America’s red scare is back. And it’s racially tinged

Source: The Guardian

The Republican party has come out swinging against socialism – a strategy sure to be a mainstay of its 2020 campaigns. “Our opposition to our socialist colleagues,” the Wyoming senator Liz Cheney claimed, referring to the congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley, “has absolutely nothing to do with their gender, with their religion, or with their race. It has to do with the content of their policies. They are wrong when they attempt to impose the fraud of socialism on the American people. They are wrong when they pursue policies that would steal power from the American people and give that power to the government.”

It’s a bold line coming from the daughter of a man, the former vice-president Dick Cheney, who did more to centralize power in the executive branch than perhaps any other public official in living memory. It’s also a bald-faced lie. Cheney’s diatribe against socialism – like Trump’s racist railing against the same group of progressive freshman congresswomen to “go back” to where they “originally came from” – has a long legacy in American history: it’s called red baiting.

And this round is no less xenophobic than those before it. When New York legislators voted to suspend five socialist state assembly members in 1920, they did so on the grounds that they were “enemy aliens” who had been “elected on a platform that is absolutely inimical to the best interests of the state of New York and the United States”.

The first red scare – well before the more well-known McCarthyism of the 1950s and 1960s – saw hundreds of real and suspected leftists deported under the Immigration Act of 1918. It also fueled the revived popularity of the antisemitic tract The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, with one well-circulated version replacing “Jews” with “bolsheviki”. Unsurprisingly, many of the most prolific anti-communists were also committed segregationists who violently fought black-led labor and civil rights organizing in the south, accusing members of groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of being dupes for the Comintern. Nearly two decades before brutally suppressing Martin Luther King’s campaign to integrate Birmingham’s business district, the commissioner of public safety, Bull Connor, cut his teeth by waging war on communists in the same city.

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