We are all New Deal socialists now
Religion & Liberty Online

We are all New Deal socialists now

President Trump is known for public unveiling his inner thoughts on Twitter. But one of the most revealing comments he’s ever made came recently in a private discussion with lawmakers about trade policy.

According to Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., when senators visited the White House they told the president what farmers want is access to markets, not a payment from government. To this Trump replied, “I’m surprised, I’ve never heard of anybody who didn’t want a payment from government.”

Unfortunately, the president is probably right. In 1888, the British Liberal leader Sir William Harcourt declared, “We are all socialists now.” A similar claim could be made in America in 2018: We are all New Deal socialists now.

Currently, there are two competing models of New Deal socialism in the U.S. The first is the democratic socialism represented by Bernie Sanders. The second type is the economic nationalism represented by Trump.

Both sides are attempting to be the heir of Franklin Roosevelt’s welfare state nationalism. Sanders is more overt about the connection. “Let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me,” said Sanders in 2015. “It builds on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans.” But many of Trump’s economic policies are similar aligned with FDR vision of “economic rights.” Trump even admitted there was one area where he was aligned with Sanders: “We have one issue that’s very similar, and that’s trade,” Trump said in 2016. “He and I are similar in trade.”

Sanders and Trump—and their supporters—share much more in common, though, than just protectionist trade policy. Each side is collectivist and seeks to use the power of the federal government to advance the economic interest of the group over the individual. And when the individual is economically harmed by these protectionist policies, the federal will “protect” them by giving them “payment from government” (i.e., the profits earned by other Americans and collected by the government for redistribution).

This is why both Sanders and Trump, like FDR, want a federal government that is big enough and strong enough to control the economy. “Franklin Roosevelt’s nationalism was, first, a doctrine of federal centralization,” says Samuel H. Beer. “The principle of federal activism, which some have seen as the principal dividing line in American politics since the 1930s, was introduced by the New Deal.”

New Deal socialist believe free markets and free individuals are secondary to the national economic interest identified by the government. The individual is permitted to act only if it is in the interest of the collective. As Senator Elizabeth Warren has said, “We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well-used. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.”

Commenting on Warren’s remark, Kevin Williamson says,

The words “permit it” speak to the divide between traditional conservatives on the classical-liberal model and the (New) New Nationalists on the Roosevelt-Obama-Trump model. This permission mentality touches every aspect of nationalist economic thinking, which is how such meaningless bookkeeping exercises as the calculation of trade deficits and income inequality come to be understood as pressing national concerns. Putting markets under economic discipline is where progressivism, socialism, fascism, and nationalism all intersect, each of those ideas being based on the superstition that the nation has interests distinct from those of the people who compose the nation.

The reason Christians should reject New Deal socialism—and its component parts socialism and nationalism—is because it makes an idol of national economic concerns. Under New Deal socialism we are no longer stewards of God’s resources, vice-regents of God’s creation called to fulfill the cultural mandate (Genesis 1:28). Instead, we are made stewards of the national economic interest, permitted to engage in economic activity with the permission of the national government, and subordinating the interest of real people to the interest of an abstract “nation.”

This is a form of subjugation that no free people should be expected to endure. But because we are all New Deal socialists now, we’re willing to trade our freedoms in exchange for, as our president says, “payment from government.”

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).