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Red Herrings

The conservative media’s delirious efforts to conjure up a socialist nightmare

Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty

This spring, conservative media took the message the president had soberly delivered in his State of the Union address—that “America will never be a socialist country”—and transformed it into a berserk lament. On Fox & Friends, Steve Doocy outlined the “nine steps to socialism.” The United States, he said, has moved from step five (“government prints money—hmm, that sounds familiar”) to step eight (“class warfare, which we’re already seeing right now, frankly”). Breitbart film critic John Nolte interpreted Jordan Peele’s slasher film Us as “an intense warning about the horrors of socialism.” And the Green New Deal’s proposed tax on factory cattle farming (“what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved,” according to former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka) was roundly denounced in some quarters as a call for open war over the availability of hamburgers. “My boys always have guns in their hands,” Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell Jr. said, vowing to protect his herds of cattle.

Conservatives have long stoked fear of socialism to drive moderates from the Democratic Party—in the 1930s, Herbert Hoover helped California business tycoons paint agrarian labor activism as “creeping socialism”; Nixon won his first Senate race by sliming his opponent as a “Pink Lady”; and Republicans have found Marx’s fingerprints on every liberal policy of the last half-century—all with help from the media. But in the past, they could at least conjure up an existential opponent that would one day storm our shores. Now that the Soviet Union is a distant memory and China has embraced the market, the closest thing the conservative media can find to a socialist bogeyman is an impoverished nation in the midst of a humanitarian crisis: In April, when conservative wunderkind Charlie Kirk was asked how he’d describe a welfare state, he answered with a single word, “Venezuela.” (On reflection, he amended his reply with “Cuba.”) This refrain blared throughout the mediasphere: Breitbart has published nearly 200 articles about Venezuela this year alone; Doocy’s ninth step was “total societal discord, which is what we’re seeing right now in Venezuela.”

It doesn’t matter that Venezuela hardly has the resources to feed its own people, let alone threaten our sovereignty; the administration is hell-bent on maintaining intervention as a “very serious option.” But should that fail, the right can pivot onto familiar turf; in April, the Committee on the Present Danger—the trigger-happy Cold War policy shop—announced a conference on China titled “The Communist Party’s Economic War Against America.” In the world of right-wing scaremongering, everything old is new again.”