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Editor’s note: This essay is adapted from the new book “The Drift: Stopping America’s Slide to Socialism” by Kevin Hassett.
“Kevin, I want you to go with the lower number,” President Trump told me.
It was 2016 and I was then serving as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. I had just told the president that Americans could expect a big increase in average wages if Congress passed his tax cut plan.
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In fact, I projected that after the anemic, no-wage growth of the Obama years, the president’s free-market policies would bring Americans their first fat pay increases in years. I gave him a range of dollars our policies would generate in average wages for Americans, with the least amount being $4,000 a year and the greatest being double that.
I expected Trump, given the way he was portrayed on TV, to take my highest number and double it. Instead, he told me to go with the lowest number, arguing that he wanted to under promise and over perform.
And we did. In the aftermath of the Trump tax cuts and regulatory relief, average real wages increased by more than $6,000 a year just before the pandemic began. Women and minorities saw some of the biggest wage increases in history.
That anecdote, sums up my time in the White House succinctly. From policy area to policy area, President Trump pursued sensible free market policies, and these policies delivered prosperity that the Obama administration told us would be impossible given the “new normal.”
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The policies were so successful helping ordinary Americans that income inequality sharply declined. And he genuinely cared about his successes and the people around him. Two of my staff members became ill during my time in the the White House, each got a personal note from President Trump wishing them a speedy recovery.
Which creates a mystery. A president who delivered for the poor, and himself was generous of spirit spent his time in the White House being assaulted by large swaths of society as if he were the anti-Christ.
To understand why that happened, and to make sure it never happens again, one needs to understand “the Drift” the powerful forces moving our society inevitably toward socialism. Trump fought against the Drift, and the Drift fought back.
Conservatives believed that the 20th century had settled the debate between free-market capitalism and socialism. “Ideas have consequences,” we declared.
The free market had prevailed at home with Reagan and the Soviet Union had collapsed. And yet despite a century of failure, socialism is back with a vengeance.
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A 2019 poll showed that 7 in ten Millennials said they would vote for a socialist candidate. Like the demonization of Trump, this might seem like a mystery, the result of some nefarious scheming by a conspiratorial secret socialist society. But it’s not. Indeed, today’s circumstances were seen with perfect clarity almost a century ago by one of America’s greatest conservative minds. This is important, because socialism can only be defeated if it is understood.
A refugee academic from Vienna, Joseph Schumpeter was an admirer of capitalism who believed that capitalism was doomed to be defeated by socialism. This economist foresaw a century ago an exorable leftward drift based on five factors which, in honor of Schumpeter’s famously brilliant horsemanship, I’ll call the Five Horseman of the Apocalypse.
The first horseman is the entrenched hostility to capitalism by intellectuals. A modern society produces a class Schumpeter called “the intellectual spectator.” Such people are not practitioners like brain surgeons or Space X engineers. They are professional talkers and thinkers the ancient Greeks called “sophists.” Think of Michael Moore, Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann. These intellectuals, whose livelihoods are not directly linked to entrepreneurship or business, have a lover’s blind belief that their infatuation alone represents something noble in their beloved ideas. The intellectuals control “respectability” and respectable people love socialism.
The second horseman is the university, which produces more graduate-intellectuals than there are good academic positions. Think of all of the exquisitely well-educated people you know who make less money than the manager of a Starbucks. Such people are repelled by manual work and unable to do professional work like accounting and dentistry. So they blame capitalism for their plight and become gypsy scholars, writers and “activists.” And along comes Bernie Sanders. Why shouldn’t they love him? He sounds like the professor they had wanted to be, running on a platform in tune with the utopian socialist ideals of today’s university.
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The third horseman is the weakening of religion. This process begins under capitalism, with its pragmatic, worldly way of thinking based on spirit of calculation and ingenuity, leaving little space for the sacred. Capitalism doesn’t kill religion outright. It crowds it out with responsibilities, entertainments and distractions. Who has time to pray when we can watch Netflix?
Yet this smothering of religion leaves a void in the human psyche, a need for purpose and meaning once filled by religion. Millions of people have a craving for transcendence that socialism can exploit. Like a religion, Marxism and its children (such as Critical Race Theory) purport to explain everything, with its own concept of good versus evil, a plan of salvation which, Schumpeter wrote, promises “paradise on this side of the grave.”
The fourth horseman is the breakdown of the nuclear family. Former Vice President Dan Quayle was pilloried for questioning the wisdom of leftwing culture glorifying fatherless homes. The website of Black Lives Matter posted (until it was noted in the media and deleted): “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement …”. Without a family or church to depend on, it is natural for people to turn to the state.
The fifth horseman is the corporation against itself. As capitalism made America richer, it has created wealth for people to live very well on professional salaries in corporate jobs and off of returns from capital investments. This has the effect of cutting off capitalists from the practice and culture of entrepreneurship as more and more people get rich without taking risks in new ventures.
As a result of these socialist Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the left has captured our universities, media and corporations, while an increasingly atomized society is losing faith in free markets, and God loses ground to Marx.
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But while they have used their control over campuses and the major print and media outlets to silence capitalisms defenders, they lost control of one area that Schumpeter never imagined.
President Trump created such a ruckus because he showed the way. Social media gives conservatives the ability to break through the controlled discussion of the left to boldly challenge socialist policies, whether those of radical school boards or the Biden administration.
Conservatives might wish for a world where a president could pursue Trump’s policies without the distraction of Trump’s tweets. But without the tweets, which busted through the socialist monopoly of the information state, capitalism would already be lost.
President Trump may be cancelled from social media for now, but this will be only a minor setback for capitalism if a thousand voices, especially yours, rise up to continue the battle against socialism.
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Defenders of free markets, the role of religion and the need for strong families can remain civil but use the megaphone of social media to be aggressive, loud, confrontational and determined to put a spotlight on the failure of socialism and what it costs every American.
If we remain steadfast, we can rock the establishment, from Harvard Yard, to Coca-Cola Plaza in Atlanta, to the studios and boardrooms of CBS.
There is still time to take back America. But the time to be heard is now. They can’t cancel us all.