President Trump is not a capitalist

President Trump is not a capitalist
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By historical standards, President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNASA exec leading moon mission quits weeks after appointment The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' MORE is not a capitalist. Capitalism in the United States went through a massive series of changes in the early 20th century, in the 1930s and in the 1960s. The so-called Progressive Era, the New Deal Era and the Great Society Era all initiated so many structural changes in regulations and redistribution of wealth and power in our economic system that it no longer makes sense to refer to it as capitalist. Many commentators refer to our economic system as a “mixed economy,” namely an economy that is a mixture of capitalism and socialism.

Admittedly, some refer to mixed-economies as a form of capitalism, but this form of nomenclature, “a capitalist mixed-economy,” has never made sense. What is the point of introducing the phrase mixed-economy other than to say that calling a particular economy capitalist or socialist is problematic? For those economies that fall in between a stark laissez-faire capitalist economy and a socialist economy where the means of production are publicly owned, we just call them “mixed economies.”


Given that President Donald Trump does not call for fundamental changes in the regulatory and redistributive structures on the U.S. economy, although he certainly stands for scaling back on the more robust forms of regulation and redistribution, it is most accurate to say that he supports the “mixed-economy.” Indeed, because he has not fundamentally challenged the two-thirds of our budget which is made up of mandatory programs (especially Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid), it is really counter-intuitive to say that Mr. Trump does not support the “mixed economy.” He certainly does not support a laissez-faire capitalist economy. Presidents William McKinley and Herbert Hoover, to a substantial extent, supported a laissez-faire capitalist economy.

In campaign 2020, Mr. Trump has begun the effort to define most of the Democrats running for President as socialists. One of them, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 Democrats join striking McDonald's workers Billionaire's M gift to Morehouse grads points way to student debt solution Poll: Nearly half of Clinton's former supporters back Biden MORE (I-Vt.), says that he is a Democratic Socialist, and he ran as such in 2016. The rest, including Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisCastro swears off donations from oil, gas, coal executives Harris leads California Democrats in condemning HUD immigrant housing policy Billionaire's M gift to Morehouse grads points way to student debt solution MORE (D-Calif.), Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth Gillibrand2020 Democrats join striking McDonald's workers Fox News contributor Campos-Duffy compares abortion to slavery 2020 Dems put spotlight on disabilities issues MORE (D-N.Y.), Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony Booker2020 hopeful John Delaney unveils T climate plan Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign T.I., Charlamagne Tha God advocate for opportunity zones on Capitol Hill MORE (D-N.J.), and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean Klobuchar2020 hopeful John Delaney unveils T climate plan Samantha Bee slams 2020 Democrats who go on Fox News Poll: Harris, Warren climb as Biden maintains lead MORE (D-Minn.) and other potential candidates like Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), deny that they are socialists in any sense of the term.

Sanders is really a Social Democrat (and not a socialist) along the lines of many European countries, including the Nordic countries, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark. The mainstream liberals are best regarded as supporting a robust mixed-economy.

The difference between Trump and Harris, for example, is between a moderate and a robust mixed-economy proponent. Neither is a capitalist in any responsible use of the term.

Rather than charge Trump with being a ruthless or rigged capitalist, which is the Sanders line (and that of Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan On The Money: Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump | Trump to offer B aid package for farmers | House votes to boost retirement savings | Study says new tariffs to double costs for consumers Overnight Energy: Democrats ask if EPA chief misled on vehicle emissions | Dem senators want NBC debate focused on climate change | 2020 hopeful John Delaney unveils T climate plan MORE (D-Mass.), the Democrats would be wiser to call Trump what they really think he is: a president who wants to weaken the mixed-economy by strengthening the position of corporations and the wealthy. But once you call him a capitalist, and a bad one at that, you lose your footing with him and enable him to call you a socialist.


These semantic issues are hardly the sole province of academics. To the contrary, they are at the heart of campaign politics and politics in general. As Trump is an expert at using phrases to define and criticize his opponents, one cannot overestimate the importance of getting the language right. It will not work for candidates to just focus on the policies. Trump is going to use general terms to define his opponents — like "socialist" — and thus the Democrats must fight fire with fire.

It is high time for Democrats to stop cartooning the President and Republicans in general as ruthless and rigged capitalists and find language that enables them to make their criticisms in effective ways. When they play the game of oversimplification because they think the voters cannot handle complex concepts and language, then they get into trouble. 

Dave Anderson is the editor of “Leveraging: A Political, Economic, and Societal Framework” (Springer, 2014). He is also the author of "Youth04: Young Voters, the Internet, and Political Power" (W.W. Norton & Company, 2004) and co-editor of "The Civic Web: Online Politics and Democratic Values" (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003). He has taught at George Washington University, the University of Cincinnati, and Johns Hopkins University. He was a candidate in the 2016 Democratic Primary in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District. Contact him at