We are accustomed to placing political and economic ideologies along a spectrum that runs from extreme left to extreme right. At one pole, we find communists; socialists are to their right; fascists inhabit the other end. Most people also hold on to the Cold War-era belief that capitalism and democracy are partners, while communism and authoritarianism go hand in hand.
There are other ways, however, of examining the relation among political ideologies and economic systems, which make clear that rather than extreme opposites along a spectrum, communism and fascism closely connect like the two ends of a horseshoe. Likewise, the relation between democracy and capitalism has been historically tenuous, and in the past two decades, they have been an increasingly uncommon pairing.
Some definitions are in order. Let's start with socialism. President Donald Trump and his partisans for several years have hurled the S-word at the Bernie Sanders/Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing of the Democratic Party; Joe Biden did the same during the primaries.
Fair enough. The septuagenarian senator and the 30-year-old freshman congresswoman proudly self-describe as socialists. That they add the adjective "democratic" before the socialist label is significant.
Both accept the socialist label because they define it the Scandinavian way, advocating capitalist, free market economies where the state has a robust role providing social services, reducing inequality and limiting capitalist excesses through progressive taxation and regulations that protect workers, consumers and the environment.
When Trump spoke at the U.N. on Sept. 24, 2019, he declared that socialism is "one of the most serious challenges" the world faces, Reaganesque words but in bad prose, insincerely stated and decades past their expiration date. When Trump speaks about socialism, however, he is not thinking about comfortably middle-class Norwegians munching smoked salmon and sipping aquavit but rather impoverished Cubans and Venezuelans chafing under dictatorial rule.
Will the true communists take a step forward? No one moves, because they are all but extinct, a few surviving in preserves (i.e. universities). The left, left!
What about China, Cuba, and Vietnam? Are they not communist? They are communist only because they are ruled by repressive communist parties, but their economies are capitalistic, especially in China, home to over 800 billionaires. Cuba, the Caribbean's little China, officially has no billionaires, but its state capitalist economy is run by a privileged, high-ranking military caste — the worst of both worlds, if you want my opinion.
With Bernie Sanders' primary defeat, Trump and Co. redirected the S-word against centrist Biden and the Democratic Party. At his Sept. 27 characteristically rambling press conference, for example, Trump raised the specter of socialism. The Democratic Party "has been taken over by socialists, extremists and probably communists," he said.
Two days later, Trump and Biden had their first presidential debate. Had it been a pay-per-view boxing match, I would have changed channels and demanded a refund. To find an event that had been so overhyped and turned out so disastrously, one must go back to 1986 —Ronald Reagan was president — when 30 million viewers watched Geraldo Rivera's live TV special "The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults" (I fell for that, too). After two suspenseful but uneventful hours, Rivera opened Capone's safe to the sight of a few empty bottles and debris. The presidential debate turned out to be debris as well.
Seven minutes and 25 seconds into the fight's first round, a cornered Trump struck a socialism jab at Biden. "Your party wants to go socialist. ... And they're gonna dominate you, Joe," he said. Proving that his reflexes are still sharp, Biden punched back with a response that momentarily transported me to Louis XIV's France: "I am the Democratic Party ..."
Biden has continued to counterpunch, most notably in his recent NBC News Town Hall in Miami, where he delivered a formidable one-two. "Do I look like a socialist?" he said. "Look, I'm the guy that ran against a socialist." Just on Thursday, Trump derided Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris as a "communist." "She's not a socialist. She's well beyond a socialist," he said. He also called her a "monster."
Will America ever go communist, or even socialist? Not likely, because those formulas place the collective above the individual, a value that runs counter to America's entrenched individualism.
And as to right-wing ideologies being at the opposing pole of communism, think twice. As my fellow Cubans living in the U.S. should acknowledge, Soviet-style socialism infected the island precisely because the right-wing dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista opened the way for continued tyranny, this time around under the guise of Marxist liberation.
A vote for Trump is not a vote against communism.
Readers can reach Luis Martinez-Fernandez at [email protected] To find out more about Luis Martinez-Fernandez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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