"Socialism," snarled Donald Trump at a recent pep rally of far-right Republicans. And the obedient crowd of faithful Trumpistas snarled back in unison: "So-shull-izz-ummm!"
And there you have the entire intellectual content of the GOP's 2020 re-election strategy under Generalissimo Trump — slap Democrats silly with a scurrilous campaign branding them as Lenin-Trotsky-Stalin reincarnate. It's not just Trump hissing out the socialist label in a frantic McCarthyesque attempt to make it stick by mindless repetition, but also Mike Pence, cabinet officials, Republican lawmakers, right-wing pundits and, of course, the extremist choreographers of Fox News.
Their incessant babbling has already turned clownish, with many babblers bumbling over their own ignorance and making ridiculous attempts to overplay their weak hands. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, for example, compared Democrats who support ideas such as "Medicare for All" to Mussolini. Apparently, Cornyn is unaware that the brutish Italian dictator was no socialist, but a fascist! Mussolini's ideology of ultranationalism, promotion of masculine authoritarianism, domination of society by big business and the wealthy and suppression of democratic rights is the opposite of the Democratic agenda. Indeed, it describes the policies of — guess who — Trump and his acolytes, including Cornyn!
The real problem for the GOP, however, is not merely that squawking like Chicken Little about diabolical socialism makes them sound like old fuddy-duddies, but that the so-called socialism they're attacking is enormously popular with the workaday majority of Americans. Government-backed health care for all? Sure. Why should CEOs and Congress critters be the only ones to get this? Affordable higher education and housing initiatives? Of course, for that helps all of America. A wealth tax on corporate giants and the superrich? Long overdue that they stop dodging the cost of the common good. Restore the rights of labor and restrain the rise of monopolies? Yes!
Far from socialism, this is democratic populism, reversing decades of government policies that take from the many to give to the wealthy few. It's an honest, popular rebellion against the corporate plutocracy that seeks to usurp America's democracy, promoted by Trump and Cornyn. Which side are you on?
And which side are some of our Democratic leaders on? Unfortunately, an exotic flu epidemic has broken out in Washington, D.C. Dubbed the "Canadian hot sauce flu," it afflicts a particular group of Democratic officeholders and operatives.
Its name stems from the fact that CHS flu renders its victims weaker than Canadian hot sauce, leaving them unable to stand boldly for the workaday majority they're supposed to represent. Instead, the afflicted — mostly old-line party leaders — are reduced to meek incrementalism, don't-rock-the-boat corporatism and conservative appeasement when advancing policy ideas. They fear that anything stronger than a policy stew of watered-down leftovers will spook centrist and conservative voters.
This breakout of CHS flu is a reaction to the recent surge of younger, aggressively progressive voters and officeholders taking charge of the Democratic Party. Instead of vague lobbyist-approved ideas that only perpetuate America's widening chasm of inequality, the upstarts are openly pushing real populist change, including a Green New Deal, taxing the obscene wealth of corporate profiteers, publicly financing our elections, breaking up monopolies, restoring labor rights, providing free higher education and tech training and "Medicare for All." Far from alienating the electorate, these proposals are generating majority support and excitement precisely because they are bold and clearly would benefit ... well, the majority. Yet the protectors of the old money-soaked politics-as-usual system are wailing that the party must move to the center rather than to the left. But wait! Their mythological center is way over to the right, hunkered down with corporate interests and blocking working-class progress.
The future of the party doesn't require moving left, center or right. Those are ideological positions. Instead, the Dems should move out to the grassroots reality of ordinary Americans. People are envisioning, electing and beginning to enact a true progressive agenda to advance our nation's democratic ideals of economic fairness, social justice and equal opportunity for all. That is a politics of integrity — a politics that is worthy of our involvement.
Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes "The Hightower Lowdown," a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America's ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.