Karen Gardner: Using the socialist label may not be so bad these days

  • In this 2018 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a joint news conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in the East Room of the White House in Washington. AP photo

Published: 3/13/2019 8:45:44 AM

At a now infamous Oval Office meeting last year, the president was heard expressing his distaste for “shithole countries” like Haiti and many African countries. He then went on to express his admiration for a different country. Why, he wanted to know, can’t we get more immigrants from Norway?

He prefers Norwegians and I wonder why? Perhaps skin color? Well, it can’t be his love of authoritarians since Norway is not run by one.

And it certainly can’t be because of Norway’s democratic socialist policies such as free universal health care, paid parental leave, sick leave, unemployment benefits, free higher education, strong unions and worker rights, and pensions, to name a few. These are just the kind of things the president and his party detest.

Granted, Norwegians pay higher taxes than we do, but they seem to be very willing to do so, because they get so much back in return. Norway maintains a large sovereign wealth fund that helps to support those benefits.

And despite the country’s many green environmental initiatives — 98 percent of Norway’s electricity comes from renewables — that fund is fed by profits from its very successful oil industry. Clearly, nothing and no one is perfect.

Here’s one more interesting fact about Norway: it leads the world as the most democratic of democracies, coming in first in the Economist Democracy Unit’s Democracy Index for 2018. The U.S., on the other hand, ranks 25th and is relegated to the Flawed Democracy category. Just saying.

It is surprising, though, that the president would essentially be inviting a bunch of democratic socialists to immigrate to America, since he and his supporters have been warning us frequently about the dangers of socialism taking over our country.

That word “socialism” has been used for many years to accuse certain people of plotting to destroy our democracy. It conjures up the ruthlessness of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare tactics that ruined so many lives in the 1950s. During several years of private and public hearings, he accused people, with little or no evidence, of being Communists and Socialists, of secretly working to undermine our government and doing so from within. The country was gripped by an unfounded terror of spies and infiltrators.

And now that the 2020 election campaign is in full swing, we are seeing the president and his supporters using the socialist label to denigrate his political opponents, hoping to reignite those same anti-communist fears of the past.

But is casting someone as a socialist the destructive thing it once was? Perhaps not.

Recent polling has shown that America’s younger generations, like the millennials, are much more open to socialist leaning policies. They don’t seem to be frightened by the “s” word. On the contrary, these young people would love to have the same benefits that Norwegians enjoy, no matter what they’re called.

And we know that a great many young people flocked to self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president in 2016. Sanders has always taken a great deal of heat for his socialist label and now that he’s running again, he will face more of the same from the president.

But it is the arrival on the political scene of U.S. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) that has gotten the Republicans whipped into a frenzy. As a self-proclaimed democratic socialist she has truly reawakened the Red Scare beast.

And to add to the socialist-inspired terror, AOC and Democratic Sen. Ed Markey have introduced a new policy resolution called the Green New Deal, which is a set of proposed economic stimulus programs that aims to address climate change and economic inequality.

The Green New Deal has so frightened Republicans that at the Conservative Political Action Conference this month, the deal, socialism and AOC herself were the hottest targets from day one onward. Among the many speakers throwing around the dreaded “s” word was former aid to the president, Sebastian Gorka, who said “You know what the biggest threat to America is? Not socialism in Moscow, socialism here in America.”

Socialism is hardly our biggest threat, and neither is a 29-year-old congresswoman whose goal is to help save this planet from the devastation of climate change, and to do so while fixing our economic inequality issues. No, the biggest threat to America is the divisiveness, the dishonesty, the bullying, the racism, the corruption of our current president and his party that allows it to continue.

There is a famous quote that has lived on from those terrible Red Scare hearings of the McCarthy era. Exasperated and horrified by yet one more unsubstantiated accusation by McCarthy, Joseph Welch, the lawyer representing the U.S. Army, responded with this: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness … Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

I find myself wanting to ask this president and his party the same question: have you no sense of decency? I’m afraid I already know the answer.

Karen Gardner, of Haydenville, a retired computer programmer, is a bird watcher, nature photographer and ukulele player. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.

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