November 9, 2019

There was not a lot of news today in the Ukraine scandal. We saw more evidence that the current Republican strategy to extricate the president from involvement in it is to argue that his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney were freelancing in their efforts to pressure Ukraine into announcing an investigation into Burisma, the company for which Hunter Biden worked (hence Trump's comment that he hardly knew Sondland). This will be a hard sell, since Trump talked to Sondland on the phone at a crucial juncture in the scandal and invited Mulvaney to be his Chief of Staff. Also, there is the problem that Trump's own readout of the July 25 phone call between him and Ukraine President Zelensky reveals Trump telling Zelensky to get in touch with Giuliani to work out the details of the investigation.

We also learned that Devin Nunes (R-CA), who serves on the House Intelligence Committee (but will soon be upstaged by Ohio's Jim Jordan, who has just been transferred to the committee for the duration of the impeachment hearings), has asked committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) to subpoena Hunter Biden and the whistleblower to testify before the committee. Schiff points out that such a request would simply accomplish what Trump was trying to achieve by pressuring Ukraine leaders to say they were opening an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma in the first place: it would convince Americans that Biden was corrupt (there is no evidence that Hunter Biden or his father have committed any crimes). Subpoenaing the whistleblower would expose him or her to danger, and the whistleblower report has already been corroborated by multiple witnesses.

We also learned that the drama over whether or not former National Security Adviser John Bolton would testify before the House Intelligence Committee was apparently an attempt to drive interest in a book he is writing for publication before the 2020 election. On the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and as Veterans' Day approaches, it seems worth mentioning that there are many people, both now and in the past, who have not seen democracy as a way to cash in.

So that's about it for tonight, folks. If you want to call it a night, go for it.

But for those who still want to stick around, a quiet night seems like a good opportunity to continue my posts about liberalism and conservatism with the one I promised about socialism.

First of all, it is important to understand that when Republicans warn of socialism today, they are not talking about real socialism, but rather about a peculiarly American adaptation of the term. True socialism is an economic system in which the means of production, that is, the factories and industries, are owned by the people. In practical terms, that means they are owned by the government. And this is where socialism bleeds into communism, which is the political system designed to put socialism into practice.

True socialism has never been popular in America. The best it has ever done in a national election was in 1912, when labor organizer Eugene V. Debs, running for president as a socialist, won a whopping 6% of the vote, coming in behind Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft. So true socialism isn't a real threat in America.

What politicians mean by "socialism" in America is a product of the years immediately after the Civil War, when African American men first got the right to vote. Eager to join the capitalist system from which they had previously been excluded, these men voted for leaders who promised to rebuild the South, provide schools and hospitals (as well as prosthetics for veterans), and develop the economy with railroads to provide an equal opportunity for all men to work hard and rise. Former Confederates loathed the idea of black men voting almost as much as they hated the idea of equal rights. They insisted that such programs were simply a redistribution of wealth from hardworking white people to blacks who wanted a handout, since they would cost tax dollars and white people were the only ones with property in the Reconstruction South. Poor black voters were instituting, one popular magazine wrote, "Socialism in South Carolina," and should be kept from the polls.

This idea that it was dangerous for working men to participate in government caught on in the North as immigrants moved into growing cities to work in the burgeoning factories. Like their counterparts in the South, they voted for roads and schools, and men of wealth insisted these programs meant a redistribution of wealth through tax dollars. They got more concerned still when a majority of Americans began to call for regulation to keep businessmen from gouging consumers, polluting the environment, and poisoning the food supply (the reason you needed to worry about strangers and candy in this era was that candy was often painted with lead paint). Any attempt to regulate business would impinge on a man's liberty, wealthy men argued, and would cost tax dollars and thus was a redistribution of wealth. Long before the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia brought the fears of a workers' government to life, Americans were convinced that their economy was under siege by socialists. That conviction did indeed lead to a redistribution of wealth, but as regular Americans were kept from voting, it went dramatically upward, not down.

The powerful formula linking racism to the idea of an active government and arguing that a government that promotes infrastructure, provides a basic social safety net, and regulates business is socialism has shaped American history since Reconstruction. In the modern era, the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision of 1954 once again enabled wealthy men to convince voters that their tax dollars were being taken from them to promote the interests of black Americans. They argued that taxes and government both must be slashed to protect hardworking white men, and since 1981 have worked toward this end. We are now in the final stages of that argument as Republican leaders are dismantling the active government we have lived under since the New Deal. As in the past, during this process wealth has moved upward.

When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says that the Republicans are "the firewall that saves the country from socialism" and the GOP messaging for 2020 warns that Democrats are dangerous socialists, they are tapping into this rhetorical tradition. What they are calling socialism is nothing of the sort; it is actually regulated capitalism.