Donald Trump is a 'sometimes socialist'

Donald Trump is a 'sometimes socialist'
© Getty Images

“America was founded on liberty and independence, and not government coercion, domination, and control,” President Donald Trump declared in his 2019 State of the Union address. “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.” That same week, after asserting, falsely, that every candidate for the Democratic nomination for president “is embracing” socialism, the Trump re-election campaign predicted that “the American people will reject an agenda of sky-high taxes, government-run health care and coddling dictators.”

Trump knows, of course, that the S-word is a perennial bogeyman in American politics. And so, it may be instructive to revisit the evidence that (according to his own definition) Trump himself is a sometimes socialist.

Reacting last month to a new round of tariffs imposed by China on U.S. goods, President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden on Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: 'What country are we in?' Romney: 'Unthinkable and unacceptable' to not commit to peaceful transition of power Two Louisville police officers shot amid Breonna Taylor grand jury protests MORE tweeted, “Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing your companies HOME…”  As trade experts debated whether the president has the authority to compel businesses to cease doing work with their employees and contract partners, Oliver Hart, a Nobel Laureate in economics, told Fox Business Network that the order was “more like something, you know, made by President Xi,” to which companies in a socialist country would have to comply.

ADVERTISEMENT

According to Andrew NapolitanoAndrew Peter NapolitanoFox's Napolitano: Supreme Court confirmation hearings will be 'World War III of political battles' Fox's Napolitano: 2000 election will look like 'child's play' compared to 2020 legal battles Barr asked Rupert Murdoch to 'muzzle' Fox News commentator Napolitano, book claims MORE, a Fox News commentator, Trump’s unilateral imposition of tariffs also impedes “the free choices of American investors and consumers.” President Trump should learn the lessons from Eastern European governments that central economic planning “only benefits the planners,” Napolitano concluded, and restore a free enterprise system “guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Trump’s preference for a command economy over the invisible hand of the free market was on display as well when he appropriated $28 billion of taxpayers’ money to offset losses to farmers from his trade wars. And when he allegedly told members of his staff to “finish the wall” on the southern border with Mexico before the presidential election by, among other actions, using “eminent domain” to expropriate thousands of acres of private property.

During his campaign rallies, President Trump identifies Medicare for All, free college tuition, and the Green New Deal as prime examples of the Democrats’ socialist agenda. He does not indicate whether he believes Social Security, Medicare, and K-12 public education are also socialistic. Indeed, his views on America’s social welfare programs are contradictory.

In America We Deserve, a book published in 2000, Trump proposed a 14.25 percent tax on individuals and trusts with a net worth over $10 million, with $100 million of the revenues generated added to Social Security’s reserves. As a presidential candidate, Trump said repeatedly, “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid.” In 2017, he promised health insurance “for everyone. There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

However, Trump has tried repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act, without proposing a replacement. Apparently he has also indicated that gutting Medicare could be a fun "second-term project” and told Senate Republicans he might be interested in “reforming” Social Security.

ADVERTISEMENT

Apparently, the Trump re-election campaign admonition against “coddling dictators” does not extend to Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinNavalny released from hospital after suspected poisoning Ex-Trump national security adviser says US leaders 'making it easy for Putin' to meddle The Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting MORE and Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnSatellite images indicate North Korea preparing for massive military parade South Korea warns of underwater missile test launch by North Korea Trump says he didn't share classified information following Woodward book MORE, communist leaders of two of the world’s most coercive governments.  In a photo op at the G20 summit in Japan, Trump pointed to journalists in the room, and advised Putin, “Get rid of them. Fake news is a great term, isn’t it? You don’t have this problem in Russia but we do.”  Putin replied, “We also have. It’s the same.” It was far from the only time Trump has cozied up to Russia’s ruler.  Emphasizing that he “fell in love” with Chairman Kim, who “has been very open and terrific,” Trump maintains that under his leadership “North Korea has tremendous economic potential like perhaps few other developing countries anywhere in the world.”

Of course, the vast majority of Trump administration policies comprise what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “socialism for the rich, and rugged free enterprise capitalism for the poor.” Examples, large and small, abound. Trump’s tax overhaul package was a bonanza for the rich and super-rich; the legislation even provided financial incentives for purchasers of private jets. Oil companies are subsidized with billions of dollars. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has been given the power to grant waivers to exempt companies from tariffs. Trump repeatedly lobbied the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on behalf of a North Dakota construction firm led by a GOP donor. He wants to host the next G-7 summit at one of his hotels. These actions , of course, are the tip of the iceberg.

Americans who are paying attention (many are not) are feeling bewildered, betrayed, and bamboozled. In 2020, they should demand that the real Donald Trump stand up, if, indeed, such a person exists.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of Rude Republic:  Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.