By Luka Ladan
As the 2020 election dust settles, one thing is clear: Republicans have a youth problem.
Sixty percent of voters under 30 supported President-elect Joe Biden, who will become the oldest U.S. president in history. However, Biden’s election is only the tip of an iceberg: In today’s America, 70% of people my age are open to voting for a socialist presidential candidate. According to a recent survey, more than one-third of Millennials (35%) support the gradual elimination of capitalism in favor of a more collectivist system.
Biden may not be a socialist (although his platform is the most liberal in presidential history), but the Republican pitch is clearly falling on deaf ears. Free-marketeers are losing the war of words.
In the 1940s, a plurality of Americans (34%) associated socialism with “government ownership or control.” By 2018, that percentage was halved. Today, the most common association with socialism is “equality.”
Democrats understand the importance of language. When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York advocates for the Green New Deal, she is careful to position an objectively radical proposal as a “solution to climate change,” and not a $93 trillion expansion of federal oversight.
But socialism’s popularity cannot solely be attributed to the successes of Democratic messaging, or the biases of mainstream media coverage for that matter. In truth, Americans my age have become desensitized to the dangers of Big Government in practice. It has been more than 30 years since the Berlin Wall fell. It has been over a century since the Bolsheviks upended Russia’s political order—a precursor for communism’s spread to the likes of China, North Korea, and Vietnam.
I see it in my own life. My parents survived communism in former Yugoslavia and the civil war that followed, fleeing their homeland to live the American Dream. Along the way, they shared anecdotes about Josip Broz Tito’s communist regime—from Marxist teachings at school to the persecution of political dissenters on Goli Otok.
But those experiences are not my own. Even for a Millennial steadfastly opposed to collectivism, it is easier to comprehend the economic ramifications of a 50-cent-per-gallon gas tax than the risks of speaking out against Tito. I understand and even sympathize with Millennials who forget that individual liberty is never guaranteed.
We may encounter horror stories from Venezuela, but they seem inapplicable to the American experience. We may learn about the plight of Uighur Muslims in China, but what do they have to do with a “Green New Deal”?
In truth, very little. However, a greater openness to socialism should terrify the tens of millions of Americans who still support capitalism, including Republicans in the political trenches.
So what’s next? Perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel—because of the coronavirus. American Millennials may never experience Soviet aggression or Venezuelan collectivism, but we are touched by the heavy hand of government in the COVID-19 era.
In Florida, Miami Mayor Dan Gelber has encouraged law enforcement to issue citations to people not wearing a face mask outside. In California, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has shut down indoor and outdoor dining, and New York City may soon follow. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown threatened state residents with $1,250 fines and 30 days imprisonment for hosting Thanksgiving gatherings of seven people or more.
This is not to say that the COVID-19 pandemic should go unaddressed, but American freedoms face unprecedented attack—not from a public health crisis, but from public officials going to extreme lengths in its name. Conceding undue power to government is a slippery slope to tyranny and oppression.
Personal experience remains the best antidote to socialism. Those who live through the perils of Big Government are more likely to reject its advances. There is a reason why 55% of Florida’s Cuban-Americans voted for President Trump, and not a Democratic Party that has expressed support for the Castro regime.
The political fallout of COVID-19 remains to be seen. Perhaps, Millennials will embrace governmental excess in response to a novel virus. Perhaps, we will begin to question that encroachment into our daily lives.
Only time will tell. But, if we are lucky, America will be less socialist upon leaving a pandemic than entering one.
Luka Ladan is president and CEO of Zenica Public Relations. He is a Catalyst Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute.