March 27, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
No, Trump Is Not ‘Out-Flanking’ Democrats
Though loud, these leftists are wrong.
I consider myself a leftist. That may come as a surprise. I have written a lot here at the Editorial Board in support of a revival of small-r republican liberalism. I’ve also been quite critical of leftism in general and of Bernie Sanders in particular. Fact is, though, I’d love to see virtually all of the Vermont senator’s proposals become law. My beef with Sanders is more a matter of style and principle than of policy and programming.
My other beef is with a particular kind of leftist, the very loud ones who put all politics in huge boxes—good and bad. Little about politics, especially legislative outcomes, can be put into boxes clearly labeled and clearly understood. Good people vote for bad things for good reasons. Bad people vote good things for bad reasons. Not only do some leftists project their views loudly; they project silly visions of magical thinking.
Come on, the GOP is not becoming socialist.
When word came that the president would support legislation that would send every American a check for a thousand dollars and more, the Loud Leftists jumped at the chance to accuse the Democratic Party, which has spurned their candidate, of being “outflanked” by the Republican Party. Here was proof, they said, that the Democrats really are the party of the rich. The Republicans were moving in a socialist direction.
Or something like that. I suppose someone somewhere has probably articulated this view in full voice. I’m not inclined to search for it, though. It’s too ridiculous. The George W. Bush administration cut stimulus checks to blunt the impact of a Great Recession about to steamroll the country. Are Loud Leftists prepared to declare the man who lied to America to launch endless war a Sanders forerunner? I hope not.
What the Trump administration is set to do is obviously much larger in scale, but the objective is the same—the stabilize an economy reeling from a global crisis. But “government intervention” in the economy is not the same thing as socialism. (It’s also not, for the love of God, the same as Universal Basic Income. Checks from the latest round of stimulus funding will last a few months. UBI is about long-term stability.)
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Indeed, seeing them as equal is accepting as true propaganda conservatives have used since the Cold War. “Government intervention” was reserved for liberals who favored a social safety net. Any “government intervention,” to Cold War conservatives, was equal to totalitarianism. The question, as we face a plague none has ever faced, shouldn’t be whether to “intervene,” but whether it leads to republican outcomes.
The Loud Leftists were at it again after the Senate passed this week a stimulus package worth $2 trillion. They focused on the corporate giveaways (or “welfare”) that really do stink to high heaven. (My friend Pat Garofalo’s excellent newsletter has a breakdown.) Here was proof, once again, that the Democrats were rolling over for Trump, thus being complicit in turning the reins of government over to the rich.
Yet they ignore, or seem to ignore, what the Democrats got in return. More money for unemployment insurance. More money for health care. More money for hospitals. More money for cities and states. More in direct cash payments to individuals. In short, billions and billions of dollars for their priorities during a national crisis.
You could say, as the Loud Leftists say, that the Democrats are guilty of bailing out corporations who already don’t pay much, or any, federal income tax. But you could say that that’s what they were willing to accept to get what they wanted. The same, of course, could be said of the Republicans. To get “government handouts” for the rich, the Republicans were eager to eat “government handouts” for workaday Americans.
The truth of the matter is clear in the sheer size of the legislation. It started at $850 billion when the White House was negotiating with Senate Republican only. Trump had to get through Nancy Pelosi, however, and that’s when the price tag more than doubled. The president could have enforced a cap on spending, but he didn’t, and neither did anyone else. The mode of bargaining wasn’t either/or. It was and/also.
Again, none of this is socialist, per se, but we keep talking about it as if it were, because we keep thinking about 21st-century politics in 20th-century terms. We continue using old conservative rhetoric from the Cold War to describe our current reality. I don’t think we are moving in the direction of socialism as much as we are in the direction of corporatism, which, when you think about it, makes a kind of sense.
All things being equal, you can imagine a long-term future in which the monopolistic corporations have become so dependent on the federal government for shareholder-value maximization that they lose control of it, so much so that they grew weak and vulnerable to the whims and whimsies of fascist president much like the current one.
All things being equal, you can imagine a long-term future, as Mihail Manoilescu did in 1938’s The Century of Corporatism, in which the state is total, and capital’s influence has been squeezed out and its influence diminished, as the country moves down a path toward an inevitable historical endpoint in which “the Social left” rises in triumph.
All things being equal, you can imagine America becoming China.
This leftist is too American for that.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.