President Donald Trump is worried about US farmers. His trade war with China is again threatening to close off a key market for US agricultural goods, so he’s considering a second multibillion-dollar bailout to keep them afloat while he escalates with Beijing.
That may all be well and good; the farmers are hurting because of Trump’s nationalist trade policy. But it certainly complicates Trump’s warnings about Democrats being bent on a socialist takeover of the country.
Of course, in this case the government is keeping farm business afloat rather than providing services – health care, education, whatever – to all Americans. But as Luke Darby pointed out at GQ, the government stepping in to redistribute wealth (in this case to farmers) for the greater good is precisely a socialist idea.
Subsidies to farmers aren’t the only way Trump approves of a little government intervention when it suits him. On Tuesday, he suggested on Twitter that the Federal Reserve should lower interest rates to give him more power to negotiate a trade deal with China.
China would do it, he argued.
“China will be pumping money into their system and probably reducing interest rates, as always, in order to make up for the business they are, and will be, losing. If the Federal Reserve ever did a ‘match,’ it would be game over, we win! In any event, China wants a deal!”
And he’s right. But China is a kind of hybrid communist capitalist state and Trump has spent his entire short political career complaining about how the Chinese government is a bad actor on trade and currency.
Trump and other Republicans want American voters to fear socialism in 2020 and to beware the redistribution of wealth. That doesn’t apply when it comes to corporate welfare, however.
When Republicans in Congress passed and Trump signed landmark tax cuts, they made the corporate tax cuts permanent but not the individual ones – a cynical bet that future politicians wouldn’t be able to stomach letting individual tax rates go up, even if it busts the federal budget.
Trump has sought to prop up the coal industry, based in the Rust Belt – which supported him in 2016.
He’s promised not to touch Medicare benefits. He’d even consider letting people buy prescription drugs from Canada. Canada! That’s where a government-run health care system keeps costs down.
So when Trump and Republicans like Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell in the Senate raise alarms about Democrats bent on a socialist takeover, they are playing on a very 1950s Iron Curtain perception of socialism as communism.
The truth is that the US, with its Medicare and Social Security policies, is not as purely capitalist as many would like you to think.
Some candidates in the Democratic presidential primary – Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts – are pushing a form of socialism that increases the social safety net by giving people health care, child care and college education and asks taxpayers to foot the bill.
They argue it’s not radical but sensible and humane, in the mold of Northern European countries.
Trump, sensing a political opening and seeking to exploit a rift among Democrats, argues that sort of government intervention will lead the US down the road to Venezuela, which actually suffers from being an authoritarian, kleptocratic petro-state, not from anything involving socialism.
The difficulty for Trump is that the US economy, and US farmers, are dependent on foreign trade.
This is not an intellectual discrepancy Trump is going to admit anytime soon as he accuses Democrats of pushing socialism on the campaign trail.