoted by Democratic Socialists Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez like free college, Medicare for all, and raising taxes on the rich, it also reveals a rising fear on the part of the global elite that a populist left might be far more dangerous to their interests than the current brand of extreme rightwing populism in the United States and elsewhere across the globe.

Indeed, as Cas Mudde recently reported from Davos in the Guardian, “the neoliberal elite” have quickly “normalized” and “increasingly embraced” not just Trump but his counterparts in the radical European right and in places like Brazil.

In fact, the results of what many critics have characterized as disturbing assaults on cherished democratic norms aren’t that unnerving to the lords of the global marketplace who have handsomely profited and gained even more power as a result of the rise of the hard right.  As Mudde puts it,

“In short, neoliberal elites from Davos to Seattle do not oppose the rightwing populist agenda. They are trying to shape the post-Trump world, in which big business can amass profits unopposed by largely privatized and underfunded states.”

What really scares the Davos set is not illiberal regimes bent on neo-Fascist policy, but populists of a different stripe. Angry rhetorical bluster about “elites” from the right might sting but the pain quickly recedes once the massive tax cuts and deregulatory medicine kicks in.  What could actually cause more permanent pain is a left populism that directly threatens their economic interests and political power.

Hence, Mudde notes, the defensive battle against the specter of left populism has already begun in earnest in the American political arena with the Koch brothers and others aiming to shape the Democratic field:

Neoliberal elites like the Koch brothers try to build up the “centrist” opposition, including the “pro-business” camp in the Democratic party, by seducing them with much-needed cash for the undoubtedly brutally competitive 2020 Democratic primaries. And they try to convince both elites and masses that “extremist” ideas like Ocasio-Cortez’s 70% marginal tax rate or Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for all will drive away “moderate” voters and, therefore, enable Trump to be re-elected.

The Koch brothers are not alone, as Damian Paletta and Jeff Stein reported last week in the Washington Post , there is a genuine wave of anxiety amidst “left leaning billionaires and Wall Street executives” who have been caught off guard and are “scrambling to beat back tax and regulatory proposals that could have profound implications for the economy.”

Ideas like Ocasio-Cortez’s 70% marginal tax rate and Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax have not just offended the sensibilities of Michael Bloomberg and Howard Schultz either.  As the Post reports,

“Technology executives and venture capitalists have also expressed increasing concern in the past few weeks about Democrats’ denigration of business leaders.”

Insert crying emoji here.

In addition to carping from the aforementioned self-appointed billionaire saviors of American capitalist democracy, there has been a wave of less pubic lobbying by the rich and corporate leaders to get candidates like Joe Biden to run with a more “bipartisan” message than the progressive populism that is increasingly nudging the early field of Democratic presidential candidates left to embrace Medicare for all, a Green New Deal, free college, and (gasp) robust taxes on the rich to level the playing field for working Americans.

Hence, the Post reports,

“This has forced a number of the party’s wealthiest supporters to try to intervene, fearful that if they wait much longer, it could be too late.”

What to make of all this?

Progressives who want to see significant policies to address economic inequality, universal healthcare, and the climate crisis should be buoyed by the trembling in elite circles.  It’s a sign that the left is finally winning the war of ideas by embracing bold policies that seek to return the Democratic party to its proud New Deal era legacy and away from the failed neoliberalism of more recent history. As Paul Krugman pointed out last week, despite Trump and company’s hysterical fear mongering, most of what is being decried as a slippery slope to totalitarianism is simply the kind of policy that exists and works in social democracies in other, quite free and less unequal countries like Denmark and Sweden .

So progressives should be happy that they have changed the national political narrative; but they should also be clear-eyed in their choices and make sure that they follow the money, connect the dots, and don’t end up settling for a candidate that talks left and walks corporate.

2020 will be the election of our lifetimes, and we needn’t just beat Trump.  We have to have the vision and resources to clean up the wreckage he’s leaving behind.  That won’t come to us funded by the Koch brothers. And it won’t come from Bloomberg or any other Wall Street-sponsored false friend.

Now is not the time for half-measures.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anna Daniels February 11, 2019 at 11:12 am

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”


Frank Gormlie February 11, 2019 at 1:44 pm

Bernie Sanders made “socialism” a house-hold word again.


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