By Chris Talgo
In 1917, as American soldiers were fighting to “make the world safe for democracy,” Russia was embarking down the dark road of communism. Decades earlier, Karl Marx wrote the “Communist Manifesto,” in which he predicted a worldwide revolution. Fortunately, Marx’s grand ambition never came to fruition. After years of struggle in the Cold War, market capitalism and individual liberty triumphed, and the Soviet communist empire fell.
Almost 30 years after the demise of the Soviet Union, Americans face a new danger. Decades of liberal policies have undermined the foundational principles that made America the world’s beacon of freedom and prosperity. The slow drip of more government has resulted in a generation more vulnerable than ever to the siren call of socialism.
As F. H. Buckley deftly notes in a recent column, the United States has reached a tipping point: the American Dream is in peril. To stave off the internal threat posed by a desperate underclass and a corrupt political class that feeds on the votes of the poor, the American Dream must be revived and extolled. Buckley begins by stating why the United States, unlike other nations, was immune to the plague of communist ideology during Marx’s lifetime—a phenomenon the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin derided as a false belief in American Exceptionalism:
With all the horrors of communism, with all the misery it unleashed on the world, Karl Marx still has something to tell us. Something about the problem he had with America. It didn’t fit with his theories. He said society progressed in stages: first feudalism, then capitalism, then socialism. But in 1852, when he wrote “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon,” the most advanced capitalist society was that of the United States, and it was nowhere near socialism.
That was a bit of an embarrassment for Marx, but then he had an explanation for what he might have called American Exceptionalism.
There were social classes in America but no class-consciousness because the country was so mobile. Throughout the 20th century, this was the answer sociologists gave to “why it didn’t happen here.” Income mobility explained why we didn’t have a Labor Party as Britain did, why socialism never took hold in the United States.
For an increasing number of Americans, the American Dream seems like an unattainable fantasy. Economic stagnation and limited mobility have handcuffed the once-vibrant American economy. Bloated government programs that disincentivize work and a culture in a state of flux have led many Americans to embrace socialism openly. In the 2016 Democratic primary, millions of Americans supported Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist with a radical anti-American agenda.
On the other hand, the 2016 general election outcome was a total shock. In an upset for the ages, a large number of Americans chose to go in the opposite direction and elect a man who supported market capitalism, hard work, and traditional values. Donald Trump represented the anti-Establishment. His “Drain the Swamp” message hit home with many Americans, who are fed up with rule by Washington, DC bureaucrats. What Trump offered to these “deplorables” was a renewed sense of hope. As Buckley observes, this proved to be the winning strategy because:
We’ve become immobile. We’ve grown an aristocracy, a class of smug bicoastal liberals who look down at the deplorables who voted for Trump, who can’t even accept that Trump won the election. And in last year’s election we saw what Marx would have predicted, a revolution of the underclass. There was no tsar, but there was a tsarina who thought herself entitled to the presidency.
The revolution sought to restore the American Dream, the idea of a country where all may rise, where our kids will have it better than we did. Today the dream has been betrayed, and we all know it. We also know that what would make us mobile again is a good K-12 education system, sensible immigration laws, an end to the barriers erected by the regulatory state, all the things elite liberals oppose.
It’s too early to tell whether the American Dream can be fully restored. The Trump administration has made progress by lifting burdensome regulations and pushing for tax reform. Great strides have been achieved in immigration and education policies. Having campaigned to make “America great again,” Trump has followed up by moving to reinstate economic liberty and mobility, and he seems well on the way to accomplishing his goal.