Will coronavirus launch the second wave of socialism?
Forecasting the aftermath of the current crisis is nearly impossible, but here is one prediction you can take to the bank: However deep the economic carnage and regardless of its source, those who seek to drive this country towards socialism will exploit it for all it’s worth.
President Trump recently declared himself a wartime president, as well he should. He is fighting an unprecedented two-front domestic war — one a health crisis, the other economic. In the coming days, the economy will further decline, perhaps in unprecedented ways. And since economic upheaval usually precedes political upheaval, he will soon need to fight a third front: the inevitable propagandizing that will flow from forces of the far left who will lay many resulting economic inequities, real or perceived, at the feet of free markets and capitalism.
The catalyst for the ascendancy of socialism in our recent politics was the financial crisis of 2008. In its wake — sparked by Occupy Wall St., encouraged by hard leftists and enabled by the media — a majority of millennials and Gens X, Y and Z now look favorably upon the movement, according to most polls. They were the base that put a Democratic socialist within a hair’s breadth of the Democratic presidential nomination. And because political views formed in youth tend to last a lifetime, this voting bloc will be the pig in the electoral snake for decades to come.
If the economic blow of the Great Recession was able to catalyze such a breathtaking lurch leftward, imagine what two in a row — in less than half a generation — might unleash on our body politic. Socialists and progressives must be salivating at the prospect of the potential for a one-two punch.
So, brace yourself for the emergence of yet another generation of those intrigued by the false promises of socialism. Ominously, this will coincide with the natural decline of the elderly, the last demographic to understand, overwhelmingly, the abhorrence of socialism.
Will Trump rise to such a fight? I am not holding my breath. He is a warrior, yes. It is a source of his appeal. But he thrives on bludgeoning opponents personally, not in nuance and appeals to higher principle which this fight will require.
His adversaries will be nimble and guerilla-like since socialists already live every day on a wartime footing. Whether originalists Marx and Engels, revolutionaries Lenin and Castro, or modernists Bernie Sanders and AOC, a common thread amongst them all has been to pounce upon every inequity for maximum political impact.
Inequities on a scale that may exceed the financial crisis will abound in the days ahead. So, look for progressives to seize upon them as the true fruits of capitalism, and re-issue the siren call of socialism. Look for the Trojan Horse temptation of state-sponsored security at the expense of freedom, innovation and growth. Overflowing hospitals? Time for Medicare for all. Joblessness and bankruptcies? Time for Universal Basic Income.
And look for the made-for-Instagram moments where AOC, Bernie and other opportunists will make great hay and stoke class warfare, the rocket fuel of all socialists. When a Southampton socialite is filmed at the butcher’s counter ordering, in full Marie Antoinette style, to “sell me the entire cabinet!”, demands for a Wealth Tax and other state confiscations will surely follow.
There will be winners in this mess. Private jet travel, the ultimate self-quarantine, is in high demand. Big Tech is king as remote work and in-home entertainment drive demand for broadband connectivity. Food distribution is humming from servicing a population now eating three meals a day at home. Amazon is hiring thousands to meet demand from folks avoiding stores and malls.
But to the left, winners are not exemplars of a vibrant, nimble private sector providing value and service in a time of great need. They are simply the rich getting richer. They are to be scrutinized, regulated, and gouged of ill-gotten profit.
The most dangerous propagandizing from the left will come if the number of U.S. COVID-19 infections, and our economic dislocations, exceed China’s experience. That would lend credence to their predictable and seductive yet insidious suggestion that central planners have the best tools to protect humans from themselves. Never mind that the cause of U.S. business dislocations will have been the government and its mandated business shutdown.
As we sit in our homes watching people die and savings destroyed as the economy melts, it may be hard to fathom that this third front might actually prove the more existential fight for our country. But if we lose, and yet another generation falls for what some have called the Big Lie of socialism, then founder Ben Franklin’s warning of our Republic’s fragility may prove hauntingly prophetic.
Emil W. Henry, Jr., served as U.S. Treasury Assistant Secretary from 2005-2007. He is CEO and managing partner of Henry Tiger LLC and Tiger Infrastructure Partners, a private equity firm.