It’s a question we ask again and again: Why do Americans stare at each other across an abyss that too often seems unbridgeable?
Part of the explanation, certainly, is the politically apocalyptic nature of right-wing rhetoric. To listen to some of today’s conservatives, the sky is forever about to fall. We are always about to lose America as we know it.
Even as communism steadily consigns itself to the ash heap of history, it is routinely invoked here in an accusatory way: Democrats are communists, or communist sympathizers, or influenced by communism, or at the very least socialists, their plans the spearpoint of a collectivist takeover in America.
That refrain, of course, has ricocheted through American politics for the last 90 years.
It was said of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal and Social Security, now a crucial retirement cornerstone for millions of Americans. Lyndon B. Johnson faced that bombast about Medicare, which now provides quality health care for millions of older Americans. It was said or insinuated about Barack Obama and, perhaps most risibly, about the Affordable Care Act, which eschewed a single-payer health care system for one based on private insurance plans.
Sadly, though actual communism has faded in the world, those accusations have not. While president, Donald Trump actually called the aspiring Democratic presidential candidates a “group of socialists or communists,” said the Democratic agenda was “probably communism,” and predicted that Americans “wouldn’t be able to survive” if Joe Biden won.
It should be no surprise, then, that stopping communism was one of the justifications cited by Trump’s MAGA mob when it overran the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to stop Congress from counting the Electoral College votes that would officially seal his defeat.
After that shocking day, one might have thought Trump would rein in his ridiculous rhetoric. He has not. “Democrats want to turn America into communist Cuba or socialist Venezuela,” he charged just three months ago.
“It’s a communist regime. It’s been a communist takeover of our country,” US Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican of Georgia, opined about six months into the Biden administration.
But she’s a conspiratorialist wackadoodle, one may say. True, but she’s also a rising House power under Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
Meanwhile, consider conservative commentator Mark Levin, who is what passes as a deep thinker in today’s American conservatism. It’s a regular theme of his that Biden and the Democrats have unleashed the forces of Marxism in America.
It’s reminiscent of the days when John Birch Society founder Robert Welch — a former candidate for lieutenant governor here in Massachusetts — accused Dwight Eisenhower of being a communist.
We hear the same kind of nonsense when it comes to global warming. Conservative climate deniers routinely cast efforts to curb climate change as far-left schemes to assume control over the everyday lives of average Americans.
Meanwhile, almost any firearms-related attempt to reduce gun violence is immediately portrayed as the first step by “gun grabbers” determined to seize all the firearms in America, often as the first step for extinguishing American liberties.
Now, one presumes that professional polemicists who traffic in that sort of claptrap do so knowing full well that it’s balderdash. But some who hear it clearly don’t.
So how should citizens of the rational world combat today’s Chicken Little-ism?
Several ways leap to mind.
First, by stressing that wild-eyed conservatives have been warning that America is slipping into communism since the days of the New Deal — and that, of course, has never happened. And by observing that the American public now venerates several of the programs right-wingers once warned were the collectivist camel’s nose pushing craftily into the American tent.
Second, by noting that in the post-World War II period, the economy has done significantly better under Democrats than it has under Republicans. Uncomfortable as that is for the Democrats-are-Marxists crowd, the facts are incontrovertible on that point — so much so that even Trump himself once acknowledged that was the case. “I’ve been around a long time. And it just seems the economy does better under the Democrats than under Republicans,” he said back in 2004.
Third, by reminding people that even during periods of strong Democratic control, the federal government did not embark on sweeping gun-confiscation campaigns.
Fourth, by pointing out that America is the one country in the Western world where the conservative party regularly dismisses the scientific consensus on climate change.
Those counterarguments are hardly cure-alls, of course. Still, offering them is an effort worth making. As we’ve seen again and again in American politics, it’s best not to let invidious arguments go unanswered — no matter how silly they are.