Who’s Really Afraid of Socialism?

Donald Trump says the U.S. “will never be a socialist country,” yet polls suggest the popularity of socialism is on the rise.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, AP, Getty Images

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During his State of the Union address, President Trump expressed “alarm” at what he termed “new calls to adopt socialism in our country.” “Tonight,” he proclaimed, “we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.” The line received a standing ovation from Republicans and Democrats alike, yet recent polls show that socialism is growing in popularity in the U.S., with a net positive rating among Democrats. Newly-elected Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib are both members of the Democratic Socialists of America, and policy proposals identified with the socialist movement, such as debt-free college and universal health care, are gaining traction on the left. To discuss America’s long-held resistance to socialism and its current rise in popularity, Mehdi Hasan is joined by Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Bruenig.

Donald J. Trump: Tonight we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.

[Crowd cheers.]

[Music interlude.]

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan. President Trump gave one of the longest State of the Union speeches ever on Tuesday night, and it was filled with the usual racist lies about immigrants, the usual belligerence and warmongering in relation to Iran, and the usual BS about making America great again. But he also took time out to slam the S-word. Yes, socialism.

Elizabeth Bruenig: It’s always a shock when you hear that kind of resurgence of Cold War rhetoric in a contemporary administration.

MH: That’s my guest today, Elizabeth Bruenig of the Washington Post, author of the op-eds “It’s time to give socialism a try” and “It’s time to reclaim ‘socialism’ from the dirty-word category”. Well, we’re going to try and do both on the show today. This week on Deconstructed, who’s really afraid of socialism?

DJT: Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country.

[Crows boos.]

DJT: America was founded on liberty and independence, and not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free, and we will stay free.

[Crowd cheers.]

DJT:Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.

[Crowd cheers.]

MH: Donald Trump speaking on Tuesday night at his belated State of the Union address in Congress. His mention of the word socialism got boos from the Republican side. His pledge to never allow America to become a socialist country got applause and a standing ovation from a fair few people on the Democratic side too, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Because the U.S., of course, is the only advanced, industrialized nation whose political system has never had a large, mainstream, socialist or even social-democratic political party such as the Labour Party in the UK or the French Socialist Party. The German sociologist Werner Sombart famously asked, back in the 1880s: “Why is there no socialism in the United States?”

These days, though, after a half century of being demonized by Cold Warriors and tainted in the eyes of ordinary Americans by its association with the Soviets and the Cubans, socialism seems to be on the ascendant here in the U.S. The S-word is all over the media, and it’s fair to say that people, on the right, in the center, and on the center left of American politics, are spooked by the rise of socialism.

Hadley Heath Manning: There’s an alarming trend. Fifty-three percent of young American adults say they have a favorable attitude towards socialism. That’s troubling.

Jeanine Pirro: The rise of socialism has never been more clear.

John Stossel: Young people actually prefer socialism.

[Crowd boos.]

MH: In 2016, independent senator and proud socialist Bernie Sanders took America by storm in the Democratic primaries. He won 13 million votes. Yeah, a socialist in the U.S. And he didn’t hide his socialism either.

Anderson Cooper: How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States?

Bernie Sanders: We’re going to win because first we’re going to explain what democratic socialism is. And what democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one tenth of one percent in this country own almost as much wealth as the bottom ninety percent.

MH: Since 2016, Bernie’s only become more popular, as has his socialist agenda. Single-payer universal healthcare, for example, which Senator Kamala Harris was defending on a CNN town hall just the other week, debt-free college, a higher minimum wage, better regulation of the banks, higher taxes on the rich.

In 2018, we saw Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, both proud members of the Democratic Socialists of America, the DSA, the country’s largest grassroots socialist organization, get elected to Congress. AOC is now one of the best-known and most popular figures on the left and really knows how to sell socialism, without the economic jargon, without the arguments over ‘is it public ownership’ or is it just ‘higher taxes’, in a way that’s easily understandable and easily supportable.

Stephen Colbert: You describe yourself as a democratic socialist and that’s not an easy term for a lot of Americans. What is the meaning of that for you? What does socialism mean for you?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: For me, democratic socialism is about — really, the value for me is that I believe that in a modern, moral, and wealthy society, no person in America should be too poor to live.

[Crowd cheers.]

MH: By the way, I’m not pretending that socialism isn’t a contested term, that there aren’t arguments even within the left, about what it means or how to define it. But I think it’s fair to say that one of the core principles of socialism is equality. It’s about trying to achieve a more equal society in terms of power, wealth and income. That’s why I’d define myself as a socialist — because I’m outraged by inequality, and I happened to grow up in a country, Britain, where socialism gave us much-needed universal healthcare — and that’s why a lot of Americans, who live in one of the most unequal societies in the West, where the one percent keep gobbling up more and more wealth, especially since the financial crash, are turning towards socialism or at least socialist policies.

Look at public opinion which is shifting fast on this whole issue, especially among young people. A majority of U.S. millennials prefer socialism to capitalism. For the first time in decades, according to Gallup, Democratic voters have a more positive image of socialism than they do of capitalism. Axios reported this week that new polling out of Iowa — Iowa! — showing that socialism has a net positive rating with Democrats on the ground there, while capitalism has a net negative rating — has made Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Terry McAulliffe, all so-called centrists, have second thoughts about running for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Hurray!

So, it’s no wonder that there’s a backlash from the political establishment. Not just from know-nothings like Trump who, let’s be honest, couldn’t define socialism if his life depended on it, but also from plenty of prominent Democrats too, who have led the charge against socialism and in defense of good ol’ capitalism. For example, Nancy Pelosi.

Audience member: I wonder if there’s anywhere you feel that the Democrats could move farther left to a more populist message.

Nancy Pelosi: Well, I thank you for your question but I have to say, we’re capitalists. That’s just the way it is.

MH: And Senator Elizabeth Warren, perhaps the candidate closest to Bernie Sanders in terms of leftie ideology, but not a socialist herself.

John Harwood: You don’t think capitalists are bad people?

Elizabeth Warren: I’m a capitalist, come on. I believe in markets.

MH: Then there’s former Republican mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, who now is thinking of running for president as a Democrat, speaking just last week and sounding a lot like Trump.

Michael Bloomberg: And we shouldn’t be embarrassed about our system. If you want to look at a system that’s non-capitalistic, just take a look at what was perhaps the wealthiest country in the world and today people are starving to death. It’s called Venezuela.

MH: Let’s just deal briefly with this Venezuela smear because that’s what it is, a lazy, dishonest, dumb smear. Venezuela is in the midst of a massive political, economic, social, humanitarian crisis. The economy is tanking, undeniably so, but to chalk that all up to the country’s association with socialism is absurd because number one, under the late President Hugo Chavez, for all his sins, there were huge advances made in Venezuela, including big drops in unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and infant mortality, and that was due to the same socialism that’s now being decried and demonized. Number two, there are multiple reasons for the current crisis, from President Nicolas Maduro’s mismanagement and corruption and authoritarianism, to the fall in the price of oil and Venezuela’s general over-reliance on oil, to U.S. sanctions which have also been pretty crippling.

To blame it all on unnamed socialist policies as Trump did on Tuesday night is just silly and dishonest. And number three, if socialism is inherently flawed as an economic doctrine, and Venezuela is supposedly proof of that, if it automatically leads to economic mismanagement and ruin, then how do you explain the economic success stories that are the Nordic countries — the likes of Sweden, Denmark and Norway, which have all, in some way or another, implemented socialist economic policies, engaged in state ownership of assets, had high rates of tax, universal healthcare, childcare and the rest, and yet have had massive economic growth and are constantly voted the happiest places in the world with the best standards of living.

Conveniently, Trump and Bloomberg and Fox News and co. prefer not to talk about the Nordic countries, or the famous post-war socialist Labour government in my own country, the UK, which gave us social security, and the National Health Service — free universal healthcare from cradle to grave — and an end to the British empire. No, they prefer to go on and on about Venezuela or hark back to the Soviet Union. What’s so ironic though is that in the same State of the Union speech in which Trump slammed Venezuelan socialism, he also had lots of praise for the leaders of actual communist party dictatorships.

DJT: My relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one. I have great respect for President Xi and we are now working on a new trade deal with China.

MH: Surprise! Trump doesn’t actually care about democracy or authorianism. He’s just bashing socialism because, as my colleague Jeremy Scahill pointed out on Intercepted earlier this week, he wants to bring back the Cold War mindset of red-baiting and McCarthyism in order to try and intimidate and silence his growing army of critics on the U.S. left. By the way, I mentioned Fox News — the nutcase right-wingers at Fox are really losing their minds over socialism right now.

Stuart Varney: I’ve lived it and I’m here to tell you socialism is just plain awful.

MH: And whatever your own views of socialism are surely that’s something to celebrate and to savour. Earlier this week, for example, the Fox News website published an op-ed headlined, I kid you not: “How to get your child to just say no to socialism.” It’s like drugs — just say no! The Fox News channel also hosted a discussion on air this week in which they basically — the presenters and their guest — shit themselves over their own polls showing huge support across the board for higher taxes on the rich. Oh, and they also came up with their own unique explanation for it.

Sandra Smith: Recent polling is showing that the American public is increasingly on board with raising taxes on the rich. We pulled up this latest Fox News poll on the issue, whether Americans support raising taxes on the wealthy, on incomes over 10 million bucks, those that are in favor of that? 70 percent? Charles.

Charles Payne: The idea of fairness has been promoted in our schools for a long time and we’re starting to see kids who grew up in this notion that fairness above all and now they’re becoming voting age and they’re bringing this ideology with them.

MH: Yes, kids being taught about fairness, fairness, is the real threat to America. That’s the evil ideology behind socialism and support for socialist policies. Well, I’ll be honest with you: if that’s all it takes to win over Americans to socialism, then I suspect the capitalists in this country are screwed.

[Music interlude.]

MH: My guest today is one of the most provocative and interesting writers on the left right now, and, happily, she has a perch at the Washington Post, where she’s an opinion columnist. She’s the author of op-eds with headlines such as “It’s time to give socialism a try” and “It’s time to reclaim ‘socialism’ from the dirty-word category”. And she joins me now. Elizabeth Bruenig, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

Were you surprised to hear President Trump go out of his way in his State of the Union speech to slam socialism, to say how alarmed he was by “new calls to adopt socialism in our country?”

EB: I didn’t find it surprising. I mean, I guess it’s always a shock when you hear that kind of resurgence of Cold War rhetoric in a contemporary administration, but you know, some of Trump’s more vocal challengers have been self-identified socialist recently. So Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez comes to mind as making big waves and getting a lot of media attention for her criticisms of Trump’s administration. So, on some level, it didn’t surprise me that he had picked up on where that criticism was coming from.

MH: Although, interestingly, he never talks about her by name which is a whole separate discussion. How do you think Trump defines socialism, if I can even dare ask such a question about him understanding such concept? I mean, he talked about “government coercion, domination, and control.” What does he think socialism is?

EB: Yes, I think this is part and parcel of a pretty regular right-wing definition of socialism that essentially defines socialism as the sort of worst criminal excesses of the USSR, authoritarian, anti-human rights, extremely dangerous, and lethal and fails to identify socialism anywhere outside of essentially the USSR in the mid-to-late 20th century.

MH: And how do you define socialism than, specifically democratic socialism, which I think, is what you and others on the U.S. left are advocating?

EB: Yes. So, yeah, exactly right. So, democratic socialism explicitly rejects authoritarian forms of socialism and says that democracy and a democratic apparatus is essential to the kind of government we want to see. And then I think from there the sort of organizing principle of democratic socialism is to move as much of the economy as possible under democratic control. So, to return control of the economy to the people at large instead of a small number of super rich people.

MH: And of course, this is one of the problems because it is such a contested term, as you yourself wrote in the Post last year, that different people bring different meanings. And we can ignore the kind of bad faith interpretations from Trump and the right where it you know, socialism is basically as you said the USSR or even Venezuela, which we’ll come to but even within the left there’s an argument about socialism. I’m from the UK where many in the Labour party whether they’re on the right and supported Tony Blair, whether they’re on the left and supported Jeremy Corbyn, they still identify as socialists because they interpret it in different ways. Some of them interpret it as public ownership of the means of production, the utility companies, etcetera. Others interpret it as a doctrine of fairness, of equality and that’s a problem, isn’t it? That there’s no single definition even within the left.

EB: Yeah, I mean that’s absolutely a fact that the left has this sort of very contentious debates, probably more outside of the United States where socialism is more of a live political possibility. But even inside the American left, you see pretty vociferous debates over what the nature of socialism actually is.

MH: Just in the terms of the rise of this term, hearing the s-word used more and more. How sustainable, how durable do you think this rise of socialism is? Or is it more of a flash in the pan?

EB: Well, I mean, I think that you’re seeing somewhat of a correction to sort of the Cold War era efforts to totally tamp down the American left. And the American security apparatus, the FBI, has been very, very good at keeping the American left under control. And so, I think that as that Cold War era has ended and the attentions of the American security apparatus have kind of shifted to other things, you’ve seen a sort of resurgence of left energy that I think is may be frightening to Americans because it’s reminiscent of that Cold War period but it’s not atypical of other countries of comparable development.

MH: It’s really interesting what you say about the security apparatus, which is often overlooked — the role that the FBI and others actively played in suppressing socialist movements and people like Martin Luther King who identified towards the end of his life as a democratic socialist. People forget that. Historically speaking, even pre-Cold War, there wasn’t much of a socialist movement, popular socialist movement in the U.S. The U.S. is the only advanced industrialized nation whose political system has never had a large mainstream socialist or even social democratic political party like the Labour Party in the UK or the French Socialist Party. The German sociologist Werner Sombart famously asked back in the 1880s “Why is there no socialism in the United States?” What’s your answer to that question taking a longer view of U.S. history?

EB: Well, America has a very, very intense liberal tradition. It has no pre-liberal history. In Europe, all of these countries have political histories that stretch back before the rise of liberalism and the rise of capitalism and in a lot of their socialist rhetoric, especially from the 19th century, you see references to these sort of prior ways of life and ways of thinking about politics and even prior value for the common good and so forth. But in the United States, we’ve always kind of lived in an environment politically that’s hyper individual, that’s expressly premised on a sort of atomized freedom and an atomized fairness and these ideas are pretty inimical to socialism. And you factor in that in the world wars, we sort of looked askance at socialism in the east.

Newsreel Anchor: In the background, was the growing struggle between two great powers to shape the post-war world.

EB: And considered ourselves in America sort of the standard bearers of the western tradition that at the time was in peril.

Newsreel Anchor: On orders from the Kremlin, Russia had launched one of history’s most drastic political, moral, and economic wars: a cold war.

EB: And you see a pretty profound ideological commitment to capitalism emerge.

Narrator: American labor, management, and capital have made the United States the industrial master of the world.

EB: And that’s why I think you end up seeing the direction of sort of great American security apparatuses towards subduing the American left.

MH: And of course one of the reasons why people were so surprised by the rise of Bernie Sanders in 2015, 2016 and how well he did and since then, he’s continued to kind of dominate political debate — one of the most popular politicians the country. One of the reasons that’s so surprising is because he’s always proudly, unashamedly identified as a socialist not just as a social Democrat in a country where socialism has historically been unpopular for the reasons you just laid out. Right now, polls are showing that socialism is more popular with Democrats than capitalism is. Although when you dig deep into those polls, it’s more to do with the fact that capitalism has dropped in popularity, especially since the financial crisis not because socialism has suddenly grown in popularity. Is that fair?

EB: Yeah, I mean, I think there are a lot of people who are still very spooked by the word socialism and by the idea of socialism and they do have those sort of authoritarian nightmares or believe that socialism — even sort of milder Democratic forms of socialism like you see all over the place in Europe — they still sort of harbor a suspicion that those will inevitably lead to gulags. And so there is a lot of skepticism but you know capitalism in the past couple of decades in the United States hasn’t really stood up for itself very well. As you point out, the financial crisis put a lot of very sharp focus on how capital was sort of mismanaging economic resources that affect everybody.

MH: Yeah and yet still, we’ve got to be honest here as two lefties having a conversation, take a big picture look. Americans as a whole still much prefer capitalism to socialism. I think it’s 56 percent to 37 percent according to a Gallup poll last year. If you were asked to design a marketing campaign to untaint or rebrand socialism, what would you do to try and push those numbers up to 37 percent up?

EB: Yeah, I mean, I think I would I would emphasize the fact that socialism is a type of politics that’s focused on democratic control. So, you know for democratic socialism, you look at the economy, you look at all the money in the economy and the way the resources function in the economy and they’re controlled by a really small number of people who are not accountable to anyone. However, the economy itself to function relies on our state, right? It relies on our government. Stuff that we all pay for, we all contribute to, and we all supposedly in a democracy have a say in. So, what I would point out is that socialism just means taking some of those functions of the economy and making them accountable to you, the people. Given what happened with the sort of financial crisis in 2008, I don’t think that would be too hard of a sell. And then, I think that the other half of it is saying look, socialism is about the common good. It’s not about I get mine and you know, good luck to you. It’s about making sure that across the board, we have a certain existence minimum, a basic level of equality that all people can rely on.

MH: But what would you say to people on the left who say well, hold on. That’s what mainstream liberalism has always said. There’s a very gray area here between what you’re calling democratic socialism. And for example, liberalism of the FDR New Deal variety, people like Matt Stoller on the U.S. left, the right, the think tank. He always says you know, what all these young lefties are calling socialism is really what FDR was pushing. It’s not necessarily socialism is it to call for the breakup of the banks or to call for higher progressive taxation or a higher minimum wage?

EB: Right, and I don’t think that’s all we’re calling for but —

MH: Give me some other things that would distinguish a U.S. democratic socialism from a kind of FDR liberalism, Elizabeth Warren view of the world.

EB: So single-payer universal healthcare would basically bring the healthcare industry to some degree under democratic control. People would have a much greater say in how that industry functions because the state would be funding it. I think there have been a lot of great proposals along the lines of sovereign wealth funds which would cause the state to buy up capital essentially and then return the dividends to the people and I think those are ideas that you don’t typically see in that mainstream liberal tradition. In fact, a lot of 2020 candidates who entered the race talking a big game about single-payer are now backing off of it for precisely that reason. You start encountering sort of moderate voters or even sort of center-right Democrats who are active in the primaries and they can certainly identify that those ideas are not very typical of a mainstream liberal position.

MH: Kamala Harris came out against private health insurance which I guess would make her a socialist by that definition.

EB: And the left, and the left is really pleased with that and then the next day, her team sort of clarified. Well, you know, she’s open to that but she’s not going to prioritize it. So you can see —

MH: But it’s interesting. Even what you’re describing still, sorry, to put my European hat on, is not that left wing. I mean the NHS, the National Health Service, in the UK is backed even by conservative politicians, cradle-to-grave free healthcare. And I’m always amazed at how much hate Bernie Sanders gets even from centrist in the U.S. as a socialist, as a lefty when by international standards as you know, he’s not that left wing compared to Jeremy Corbyn, for example.

EB: Oh, yeah, the United States has to start somewhere, right? Because we don’t have this tradition and because we’re kind of starting from scratch, when you have institutions like the NHS in the UK, you already have proof of concept that these things work, can function, and that they’re politically resilient. I think it’s very important what you point out that even conservatives in the UK are hesitant to recommend abolishing the NHS and replacing it with private insurance, private healthcare, and that’s because it’s a very politically resilient program. It affects everybody. And that’s part of what socialists in the United States are arguing is that if we had some of those programs, you might see more resilience in them than in the sort of liberal solutions to the same problems like the ACA.

MH: What do you say to conservatives in the U.S., especially on Fox News who get very worked up when people like yourself say well, hold on or Bernie says, you know Nordic countries, forget USSR, forget Venezuela? Look at the Nordic countries. Look at Scandinavia. Look at Denmark, etcetera. And they say well that’s not socialism. That’s a kind of mild social democracy. They’re still working within a capitalist framework, working with markets. That’s not fair for you to invoke them. What do you say in response to that?

EB: Okay, well if it sounds capitalist to you, let’s do that. I mean if their view is that that’s not socialism then all right, why aren’t we doing it?

MH: Good point. That’s a good point. But what do you think? Do you personally believe that that is socialism that those countries count as socialist role models?

EB: Yeah, I mean, I think you can look at socialism as sort of a set of qualities and then you can see to what degree certain countries adopt those qualities. I think it’s hard to identify a 51 percent mark where you become 51 percent socialist and are therefore a fully socialist nation. But you can look at certain indicators —

MH: It’s a spectrum.

EB: Yeah, exactly and Norway — as a matter of fact as my husband, Matt Bruenig, a policy analyst likes to point out — the state owns more of the nation’s wealth than in Venezuela. So, you know, at least by that measure, it’s more socialist and you see all kinds of strange definitions of socialism. Bret Stephens had an article about Venezuela that basically defines socialism as a type of economy where there’s extreme mismanagement and some entitlement programs. Well, that would mean the United States is already socialist.

MH: That’s a very good point.

EB: I think it’s fair to say, you know that program —

MH: The United States is socialist for the rich.

EB: Right, right, right, I mean that’s certainly an aspect of it. But I think it’s fair to say that if you’re taking major sectors of the economy and applying democratic control to them and making them universally accessible, you’re moving towards socialism even if you’re not getting a hundred percent there instantly.

MH: So, before we finish, let’s go back to what we started with the Trump State of the Union Address. He was very keen to point out that Venezuela’s “socialist policies have turned it into a state of abject poverty.” Michael Bloomberg said pretty much the same thing last week. What’s your response to the constant invocation of Venezuela, Venezuela, Venezuela, whenever anyone on the U.S. left mentions socialism, or criticizes capitalism, or calls for higher taxes?

EB: Well, look, you can look at other socialist countries or other countries, let’s look at it this way, that have the same kind of economic practices at least in theory, that Venezuela has that haven’t totally collapsed. So, there are other self-described socialist states with a huge oil supply. Norway is is the one that comes to mind obviously and it hasn’t collapsed and when you compare them, one of the differences is that oil, that Norway chose to manage its oil supply differently and in such a way that it became less sensitive to price shocks and the global oil market. And you know, I think that a lot of conservatives want to describe sort of mistakes and economic management or mistakes and resource management in socialist countries as an inherent aspect of socialism as though private industry would necessarily do it better. But I don’t think that either one is the case right. You still see lots of countries struggle with resource curses and it’s not just socialist countries.

MH: That’s true, but you’d concede that the crisis in Venezuela, whether we like it or not, has provided critics of socialism, defenders of capitalism with a rather easy and handy talking point, especially given the likes of UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn among others, were praising the Venezuela model until not so long ago?

EB: Yeah, I mean, I think that the less you know about what actually triggered the crisis in particular, the easier it is to chalk it up to just sort of mysterious socialist forces. The more you know about it, the more complicated the picture is and I think that’s the case with most crises.

MH: And Trump said on Tuesday night that “we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country,” to which lots of Democrats clapped along. Is he right? Do you think America will ever be a socialist country? It’s kind of hard to envision right now, but what do you think?

EB: Yeah, I mean, there’s this great quote, right, that it’s easier to envision the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

MH: Yes, Mark Fisher, I think it was who said that.

EB: Yeah, it’s definitely in Mark Fisher and it certainly seems the case, right? So, how would America as a socialist country even look? But stranger things have happened in terms of economic development right? In terms of the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom was once a major colonial power relying on a kind of mercantilism to support itself, was hyper-capitalist and then slowly over time due to things that were not necessarily foreseeable, changed. And it hasn’t 100% transformed into something that you can’t even identify as what the United Kingdom was in 1820, but it’s changed quite a bit and so we have plenty of time, I think. I hope. And I think that you can see the energy for some of those changes already.

MH: One of my pet theories is that Republicans have been some of the best helpers of the socialist cause in recent years. Remember how they went on and on about Obama being a socialist and a Marxist? They devalued the term as an insult. They made it less scary, less demonic because if Barack Obama is a socialist, can’t be that bad or extreme. A lot of Americans in the middle might say. And now Trump attacking socialism, I think is great for socialism. Anything Trump attacks seems to get very popular.

EB: Yeah, and I think that Trump seeming to be sort of spooked by the sort of new socialist politicians on the scene will help them with voters.

MH: We can only hope so. Liz Bruenig, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

EB: Thank you for having me.

MH: That was Elizabeth Bruenig of the Washington Post. She mentioned the famous quote that “it’s easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism”. And lefties like myself completely identify with that. We tend to be pessimistic about winning over millions of people to democratic socialism, especially in a country like the U.S which is obsessed with free markets, and capitalism, and consumerism, and hyper-individualism, as Liz put it. But what’s funny right now is that it’s the right, it’s the defenders of capitalism, who are shit-scared that their neoliberal brand of capitalism in particular, minimal taxes on the rich, zero regulation, overmighty corporations, is on the way out and that socialism — whether it’s the mild Nordic version or the more meatier Jeremy Corbyn British version with public ownership of industry — is on the way in. Hence the constant fear-mongering and demonization and references to Venezuela.

But here’s the thing. When Trump attacks something, he tends to make it more popular. Immigration, for example, is more popular with the American public than it’s ever been. Support for free trade is up too. I suspect Trump going after socialism by name on Tuesday night in his State of the Union will only embolden U.S. socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and make a new generation of ordinary Americans start looking into what socialism actually is and how it might benefit them, especially a bespoke American socialism, at the expense of the rich, at the expense of big corporations, at the expense of Donald Trump himself. So I guess for once, the left should maybe thank the president of the United States.

[Music interlude.]

MH: That’s our show! Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept, and is distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Zach Young. Dina Sayedahmed is our production assistant. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Leital Molad is our executive producer. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. Go to theintercept.com/deconstructed to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice, iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review. It helps people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at Podcasts@theintercept.com. Thanks so much!

See you next week.


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