It is silly to insist that Democrats, progressive and otherwise, should emphatically reject anti-socialism and anti-communism, as bandied about, for example, in Trump’s State of the Union speech and in his remarks in El Paso this week. And it is even sillier to say that the future of progressive politics turns on it. And yet a few on the left are making this argument.
This strikes me as very wrongheaded. Democrats would be wiser to take a different tack and make the case that Trump’s new”socialist/communist” talking points are a transparently dishonest attempt to distract and divert public attention from his calamitous policies and move the conversation to a terrain that Trump believes is ripe for his lies and demagogy. Socialism (or much of it), after all, went belly up three decades ago and its democratic deficit was acute and well known.
Democrats, if their smart, won’t fall for Trump’s bait. It’s a trap. Martin Luther King, the greatest radical reformer of the 20th century, went no further than to say that anti-communism is an irrational mode of thinking. He didn’t go to the wall to defend the Soviet Union or the other socialist countries. He picked his fights judiciously and kept his eyes on the prize. We should do the same.
The danger to progressive politics isn’t that Democrats will take a pass on frontally challenging the anti-communist and anti-socialist jeremiads from Trump and gang. The danger is that good people on the left think that Democrats, as a matter of principle, should engage Trump on this terrain and any refusal on their part to do so will ineluctably undermine the progressive turn in the county’s politics. They forget that it is sometimes better to deflect an issue and move to other issues that are far more urgent to people.