Bryan Griffin: The Incremental March Towards Socialism

May 15, 2019

Incrementalism.

It means belief in or advocacy of change by degrees. Gradualism.

It’s how we get into a bath that’s too hot to jump into, tackle a daunting project, complete an Odyssey, or get ourselves in shape.

Incrementally. Gradually. It’s not the size of the step that accomplishes the goal, but the cumulation of micro steps all oriented in the same direction.

It’s how anything is built or accomplished. And, simultaneously, it is how the worst ideas in human history were accepted by the masses. Gradually. Slowly. Incrementally.

Massive social change in a largely free society isn’t taken in giant leaps. It is taken in a succession of small but deliberative steps. Sometimes, the steps are so small that they go largely unnoticed by society. Thus, it is a worthwhile civic exercise to assess from time to time where the political elite are guiding the social conscience, albeit in tiny steps.

Most readily discernible in the American political discourse, I think, is the elite left’s attempt to walk Americans away from ideas that have served as the bedrock of our success, in an attempt to consolidate power.

Social-media-aged twenty-first century Americans, disillusioned with the status quo, are encouraged to break with tradition and seek radical political alternatives. The internet stokes and rewards one-upism.  

Democratic elites recognize this and have understood the potential it offers for political power. The Democratic primary field for 2020 is a race to the left for the candidates, with many reversing courses on political policy positions they held only a few years ago to outshine and out-left their primary opponents.

And so, the leapfrog played with political policy from Democratic candidates has, deliberately or not, guided the subconscious of the American left to stomach incrementally more incredulous policy positions.

The distaste with immigration practices stepped into a repulsion to a physical border barrier which stepped into the call to completely dismantle the American Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE.

Likewise, with abortion. A discussion about where to draw the line between conception and a life has been stepped into a radical stance of fetal dehumanization, even in some cases after birth.

In the 1970s and 80s, fresh off the horror of the world seeing the death and oppression of Soviet Russia exposed and then defeated by the West, “socialism” was a word that could lose an election for a candidate by mere association.

In August of 2018, I am sad to report, a Gallup poll measured for the first time in its history that Democrats have a more positive view of socialism than they do of capitalism.

Democratic socialism will be the undoing of those bedrock ideals I mentioned earlier. Individualism, economic liberty, and private property: the things that have made America one of the most prosperous, free, and fair societies in the world.

Yet the incremental push for socialism veils its true side effects, since it is introduced in convenient and appetizing soundbites.

A truly socialist society includes the abolition of the free press and free elections, the imprisonment and marginalization of dissidents, and the removal of the rule of law. Could such a system ever actually gain national favor?

Well, those tough parts aren’t considered up front. The first steps sound all-too appealing, and the historically negative side effects of socialism are waived away. Sanders promises healthcare for all. Ocasio-Cortez paints a heroic battle against climate change. Warren targets America’s largest companies to be systematically broken. Each of these ideas uses coercive government force, authorized by democratic socialism.

Incrementally, we slide into being another victim of the social experiment that has failed every test in human history.

I’m not saying the evil side effects of socialism are the realized goal of every Democratic candidate or politician. I think they are using whatever works to get votes. But I am saying that as a society we must acknowledge the direction of the steps we are taking and the once taboo ideas we are normalizing.

There are alternatives that can accomplish worthy, bipartisan goals that the average voter cares about. We can save the environment, promote fairness in work practices, and care for the health and wellbeing of mothers and our neighbors alike without having to resign ourselves to forsaking bedrock American ideals.

We can lean into the products of individualism, free markets, and the rule of law which include innovation, competition to solve problems, and an individualistic spirit to better ourselves and care for our neighbors. We can safeguard the needy and practice strategic incentivization through limited government.

We can resist the gradual onslaught of socialism, and we can have a brighter future ahead. But first, acknowledge our steps. We must recognize, then reverse the course of our incremental appetite for only government-based solutions to our problems.

Bryan Griffin of the London Center for Policy Research is a lawyer and author who specializes in American policy in the Middle East.

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